Because of their low exterior lighting levels and unique designs, hospitals pose many challenges to the installation and operation of video security systems. But, through the innovative use of new surveillance technologies, health facility professionals can overcome these obstacles.
Hospitals pose many security challenges, such as 24/7 public access, high-tension work environments, numerous entry points and narcotics storage.
For these reasons and more, video security systems are critical to the safe operation of hospitals, and recent advances in technology are making these systems more valuable than ever.
Means of monitoring
"When you consider a typical campus design, there are many areas of vulnerability, including parking structures, that are attached to the buildings," says Scott Dunn, director of business development for Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. "Outside the buildings themselves, lighting that uses low- and high-pressure sodium can be challenging for video surveillance and image quality. Also, narrow interior hallways with low ceilings can hinder the field of view."
With patients, visitors, doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians entering and exiting the facility, positive identification is critical.
Privacy is another concern. Finding a balance between the expectation of privacy and providing adequate coverage can be tricky.
"Emergency rooms generally pose more of a security risk, but because of privacy guidelines, camera placement becomes difficult and limits coverage," says Scott McChesney, a security systems consultant with Sparling, Seattle.
From a technology perspective, however, today's high-resolution, megapixel cameras provide better clarity, with functions such as wide dynamic range, low-light and anti-bloom capabilities.
"Also, the continuing development of IP (Internet Protocol) functionality and connectivity in cameras provides faster installation and better network performance and acceptance," says Steve Nibbelink, program director, health care security solutions, Schneider Electric, North Andover, Mass.
New megapixel and HDTV cameras allow security staff to capture surveillance video in excellent detail over a wide field of view, according to Sergio Collazo, sales and marketing director, Imaging Systems Division, Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Irvine, Calif. "They don't require the operator to make a trade-off between using a camera that can scan large areas or one that can provide high image detail, because they do both," he notes. "As a result, fewer cameras are needed."
Additionally, manufacturers have upgraded camera processing power to provide better performance across a broad range of lighting conditions. Challenges include the harsh lighting that can occur in entrances or lobbies and the darkness in parking structures. In entranceways, harsh backlighting from the sun can obscure the details of a person's face as he or she enters a hospital lobby.
Daniel Gundlach, vice president of marketing-Americas, Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y., says the latest camera features help overcome these challenges. For example, "smart backlight compensation" optimizes light levels for objects of interest in scenes with a bright background. In outdoor areas with low light, these same cameras use 20-bit processing and wide, dynamic-range sensors to analyze images pixel by pixel and produce detailed views of scenes with difficult lighting. This combination enables the cameras to reveal more than is visible to the human eye, making them suitable for day/night surveillance in low-light areas.
Many hospitals are using IP cameras, which can send and receive data via a computer network and the Internet.
"By deploying IP cameras, users can benefit from higher-resolution quality and detailed information for forensic purposes," says Debjit Das, vice president of global marketing for Verint Video Intelligence Solutions, Melville, N.Y.
"By leveraging centralized device administration, systemwide device monitoring and intelligent video distribution, an IP camera and video management solution can improve security initiatives."
In addition, IP cameras can be deployed side by side with analog cameras using video servers — helping organizations utilize existing video investments and ease the migration to IP video.
"The migration from digital video recorders (DVRs) to IP recording is fully underway," says consultant Brian Schmidt, vice president of business development for Schmidt Security Pro, Mansfield, Ohio. "We have customers who are retaining some of their DVRs, and migrating their analog infrastructure over to an IP platform as their budgets allow. Moreover, most hospitals with whom we work are installing IP systems in new buildings or in areas that are undergoing major renovations."
While technology is definitely in transition, analog cameras are by no means dead, says Kostas Mellos, sales leader, video and transmission, Interlogix, Bradenton, Fla. Thus, care must be taken to understand where analog cameras fit and how they can be deployed.
"Although the camera is analog, the remote management, recording and storage of information is still digital," he explains. "Analog camera technology has been around for a long time and the devices continue to provide a cost-effective solution in certain hospital applications."
The bridge to new technology still is being built, experts agree. For example, when a hospital begins using digital cameras on an IP network, older analog cameras are normally kept in operation, says Nathan Pinkney, senior project engineer, ECRI Institute, Plymouth Meeting, Pa. "The older analog cameras are usually connected to video-to-IP converters (encoders), so their signals can be routed via the hospital's IP network along with signals from the recently installed IP network cameras. As analog cameras degrade over time, they are replaced by digital IP network cameras," he says.
While new hospitals are purchasing entire digital systems, manufacturers have developed methods that allow older existing hospitals to replace their analog technologies with hybrid systems, says Sean Ahrens, project manager, security, Aon Risk Solutions, Glenview, Ill.
"Essentially, a hybrid system utilizes both new IP solutions and older analog technologies via a single device that otherwise would not be possible through one system," he explains.
Control room flex
The move to digital is changing the size and configuration of control rooms, too, experts agree. "This is an area where you see the biggest changes," says Darren Graves, senior communications consultant, Smith Seckman Reid Inc., Nashville.
He says that IP and network video recorder solutions allow for a "virtual matrix" environment, eliminating the need for traditional security control rooms. In addition, a few high-resolution, flat-panel monitors can replace numerous small monitors.
"Customized multicamera views can be created and scrolled through, and cameras associated with alarms can be automatically brought up for viewing," Graves adds.
New smart cameras that offer multiple streaming capabilities are a big factor in the shrinking world of control rooms, according to Bill Taylor, president, Panasonic System Networks Company of America, Secaucus, N.J. "Continuing enhancement of smart features [inside the camera] helps to minimize a system's computational load as well as the amount of data that travels across the network," he notes. "From an operator's perspective, the information received in the control room is filtered to be more selective, so only information that requires action is received, which simplifies the process and enables control room designs to be streamlined."
The emerging technology of hosted video also may change control room design, says Dunn of Axis Communications Inc. By storing video surveillance data off-site in the cloud, additional on-site video storage equipment can be removed from security control rooms altogether.
"In essence, we could eliminate antiquated DVR solutions," he explains. "Especially in hospitals, hosted video can be used for more than simply eliminating storage costs and hardware."
In fact, certain hospitals now are identifying critical cameras — ones that cannot lose recording at anytime — and sending a redundant stream to the off-site storage facility, according to Dunn.
Security cameras are being integrated into other building automation systems throughout health care facilities to link with access control, lighting, emergency management, fire prevention and infant abduction systems, experts agree. In fact, video surveillance cameras often are used to view and record variables in critical environments such as compressed gases, temperature and humidity control and hygiene monitoring.
This has been a trend for several years, according to Scott Deininger, director of global technology, health care practice, Ingersoll Rand, Davidson, N.C. "Specific cameras either are integrated by wiring directly into other systems or integrated through software," he notes.
The benefits include faster reaction time for security personnel in an emergency, the ability to respond to an event with the appropriate manpower or equipment, better documentation of events and increased productivity for real-time and investigative work.
The integration of IP-based systems makes it easier than ever to deliver such unified linked-up solutions, says Gadi Piran, president of OnSSI, Pearl River, N.Y.
"Integration of video systems with intrusion- and access-control, as well as fire and life safety systems, expands the usefulness of video in the hospital environment," he says. "Many hospitals now operate these systems separately, but an IP-based management system can incorporate input from a variety of IP-based units."
Beyond these applications, facility managers can use video security systems to monitor activities such as shipping, receiving and inventory, according to Alexander Fernandes, president of Avigilon Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia. "The improved image quality available via new technology allows managers to monitor these operations and ensure employee compliance and accurate tracking of traffic in addition to employee and patient safety," he notes.
At this point, closed-circuit television systems are not being hardwired into other systems, Sparling's McChesney observes. Instead, he sees video-management systems being integrated on a software level to other systems, which allows monitoring and control on a single platform.
Video monitoring with hospital cameras on a personal digital assistant or smart phone is accomplished easily, experts agree.
The next leap
Looking beyond smart phones, the next technological leap may be the use of facial recognition and other analytics software integrated into digital video systems. Theoretically, such systems could trigger an alert when an intruder is behaving suspiciously.
Facial recognition and other advanced video analytics have improved dramatically in recent years and continue to gain traction for general surveillance applications, according to Carole Dougan, vice president, strategic accounts, Arecont Vision, Glendale, Calif. "In addition to new analytics software solutions being more powerful than earlier releases, they benefit from the increased volume and quality of data made available by megapixel cameras that perform more complex functions," she notes.
The challenge for video analytics software developers is defining "suspicious behavior," says Shane Meenan, director of sales, health care, ADT Advanced Integration, Norristown, Pa.
"For example, seeing an individual loitering in a hallway or walking by a specific area repeatedly can be programmed to trigger an alert," he says. However, an action such as raising one's hand, which could signify something as simple as stretching, is more challenging to define as an alarm trigger.
Once perfected, this technology will be adopted quickly, says Jim Stankevich, CHPA, manager, health care security, Software House, Tyco Security Products, Westford, Mass. However, facial recognition and identification technology is not yet where it needs to be to complement a high-traffic hospital environment, experts agree.
Neal Lorenzi is a freelance writer based in Mundelein, Ill.
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For further details on the video surveillance systems featured in this month's "Marketplace" article, readers can contact the following vendors:
»ADT Advanced Integration
»Axis Communications Inc.
»Bosch Security Systems Inc.
»Panasonic System Networks Company of America
»Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.
»Verint Video Intelligence Solutions