Hospital Security Still Flying Under the Radar

Two recent studies on hospital security and surge capacity deserve closer scrutiny by our nation’s elected officials. Both highlight the long term vulnerabilities facing healthcare institutions.

The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee has released conclusions of its one-day snapshot study of Level 1 trauma centers in seven major U.S. cities. It assessed whether these hospitals have the capacity to respond to the level of casualties experienced after the 2004 Madrid commuter train attack in which 177 individuals were killed and more than 2,000 were injured.

The results of this study are troubling. None of the 34 hospitals surveyed had sufficient emergency care capacity to respond to an attack generating the number of casualties that occurred in Madrid. The Level 1 trauma centers surveyed had no room in their ERs to treat a sudden influx of victims.

These findings have obvious implications for hospital security/public safety. Considering the chaos that would most certainly result from there not being enough beds and rooms to care for those injured as the result of a terrorist attack, it appears that many of America’s medical facilities will be in a world of hurt should a Madrid-type bombing occur near their campuses.

The study goes on to claim that of the 34 Level 1 trauma centers surveyed, 59 percent were operating over capacity, and the average ER was operating at 115 percent capacity. Even if we never have another terrorist incident or major disaster on U.S. soil, these conclusions are downright scary because overcrowding and long waits are associated with an increased number of day-to-day violent incidents at medical centers.

The recently released GE Security Benchmarking Study sheds some additional light on the health of American hospital security. According to the report, only 53 percent of America’s hospitals have the ability to lockdown electronically. For those medical campuses that must lockdown manually, it takes 64 percent of them more than 10 minutes to do so. Forty percent say they lack adequate support for security, and large hospitals have on average one major incident per week.

The good news is 60 percent of respondents say they had additional funding to spend on security last year. Sixty-six percent expect next year’s budgets to be bigger. Of course, that means more than a third of hospital public safety departments will not see an increase.

Considering the risks of a major disaster as well as the incidents hospitals encounter every day, it baffles me that healthcare security isn’t getting more attention. Additionally, the public and government officials don’t seem to understand that many non-security issues affect security. Hospital closings; the high cost of health insurance; the large number of uninsured or underinsured; the current shortage of nurses; and America’s penchant for lawsuits all either directly or indirectly affect those involved in hospital protection.

To address this issue, the Security Industry Association (SIA) and the International Association of Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) have proposed the “Security America’s Hospitals Act of 2008.” The bill, which is currently working its way through Congress, would provide grants for the improvement of physical security.

Legislation like this is a step in the right direction and will hopefully make healthcare security a higher priority for our nation. For additional information on this proposed bill, visit

America had to experience the Virginia Tech and Columbine tragedies before it came to terms with the importance of education security. I certainly hope CS’ hospital subscribers don’t have to go through the same type of tragedy in order to be taken seriously.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety. She can be reached at


About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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