MedStar Harbor Hospital Takes the Hybrid Approach to Video Surveillance

Only a few years ago, MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore had a challenge that many hospitals, schools and universities experience: They had legacy analog surveillance cameras that didn’t provide the coverage or image clarity required in today’s security applications.

Parking lots were particularly problematic in that many of the areas had glare that made it difficult for officers monitoring the CCTV system from the command center to see facial features. To address these issues, IP cameras were installed to provide clearer images so officers could more easily identify people and monitor campus activities.

The old digital video recorders were scrapped, and MedStar’s existing analog cameras were converted to IP streams using Sony multi-channel encoders. The encoders would enable the analog cameras to record onto the new OnSSI NVR server.

Additionally, multiple remote PCs were included in the design, giving hospital security a video wall capable of displaying as many as 96 live cameras simultaneously, says Dean Frail, senior technician at Baltimore-based security installer Kipp Visual Systems. “In that mix of 96 cameras, they now see all of their original analog cameras as well as the high-resolution IP Sony cameras that were installed in the expansion portion of the project,” he says.

The result of the installation was that MedStar was provided with a new platform that did not force the hospital to replace all of its original cameras, helping to save money and resources. Additionally, the system was designed in such a way that as the old analog cameras begin to fail, they can be replaced with new high-definition IP cameras relatively easily.

Officers Selected Areas Requiring More Monitoring

After the installation, MedStar security officers were trained on how to use the new system so it could act as a force extender that more efficiently deploys staff. The individuals assigned to manage the system in the command center were then asked by MedStar Chief of Protection Services Jose Rosado to select eight to 10 cameras to monitor areas they believed required more attention.

“These spots are picked by the [shift personnel] themselves because they know their shifts better than anyone else,” he says. Because of the new system and its effective operation, there have been some successful apprehensions, particularly in the parking lot.

“Our command center has come up with some good clues and has observed some folks on our lots walking around cars, and we have run them off,” says Rosado. “As soon as they see us, they are gone. We have also had some trespassers, and the video equipment has helped us clear and detain people.”

“If our courtyard becomes a triage facility, the managers need to be on top of the situation. How many are seeking help? How many ambulances are rolling in? Where should we deploy our resource to put them to best use?”

The cameras also help augment other security systems, such as call boxes and panic alarms. For example, when a call is made from a blue light phone, officers in the command center swing the cameras around to view what is happening. That feature, along with the fact that officers on patrol listen in on the call, has helped to improve situational awareness, decrease officer response times and improve service.

System Provides Operational Efficiencies

The system manages not only the security of the parking lot and other campus locations, but also the hospital’s safety and operations. For example, visitors occasionally park in fire lanes and block ambulance entrances.

“We regularly check who is parked there,” says Ray McDonald, MedStar’s former chief of security. “It had been hard to recognize drivers because of the glare. Now, we cut through that and see their faces. When someone puts their car in the wrong place, we can recognize them and handle the situation quickly.”

The new system also monitors MedStar’s treatment areas, maternity ward, entrances, waiting rooms and loading docks, and helps manage the hospital’s emergency planning protocol.

“If our courtyard becomes a triage facility, the managers need to be on top of the situation,” adds McDonald. “How many are seeking help? How many ambulances are rolling in? Where should we deploy our resource to put them to best use?”

Other Solutions Augment Camera Effectiveness

Although video surveillance is an excellent option for improving security, Rosado is quick to point out that other efforts, such as bike patrols, have bolstered the cameras’ performance. He also introduced the ghost car program, where one of the hospital’s unused patrol vehicles is parked in the lot. That effort reduced incidents from 15 to zero.

For other campuses wishing to upgrade their camera systems, Rosado recommends they plan carefully. “You have to review everything that is going on in the hospital to know what needs to be covered,” he says. “We don’t want to just start throwing cameras up.”

Frail adds that a hybrid approach to installations, like the one taken by MedStar, is often most appropriate for hospitals, schools or universities with legacy analog systems. “Now they have the ability to replace old hardware as needed, without going back for capital funding to replace dozens of cameras at one time.”


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About the Author

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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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