Are Drones a Threat to Your Hospital?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are growing in popularity, and hospitals must be prepared to address as best they can the safety, security and privacy implications of these devices.
Published: December 10, 2015

September’s incident at the U.S. Open, where a drone slammed into empty seats at Louis Armstrong Stadium, highlights the ongoing and evolving threat posed by drones. In this case, a relatively high-security, high-profile event was infiltrated by a teacher who allegedly lost control of his drone. While the unmanned aerial vehicle didn’t harm anyone, it still caused panic among spectators and players, as well as disrupted the event.

So, if someone can fly a drone into the U.S. Open, why can’t they fly a drone onto your hospital campus? The unsettling answer is that there is nothing currently in place to stop drones from flying onto your property and potentially disrupting your operations. While Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines currently advise against the use of hobby aircraft within 400 feet of a hospital or populated area, many drone operators are unfamiliar with this guidance. Beyond these guidelines, there is nothing in place to truly protect your hospital campus outside of simple vigilance on behalf of your security staff.

There are two primary concerns raised by drone operation near your hospital: interference with medical helicopters and invasion of privacy. Let’s take a closer look at these two issues.

Interference with Medical Helicopters
There have already been several instances of drones disrupting medical helicopter flights, including one last year in Dayton, Ohio, in which a drone significantly delayed the landing of a helicopter. Another occurred this summer in Fresno, Calif., when a drone almost hit a helicopter transporting a patient.

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Luckily, there haven’t been any collisions with medical helicopters to date, but the delay caused by a drone within a flight path could mean the difference between life and death for a patient aboard a chopper.

RELATED: Drone Safety: Will Regulating Them Work?

Invasion of Privacy
Drones can also be used to peer into the windows of your hospital, violating the privacy of patients inside exam rooms and elsewhere. This is of particular concern for VIPs and dignitaries who may be the subject of media attention. While this type of threat is unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities, as illustrated by an incident in New York last summer. A man whose drone was observed by patients and staff inside the hospital was arrested but later acquitted on charges of unlawful surveillance. This could set a precedent for similar incidents in the future.

How to Protect Your Hospital from Drones
While there’s not much you can do to physically protect your hospital from a drone, simple vigilance and awareness on behalf of your hospital security staff can help spot trouble and take action to prevent situations from escalating.

For example, security staff can notify incoming medical helicopters of the danger or take action to prevent viewing of patient rooms. There’s also technology out there, such as radar/surveillance systems, but they are unlikely to be deployed at hospitals for such a rare threat.

Popularity of Drones Is Increasing
Drones are a rare threat to hospitals, but the popularity of these flying, video-equipped machines is gaining popularity. It’s important that hospital security departments remain aware of the potential threat posed by drones and take appropriate action when they are spotted on or near the hospital campus.

Dave Corbin is the director of public safety, parking, facilities and engineering at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series