Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s Mass Notification Makeover

Computer pop-up messaging allows this Northern California hospital to send targeted emergency alerts to specific groups at specific locations, as well as reach staff members in remote buildings.
Published: December 31, 2009

Go to almost any hospital, and you’ll notice that the primary mode of communication to staff and visitors is the public address system. For the most part, paging works well in these environments because medical staff are well trained and understand the meaning of the various codes communicated via the PA systems.

Like any form of mass notification, however, PAs have their weaknesses, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s (SCVMC) PA was no exception. Campus safety and security stakeholders knew they had to find another solution to compensate for their paging system’s pitfalls.

PA Only Covered a Portion of Campus
SCVMC’s existing system didn’t reach the campus’ smaller maintenance buildings, temporary trailers and training facilities. “Any announcement we did was limited to inside the contiguous hospital building,” says Peggy Albert, SCVMC’s emergency management coordinator. Even in locations where the messages could be heard, the announcements were sometimes unintelligible when the hospital was busy. Also, because there were so many announcements being broadcast everyday, staff sometimes just tuned them out.

“In hospitals, we do big exercises twice a year for disaster preparedness, and this was an issue that would come up in every single exercise,” adds Albert. “People didn’t consistently get the notice that they needed to respond.”

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Another challenge with the existing PA system was that it provided little support to employees who didn’t understand or didn’t need to respond to medical codes. Additionally, some emergency announcements confuse or frighten the general public when not heard clearly.

The campus also used phone trees but found them to be time consuming and too reliant on manpower to execute calls to a narrow group of message recipients.

SCVMC needed a system that could provide detailed messages to targeted groups, including nonclinical staff, in different locations at any time without broadcasting the same ­message to everyone.

Some Computers Required Upgrades
A group of SCVMC safety and security stakeholders – from security to information systems to administrators – determined that the computer pop-up notification solution from Loomis, Calif.-based REACT Systems would best address their campus’ emergency alert issues. With the help of a $70,000 grant, the system was deployed on SCVMC’s existing network in 2006.

Like any installation, there were some challenges. The main one for SCVMC was that some of its existing computers had to be upgraded. “Because we are such a large organization and continually grow, we had computer work stations that were in a variety of formats as far as age and capabilities,” says Albert.

According to Jeremy Krinitt, REACT’s vice president of product marketing, “The hospital was in the process of making upgrades to some machines, and the information systems department decided to wait until these in-process projects were complete before installing REACT.”

As a result, the initial deployment took a couple of months. Since then, however, the new system has run smoothly.

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