Designing Security Systems in Health Care

In the past, designing security systems in health care settings — defined for this article as the electronic systems providing video surveillance (CCTV), access control and intrusion detections — was often overlooked during the design process. Many times, only a budgetary number was carried until late into the design, making system implementation into an existing health care facility expensive and logistically complicated. This is primarily due to The Joint Commission’s infectious control guidelines, which a majority of health care organizations have adopted for their facilities, making a post-construction system installation considerably more difficult. Furthermore, adding a new security design into a health care construction project late in the design process often results in missed opportunities to integrate it with other building systems. Let’s examine why designing security systems early in the design process is so critical.

Spatial Considerations

An important reason to get onboard early is to coordinate the system’s spatial requirements with the overall building design. A common question is whether security equipment can be co-located with the telecommunications equipment in a network room versus providing a dedicated security room. This issue should be resolved early in the schematic phase, as obtaining the right amount of space and clearance for electronic equipment is critical for a successful project. The design team must also coordinate conduit routes for the security cabling and provide for the electrical and cooling requirements of the system. Other considerations include power conditioning to prevent damage to the system from power line spikes and surges, and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to keep the system operational during brief or extended power outages. The security design consultant plays an important role on the design team to ensure that these issues are resolved early in the design process while the building plans are still fluid.

Security as a Player in the Design Process

One of the first steps in the design process is to arrange a programming meeting to review the building’s security requirements and to establish a design direction. The facility director of security, owner’s project manager and/or owners’ representatives, security consultant and the architect should be part of this conversation. The architect should review the building’s design, including the ceiling types and aspects of the interior design that can affect selection and locations of security equipment such as cameras. For example, a camera focused on a door could be mounted unobtrusively in a wall enclosure rather than using a highly visible dome in the ceiling at the doorway. If the facility has standardized on network-based (IP) cameras and other devices, cable lengths will need to be limited to 90 meters from device to patch panel, requiring that data closets will need to be located so as to serve all equipment locations.

Following the program meeting, the security consultant will write the “basis of design” draft, the document that establishes the guidelines and overall system concept for the project. From this, a preliminary budget for the electronic security system can be developed and the various technology components for each subsystem (access control, video surveillance and perimeter detection) can be specified. This information should be circulated to the project team for comment. Once it has been revised and approved, the document becomes the basis of design that will guide the ongoing design of the system.

The development of the system design occurs in parallel with the overall building design. For a large project, a number of design meetings or video conferences may be required to ensure that the system integration proceeds smoothly. With the tools to share desktops and drawings remotely, electronic meetings are often a highly effective way to collaborate.

Evolving Security Technology

Technology in the security field has been evolving rapidly. There are features and benefits to having network cameras instead of analog cameras, such as remote control and network-based system management. Network cameras provide a digitally compressed video signal, minimizing the bandwidth of the transmitted and recorded signal while maximizing video quality. The digital signal is not subject to signal degradation due to cable or signal conversion effects. Other features, such as a tamper switch to report attempts to disable the camera, are possible. IP-based equipment, in many cases, can be powered over the network cable (power-over-ethernet or PoE), eliminating requirements for local power.

In recent years, access control systems have rapidly evolved into highly secure, HIPPA-compliant systems. Legacy magnetic striped access cards are being replaced with 125kHz proximity cards or, increasingly, high-frequency 13.56 MHz read/write smart cards. These smart cards provide health care facilities with secure access control at staff-only doors, IT login (think: workstations on wheels — WOWs — or shared workstations), and point-of-sale terminals in the cafeteria as well as entry/exit gates in the parking garage. Door access card readers must be integrated with the electric locking mechanisms for the doors. A central processor, located in a secure space, controls the system operation. Once the system is properly wired and configured, system management and operation is done via the facility’s secure network, by human resources, the security department or a security officer. Different levels of rights can be granted to system operators. For example, a security officer may be able to monitor a facility by seeing what doors are opened and closed. The same security officer may not have rights to override doors by unlocking them remotely after certain hours or to add or delete access cards.

Intrusion detection sensors are devices that are intended to sense unauthorized access and provide an input directly to the access control system. These inputs can be motion detectors, glass break or glass cutting sensors, vibration sensors, tamper switches, door contacts, or even motion sensors inherent to certain network cameras. All these sensors have a place in securing the facility and may be set to detect events only during particular times of the day. Again, it’s important to discern the actual requirements of the facility during the programming phase.

Designing successful security systems for health care is all about asking the right questions at the right time and documenting the results. The security consultant must provide a set of drawings and specifications that enable the system to be bid competitively and clearly define the scope of work in order to minimize problems during construction. The project drawings include floor plans showing the locations of all security devices, room plans for security spaces, details of consoles and equipment racks, details such as door wiring installation details, and the appropriate riser diagrams.

Using an experienced security consultant and integrating the system design into the overall design process is essential to achieving a successful security system in the finished health care project.

Jay Epstein, RCDD, ESS, AXIS Certified Professional, is a senior consultant in audiovisual, IT, and security systems at Acentech Inc, a multi-disciplinary acoustics, audiovisual systems design, and vibration consulting firm with offices in Cambridge, Mass., Trevose, Penn., and Los Angeles, Calif. For more information, please visit