A Healthy Dose of Security

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

A generous budget and a free hand helped security experts at one hospital update antiquated systems and add modern technology.

Rarely is a security director given carte blanche and a generous budget, but that is exactly what Greenville Hospital System (GHS) of Greenville County, South Carolina, a not-for-profit academic health organization, handed Shawn I. Reilly, CPP, when he joined their security team on the eve of a massive facility expansion.

The project is not yet complete, but what has been achieved thus far “has hopefully set the benchmark for hospital security in the southeastern United States,” he says of the ongoing upgrades in existing buildings and installations in new ones.

GHS has five 80-to-200-acre campuses with multiple community hospitals (one recently renovated and one newly built and opened), a nursing home, newly completed assisted living housing, outpatient and wellness centers, and administrative and other buildings. Additionally, a second new hospital is under construction.

Hospital management was aware that security required extensive updating and expansion. “They took it seriously,” Reilly states.

The security operation that he inherited was fulfilling its role at “the most basic level,” he says. The contract security officers were heavily relied on yet poorly paid, and the existing CCTV technology was “old Pelco analog cameras and VCRs that covered only a few places—about 15 to 20 cameras spread over millions of square feet of buildings.”

While the Software House C-Cure access control system was large, with more than 100 readers, it was maintained by the engineering department, whose staffers were minimally trained and overburdened. The system disarray included memory chips on the controllers that were completely full, meaning no new users could be added.

Updating antiquated systems and add-ing modern technology—including new Pelco IP (Internet-based) surveillance cameras and digital recording, as well as proximity readers and biometric access controls from Software House—were on the agenda. It would be important to prioritize what needed to be done and get the right people to do the work.

Reilly had a security consultancy work with him on design, but he didn’t want them to be involved in the installation, because that would conflict with their first job—objective consultation.

After getting RFPs from five companies, Reilly eventually selected Tech Systems, Inc., of Duluth, Georgia, which it turned out was already present on the main GHS campus, albeit confined to a service contract with the information systems department. Reilly liked the fact that Scott Welborn, CPP, business development manager for Tech Systems, was a Certified Protection Professional® (CPP), as were all of Tech System’s business development employees and most account representatives.

“From the summer of 2006, we’ve done no less than 15 projects—some of major size,” Welborn states. The initial security project involved updating the existing C-Cure access control system to its most modern proximity card version, adding hundreds of new readers, and rebadging the entire GHS employee, volunteer, and contracting population of about 14,000 during a period of several months from a designated location in the IT building set up for this purpose.

Biometric fingerprint-reading access control was added to special areas such as pharmacies, emergency rooms, medical records retention areas, and infant wards. Keypad smart-card combination readers were added to areas accessed by emergency personnel.

A fiber optic backbone was installed and all inputs, including those from access controls, call boxes, video, and a new infant protection system, were integrated.

The central command center at the main GHS campus can now remotely lockdown the ground floors of the hospitals and view CCTV feed from any number of cameras positioned to allow the central command dispatcher to conduct immediate visual assessments. Previously, when alarms were triggered or panic buttons were pushed in areas such as the hospital’s gift shop and administrative areas, security officers responded to the scene but had no advance view of what awaited them.

In remote facilities that are closed at night or only minimally staffed, the dispatcher at the central command can now conduct video tours instead of traditional guard tours.

The projects are expected to continue at a cost of approximately $1 million per year over the next three years. And, according to Reilly, GHS has annually earmarked $100,000 for “things that were not predicted.”

For example, recently a patient in an adolescent ward in one of the existing buildings climbed out a window and eloped. The investigation revealed that only one of five windows was alarmed. In another case, when an older off-site pharmacy was broken into, it was discovered that it had never had an alarm system before.

Another surprise occurred in the rack room. “The thing that should have been looked at was the phenomenal amount of equipment loaded into there,” says Reilly. That equipment generated so many BTUs that a specially designed cooling system had to be installed.

Security spending has also risen with the decision to provide higher pay for the contract security officers. Reilly says that GHS needs officers who are capable of understanding and using all the new technology that is being put in place. “Higher pay means better people,” he states.

“Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. Has there been a learning period? There always is. There are still challenges that pop up, but I think the hospital would say they made the right choices, and they know how to budget going forward,” says Welborn.

Despite GHS’s willingness to spend generously on security, Tech Systems has tried to find ways to save money. For example, the design consultancy was charging an extra fee of “upwards of $45,000 to do systems design drawings,” says Welborn. “We have a CAD department and we do these drawings all the time, so we do them now for GHS for free.”

For more information: Pelco, 800/289-9100; e-mail:; Web: Software House, 781/466-6660; Web: Tech Systems, Inc., 803/808-2702; e-mail:; Web:

Ann Longmore-Etheridge is associate editor at Security Management.



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