Resource Center

guide / February 14, 2023

The essential guide to hospital security

No community can function without a hospital. Not only is it the frontline of emergency medical services, open at all hours to heal and protect individuals with acute medical needs, but it is also the primary healthcare provider for vast swathes of the American populace. The care given at these facilities is vital and noble, but those providing the care — the doctors, nurses, and other staff — often face the risk of bodily harm. Healthcare workers are five times more likely to be the victims of workplace violence compared to other American workers, and the rate of violent attacks grew by 63% from 2011 to 2018. This is why hospital security is so important.

Cameras, checkpoints, staff, and more can play a part in addressing hospital security issues, keeping medical professionals and their patients safe to go about their healing business. But security measures must be deployed with care and within your hospital’s budget. Read on to learn everything you need to know about hospital security.

What Is Hospital Security?

Hospital security is the practice of maintaining a safe and orderly environment in hospitals, from patient intake through care and discharge. Despite their role as centers for healing, hospitals are frequently the sites of violent disruptions. These attacks are a threat in and of themselves, making it difficult for nurses and doctors to treat their patients. They are also a contributing factor in the looming labor shortage among healthcare workers. Current trends indicate that more than 6.5 million people will leave low-wage healthcare jobs within the next five years, while only 1.9 million will replace them. When 15,000 Minnesota nurses walked off the job in September 2022, they listed safety concerns among their grievances.

Hospital security teams employ surveillance technology such as cameras to monitor the grounds, identification checkpoints to control who has access to what areas of the hospital, alarm systems to alert staff when something has gone wrong, and security officers to control each of these systems and respond appropriately to disturbances.

What Technology Is Used in Hospital Security?

Technological advances provide new solutions to age-old hospital security issues. Many provide users not just with the tools to handle incidents when they arise, but also to identify potential threats and manage them before they materialize. Panic devices allow hospital staff to safely and discreetly alert security personnel to potential disruptions, decreasing response times and leading to better outcomes. TASER energy weapons and other non-lethal tools can also lead to safer outcomes for staff and assailants. Finally, cameras, both around the building and worn by staff, can provide accountability, evidence in the event of litigation and documentation staff can review with an eye toward future improvements.

Hospital Security Officers Explained

Hospital security officers are private security professionals that keep healthcare facilities safe by patrolling the grounds, identifying safety risks, responding to emergencies, and more. They are the most visible deterrent to violence a hospital possesses and invaluable in the event of violent outbursts. A good hospital security officer displays the following qualities:

  • Observant: A keen eye for details, with a reliable memory to spot and report potential issues.

  • Courteous: A personable manner that keeps patients, visitors, and staff comfortable.

  • Courageous: An ability to stay calm, clear headed, and active in potentially dangerous situations.

  • Adaptable: An openness to improvements in strategy, technique, technology, and more to effect the best possible outcomes.

What Are a Hospital Security Officer’s Duties?

The most basic duty a hospital security officer has is to patrol the premises and watch for suspicious or concerning activity. They often monitor security camera feeds and interface with other team members throughout the hospital to stay abreast of any potential incidents in the making. They must prevent fights, vandalism, and other disturbances before they grow into major problems. Should such problems arise, they must respond appropriately to keep them under control and ultimately resolve them with as little disruption as possible. Finally, they must report anything of note to leadership and their fellow officers.

What Are the Necessary Qualifications for Hospital Security Guards?

In addition to having certain personal qualities, hospital security guards must meet certain education and training requirements. Most hospital security guard postings ask that applicants have a high school diploma. It’s rare but not unheard of for such positions to require a two-year or four-year college degree. In terms of training, applicants benefit from knowledge of CPR, fire safety, emergency response, weapons, and self-defense, among other things. Sometimes that training or certification can be completed within a certain period of being hired, but typically the applicant must already be certified.

Employers usually expect around a year of related security experience, with experience in a hospital as a plus. As interacting with hospital staff and writing reports are cornerstones of the job, hospitals prize strong verbal and written communication skills.

Recommended Hospital Security Systems

Safety is the highest priority of any hospital security system, but there are more factors at play. Violence at healthcare facilities costs $428.5 million annually. That includes a whopping $234.2 million in employee turnover costs, plus millions more in medical care, indemnity, disability, and absenteeism costs. Investing in good security can save your hospital an enormous amount of money and heartache.

Every hospital will have its own specific security needs, but there are a few that serve as a foundation upon which to build further systems. Security staff is the most impactful component of a security system, but video surveillance is only just behind it. Cameras mounted on and inside the building can act as deterrents of unwanted behavior and can record and store footage for incident analysis or use as evidence. They can also be activated by motion sensors or sounds such as gunshots.

Similarly important is an alarm system that instantly alerts staff of an intrusion in a controlled area. Such a system can help secure unmanned areas and can tip the entire hospital off to gas leaks, smoke, fire, carbon dioxide, or other dangerous substances.

For High-Risk Facilities

If your hospital is in a particularly high-crime area, or if it sees a large enough volume of patients, it may be worthwhile to invest in additional security systems. Reinforcing your existing security workers with additional staff can deter violent incidents by the simple fact of their presence. They also serve to augment other security solutions, such as surveillance and alarms and can help resolve incidents safely if given the proper training.

Outfitting those staff with body-worn cameras can reduce the frequency of incidents, deter violence against staff wearing the cameras, provide a record of incidents for review and improvement and provide evidence in the event of litigation. They can also help keep security staff accountable, encouraging upright conduct.

Weapon detection has come a long way from the days of the traditional magnetometer. What we think of as metal detectors are largely being replaced by more sophisticated machines that can detect a weapon on a person’s body without that person having to remove any bags or clothing. These weapon detectors are faster and more accurate than metal detectors, and they can even use artificial intelligence to show in real time where it has detected a weapon on a person.

Hospital Security Cameras Explained

Security cameras are one of the simplest and most effective security systems at a hospital’s disposal, but their use must be carefully considered both for maximum impact and to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Privacy and HIPAA-Compliance

Because hospitals are public spaces, they are allowed to use cameras to help secure their premises. Security cameras can even record PHI or protected personal information (PPI) without violating HIPAA so long as the protected information contained within that footage is never seen by unauthorized personnel. Hospitals can maintain compliance provided only security personnel access the footage in question. That requires strict access controls, audit histories, and other tools to ensure only the right people see recorded footage.

Security Camera Uses

The placement of security cameras can play a significant role in determining their effectiveness. Different placements serve different purposes, each with its own set of advantages.

  • Exterior cameras in parking garages, entrances, and exits can deter bad actors and keep a record of hospital visitors.

  • Interior, public space cameras can allow a smaller security staff to protect a larger amount of traffic. They can also serve as deterrents to violence.

  • Body-worn cameras deter violence against their wearers, allow hospital staff to review incidents and improve security policy and provide evidence in legal proceedings as a result of incidents.

  • Patient room cameras provide 24-hour monitoring of patients in critical care. They can aid in the detection of a code blue and help ensure proper medical practices and facility protocols are upheld.

  • Sensitive area cameras can protect pharmacies, records rooms, and equipment storage areas from misuse, ensuring only authorized personnel access them and keeping a record of access.

Whatever cameras you install, you’ll need a way to transmit what they see to a viewing station or storage. You can achieve this through wires, Wi-Fi, or the cloud. Wi-Fi and cloud solutions eliminate the need for cables, saving on materials and keeping visual clutter minimal. On the other hand, hardwires provide the best image and the most stability, and they’re the only option that will continue to function during a network outage.

Hospital security is a complex set of problems each institution needs to solve for itself. Axon interviewed four hospital security experts to get insight into the process. Whatever the size of your organization or its challenges, you can develop a holistic system to keep it secure and within budget by consulting our ebook, “Workplace Violence & Hospitals: A Guide to Strategic Security Investment.” Download it here.