Video Surveillance & Physical Security Industry Viewpoints
April 8th, 2020
Author: Enav Perez

Increasing Situational Awareness at Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities

Physical security in hospitals and healthcare facilities is hugely important, not only for the sake of protecting staff and patients, but also for safeguarding valuable inventories, facilities, and laboratories. From ambulance bays to cafes, parking areas, medical supply storage units, and ICUs, healthcare facilities play host to hundreds or thousands of patients, staff, and visitors who traverse the grounds on any given day.


Like many organizations, clinics require comprehensive situational awareness. They need to be constantly and completely informed about what is happening and where. Keeping a watchful eye on all areas of those sometimes-sprawling facilities can be a daunting task, so most healthcare facilities have deployed video surveillance cameras for monitoring, and they maintain video records, so any unusual activities or incidents can be investigated further after the fact. Even with video surveillance networks, there are still challenges. There is limited security staff for actively monitoring those CCTV cameras in real time and, when incidents occur, security staff may not be aware of them unless a bystander or staff person witnesses them or if surveillance operators happened to see the incidents on a video monitoring screen.

Video content analytics software, powered by Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence, overcomes these obstacles by processing surveillance video to detect, identify, categorize and index the objects in video footage – from people or animals, to bags, vehicles, hats, and other items, as well as their attributes. Using this technology, video operators can set benchmarks for normal behavior (i.e., people dwelling in an area) or conditions (i.e., the number of people or cars in an area, or lights that are on or off in an area) and then use that insight to detect anomalies and send real time alerts to notify staff when conditions might require closer monitoring or intervention. For example, when a person is detected in a pre-defined area, which is secure or off-limits, an alert can be triggered that allows security to investigate the incident as unfolds. With video content analytics, hospital security and operations teams can proactively prevent problems or incidents and respond quickly to developing situations. Below are some examples.

Prevent Bottlenecks in Ambulance Bays

One highly sensitive area in a hospital is the ambulance bays; because these must remain unoccupied in case of emergencies, it is critical for hospitals to make sure that they are kept clear of unauthorized vehicles. By leveraging intelligent video surveillance to detect persons or objects in this space and trigger rule based alerts whenever an object is detected there,  hospitals can proactively prevent traffic or bottlenecks in ambulance bays: This is not just a matter of convenience; it can be a matter of life or death.

Monitor Suspicious Dwelling and Loitering

Security might also want to be alerted to lingering or dwelling throughout the hospital, such as in gift shops or storage rooms, which could indicate an intention to steal inventory or engage in other illicit behavior. Given that video analytics software can track the amount of time someone dwells in an area, it can send an alert if someone is dwelling for an unusual amount of time in a particular area.

Mitigate Risks of Theft and Crime

The video analytic alerting capability for detecting people and activity can also be applied to detect the presence of people in sensitive/secure areas – especially during at unusual hours or for suspicious durations of time. If an individual is detected in areas surrounding medicine supply storage, security staff might want to monitor that activity more closely and trigger alerts to bring those activities to their attention. They could further refine those rule-based alerts by configuring alerting for times of day or night where access to medicines or certain supplies is restricted, or setting a threshold for the number of people who might be loitering in that space or the duration of time a person is detected in the area. This increased situational awareness can help hospitals and healthcare facilities prevent theft of drugs for illicit resale or abuse.

In addition to determining whether there are people in an off-limits area, facial recognition, can help identify the person(s) in the area to determine whether or not they are allowed to be there. Facial recognition software can recognize a person’s identity from a photo or video reference image of the person’s face. In jurisdictions where it is allowed, this technology can be used to compare faces in a video feed to faces that are on a digital watchlist of approved individuals. When a person excluded from the configured watchlist appears in video footage on hospital grounds, security will be notified so staff can respond appropriately, whether by monitoring the individual on grounds or asking that person to leave.

Track High Risk Patients

Similarly, watchlists can be created of patients with Alzheimer’s or Dementia diagnoses, as well as psychological illnesses, so alerts can be triggered if they wander out of their wards – based on face recognition and line crossing analytics – and video can be quickly searched to pinpoint them throughout a medical complex. This can help prevent these high-risk patients from meeting harm.

Stay Attuned to Illumination Changes

Hospitals often have automated lighting to turn lights off and on. If a light is turned on through a motion sensor at an unusual time, security staff need to be aware. A video content analytics system can detect changes in illumination and send a real-time alert to security staff so they can investigate when a light is turned on at an abnormal time. Lighting can be yet another indication of an intent to commit a crime – or even something as innocuous as a patient violating curfew, when rest is needed for recovery, or room confinement is needed to ensure the patient – and others’ – safety.

Prevent Crowding in Waiting Rooms

Hospitals try to avoid having crowded waiting rooms, gift shops and restaurants, or sensitive wards such as Intensive Care Units or emergency rooms, so it can be useful to configure intelligent video surveillance to trigger people counting alerts for detecting the number of people in an area and sending notifications when a pre-defined room capacity threshold has been exceeded. Having immediate notice when crowds are forming is helpful to avoid agitation or a crisis.

Control Pedestrian and Vehicular Traffic Flows

With so many areas of a healthcare facility, security or operations managers often need to be aware of unusual spikes in pedestrian or vehicle traffic, on roadways and parking lots within healthcare facilities to prevent or proactively respond to traffic congestion. Count-based alerts can notify managers about crowded, or underutilized areas, and allow them to redirect traffic to other parking areas or entrances and exits.

In addition, hospitals typically have restaurants and gift shops, where count-based alerts can notify retail managers where excessively long queues may have formed. Managers can then make sure there are enough service workers to meet the customer demand.

Proactively Maintain and Clean Facilities

Facility managers can also use real-time alerts to improve cleaning and maintenance scheduling.  Customized real-time count alerts can notify managers whenever a certain threshold of people entering a lobby or a restroom has been reached. Managers can then deploy maintenance staff to clean the area as needed.

In healthcare environments, situational awareness is the key to improving overall security and ensuring patient and personnel safety and wellness. Video content analytics technology has proven effective in providing the real-time, actionable intelligence that needed for active monitoring and preventative intervention to incidents; it is a logical way for healthcare facilities to maximize their investments in video surveillance.