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November 2011

Security central

Date: November 14, 2011

Security communications specialists Darlene Fairley and Jonathan Lewis keep their eyes on the security and safety of the East Baltimore campus.
Security communications specialists Darlene Fairley and Jonathan Lewis keep their eyes on the security and safety of the East Baltimore campus.

When a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rumbled through Baltimore last August, unsettled employees dialed Hopkins Corporate  Security. “Seconds after the quake, the phones lit up and the panic alarms were going off,” says Ken Nyczaj, manager of the security communications system. “People were asking if a helicopter had crashed on the roof.”

Thanks to reports coming from a television monitor locked on the news, Nyczaj and his security team were able to alleviate fears and dispel rumors. Permanent access to breaking news is just one of the improvements at The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s new security communications center.

The center, located in a dimly lit room on the hospital’s first floor, is a 24/7 hub of activity. Video footage from more than 1,500 cameras plays out on 37 oversized monitors, offering a glimpse of all external and internal corners of campus from dark sidewalks and alleyways to side doors and stairwells. Watchful security officers use the cameras as extra eyes to keep patients, employees and visitors safe. 

The security core overhaul—a project almost 10 years in the making—was prompted by plans for two new hospital towers that would add 560 patient beds to the East Baltimore campus. Harry Koffenberger, Hopkins Medicine vice president for corporate security, knew that additional resources, including 150 cameras, were needed to make the new clinical buildings secure.

As his team planned how to revamp the center, they factored in a growing demand for security in the workplace. Last year, Corporate Security received more than 68,000 calls.

“Fifteen years ago workplace violence wasn’t as topical as it is today,” Koffenberger says. “We’re seeing more of a demand for security services, especially after the campus shooting last September.”

Koffenberger and George Economas, internal security director, decided to transform their dated communications center into a whole new model—an emergency call center. With the help of Nyczaj, they selected Alliance, a computerized dispatch and report management system, to serve as its heart.

The system allows Corporate Security to respond to calls on a whole new scale. “We could power a medium-sized city’s 911 call center,” Koffenberger says. More importantly, the communications center has capabilities that could allow them to support Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Howard County General Hospital if their security equipment fails or they’re unable to reach their own emergency communications centers. Alliance also offers better reporting mechanisms to investigate patterns in thefts and other incidents. 

Staff can now monitor all security systems from each workstation; previously each terminal was dedicated to either external cameras, internal cameras, panic alarms or card access. “It was like musical chairs,” Economas says. “We had multiple silos and each individual was responsible for their silo.”

Additional construction slated for 2012 includes a break room that can convert into a command post for police or firefighters during a campus crisis and can also serve as a backup location for the hospital’s incident command center.

Corporate Security plans to hire additional staff to cover the needs of the hospital expansion. The department will also recruit disabled veterans to serve as communications officers in the new command center, which features a station with accommodations that meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

—Shannon Swiger