HSNW conversation with Bonnie S. MichelmanKey to disaster preparedness is “training, training, training”

Published 14 December 2011

Bonnie S. Michelman, CPP/CHPA, the director of police, security, and outside services at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently took the time to speak with Homeland Security NewsWire’s executive editor Eugene K. Chow; in their interview, Michelman highlights the recent technological security measures Massachusetts General has installed, finding the right balance between security and openness, and preventing terrorists from stealing the low-grade radioactive materials that are housed in hospitals

Bonnie S. Michelman // Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

Homeland Security NewsWire: Securing a hospital seems to be a delicate operation as these types of facilities are meant to be reassuring places of healing for patients as well as their family members. How do you strike a balance between openness and security?

Bonnie Michelman: That’s probably the most difficult challenge that we in hospital security have: getting people on the right end of the continuum with one end being complacency and the other being fear. So ensuring people are alert and aware about policies, protocol, and procedures, but not feeling like it’s Fort Knox, and certainly not showcasing a hospital as being one that could be identified as one that is not safe because there are so many visible security measures that patients and visitors will not want to come.

I think we tread a fine line in trying to find a confluence of very good security measures – technological ones, procedural ones, educational initiatives, as well as very well trained, competent, and compassionate staff who together can form the right protection of assets in a hospital but certainly not accentuate fear.

HSNW: You mentioned technological security measures. In the past decade, there have been major technological breakthroughs in terms of security. Are there any technological solutions or systems that have been recently implemented that have proven to be particularly helpful in achieving this balance between security and openness?

BM: We have a very robust integrated security system that we have built over many, many years. I would say right now having the right cameras and video storage DVR’s with the right functionality is very important. Having a good access control system with good technology that is easy to use. We use one with dual technology – it has barcode and infrared scan so that people do not have to take off their badge to swipe it through a card reader if they are wheeling a gurney. They can just place it against a card reader.

Also, having the right panic alarm technology so that it’s convenient, easy to use, and easy to train on and then having specific customized technology for different risks such as an infant abduction system.

HSNW: To switch gears a bit, with hospitals storing large quantities of low-grade radioactive material for use in various medical equipment, they have been viewed as potential targets for terrorists who seek to steal material for use in a dirty bomb. Given the dangers of this