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Princess Margaret Hospital redevelops its access control from the ground up

Looking out across the main atrium of the Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto, Todd Milne can smile now. It’s been almost a year since his security office was taken apart, the concrete floor ripped up and the staff relocated out to the atrium.


November 21, 2011
By Linda Johnson


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The renovation was part of a redevelopment of the hospital’s access control system that makes the system compatible with that used at the other hospitals in the University Health Network (UHN), the Toronto General, Toronto Western and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

“We recognized our access control system had become antiquated and was in need of a boost,” says Milne, UHN senior manager, security operations.

The upgrade will allow the 14,000 clinical, administrative and service UHN staff to come and go between the networked hospitals with a single ID and access card.

Before the conversion, which started in January, PMH had an old Telecon ISL card system. Throughout the building, there were several access systems, and four or five different cards were being used. Every employee had to carry a photo ID and access card, while at the other hospitals, one card served both purposes.

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“We thought this was an opportunity to ensure that our buildings were running under one solution, and we wanted to have one common access card. It makes things a lot easier,” Milne says.

Having a standard access system was particularly important at UHN because it includes teaching hospitals, says Ralph Staffiere, senior account executive at Johnson Controls, the project’s integrator. Medical staff often work in several facilities, and different systems make tracking employees very complicated.

“You have doctors who go from location to location. One particular doctor may have three access cards, three different clearance codes and three databases that need to be maintained. So, by doing [the upgrade], they can now manage that one physician going from hospital to hospital and not have multiple, different access cards,” he says.

PMH’s new access software is C-Cure 800 system from Software House, which was installed in Toronto General and Toronto Western in 2000. The hospital’s 75 old insertion card readers were transferred to HID proximity readers, and its system was integrated into the central control site network at the Toronto General.

“C-Cure is used by airports, government and police. It’s very scalable and user friendly,” Milne says.

The hospital has many restricted areas, and one of the advantages of the software is that it allows security staff to encode complicated access information, Staffiere says. Some high sensitivity areas have a reader with a pin pad or are locked down after hours, and some are monitored at both the central station and at PMH. Staff clearance codes also had to be encoded, designating who had access to which doors and when.

Before the system was installed, he adds, they had to make sure all that data on security levels was correct.

“We had to work very closely with the hospital and with the security department to make sure the appropriate employees had access to the correct floors. That had to be done ahead of time,” he says. “And we had to co-ordinate with them clearance codes and door groups before we started switching over doors in any department. Otherwise, we would be locking people out who should not have been locked out.”

The panic system, which has a station in each department, was stand-alone and alarmed only at the site security office. Now it’s been integrated into C-Cure, and the alarm goes both to the local office and to UHN’s 24/7 central control. The operator at Toronto General immediately dispatches the guard at PMH, acting as a backup in case the on-site operator happens to be out of the office.

Every entry and exit is recorded on the server, and the central operator sees the event — with name, date and time — on a screen. If there’s a breach of security at a door, an alert is sent.

“If a door’s held open, we get an alarm, too,” says Milne. “If it’s held open for longer than 30 seconds, security will be dispatched to find out why the door is open. Has someone pinned it open? Or someone may be piggybacking,” he says, adding that an important part of the new access program was making everyone more aware of security.

“It’s about the whole organization, so the whole organization is trained and educated in security awareness. They would be looking out for that person who is piggybacking behind them,” he says.



What made the project challenging, Staffiere says, was having to deal with two systems at once. The hospital never closes, so they had to work on one department at a time, to not interfere with day-to-day operations.

“This is a 24×7 facility, so it’s not as if we can work better at night than we can during the day. There are things happening 24×7, so we had to maintain the integrity of the security system while switching over to the new system,” he says.

While the main security station is at Toronto General, there are control centres also at Toronto Western and now at Princess Margaret, says Milne. “The other hospitals have substations, so they’re still getting all the information. They just don’t have an operator stationed inside the hospital. That puts us above most hospitals, with control centres at all campuses, except for Toronto Rehab.”

Milne’s 25-year career in security began in high school, when he got a job as a security guard. But he was really interested in policing.

“Security and law enforcement have been passions of mine from the beginning. But security was supposed to be my starting point for bigger ventures. Then, the doors kept opening at the right times; security roles became larger and larger and more and more intriguing,” he says.

So he chose security and worked his way up the ladder. In 1999, he became security manager for the Princess Margaret and then in 2003 senior manager for the UHN. That year provided a major lesson in access control.

“SARS was a great indicator for us as to access. When we had an outbreak, it was very important for security to be able to restrict access,” he says.

Another major success, Milne says, was the way the health network handled the G20 protests last year. Many of the protest routes went along University Avenue, in front of the hospitals. Security did six months of planning in advance and another six months debriefing when it was over.

“We lived here during that time because we are very committed to our organization, and we were successful,” he says. “It was a fantastic time. It really helped us realize everything we have in place for security.”

They doubled security staffing and were always in touch with the police, who kept them up to date with parade routes. They even had to deal with a minor earthquake. People on the upper floors rushed to stairwells to get to the street, and someone pulled a fire alarm. “So, all three spun into our area. We had the fire department, we had the earthquake, and we had the G20 all happening at the same time,” he said.

The current redevelopment includes converting the UHN’s 400 analogue cameras to IP, all Genetec. Most will likely have coders added, but every new camera is IP. And here, PMH gets to go first — 16 new cameras have already been installed, and they’re about to start work on the remaining 80.

The security monitors in Milne’s refurbished office show the difference the new cameras will make. One side displays the IP recording; the other is analogue.

“It’s great for investigation,” he says, pointing to the clearer and brighter IP video. “If a patient leaves the hospital, we’ll be able to see not just what clothing they’re wearing but what colour it is.“

The project is now in its last stage; they just have to replace the elevator cab readers, which will control who goes to which floors and at what times and will block off parts of the building to visitors after hours.

The elevators were left to the end because they would affect the largest number of employees, says Staffiere. “Once all departments were done, then technically everyone has an access card, and it won’t affect their elevator use.”

The project’s official target completion date is March 2012. But, Milne says, he likes to work with aggressive targets. “My dream is the end of the calendar year. And, when this part of the project is all said and done, we’ll move on to the next part.

“It’s been a bit painful, but we’re getting there.”


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