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Designing Security for Veterans Administration Healthcare Facilities

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Designing Security for Veterans Administration Healthcare FacilitiesWhen designing security for Veterans Administration healthcare facilities, we are cognizant that security must provide protection to safeguard the veterans, visitors, administrators, clinical staff and VA staff, and to ensure the continued operation of the VA facility on a 24/7/365 basis, during a national emergency, and during natural disasters or events involving a security breach.

The security program for VA facilities must be highly flexible so that its security posture can be ramped-up or ramped-down in response to changes in the national Department of Homeland Security (DHS) threat level and changing risk environment at each facility.  Its goal must be to promote proper behavior and discourage criminal activity.  It must also balance physical security measures, with the technical security systems and operational security programs to be effective, economic and sustainable.  Physical security measures include setbacks and perimeter stand-off, perimeter protection, anti-ram barricades, anti-climb fencing, screening, vehicular traffic flow, separation of public and clinical areas, etc.  Technical security systems include access control, door control, intrusion detection, video surveillance, screening, two-way radio, intercom, security command, monitoring and control, etc.  The physical security measures and technical security systems must be coordinated with and complement the VA’s operational security programs that are in place at the facility, including security policy, VA Police procedures, best practices, security posts, post orders, officer dispatching, emergency response plans, VA Police training, etc. 

It is important to note that no amount of security measures, security systems or operational programs, regardless of how involved or sophisticated they may be, can ensure protection against all possible threats.  Therefore, it is the sole intent of a VA facility security program to provide obstacles, delaying measures and observation methods to increase the probability and risks of exposure, failure, or capture so that they are greater than the potential for success in perpetrating the incident.

Security is “an intangible quality” most easily defined by its breaches or exposures to danger.  Security is normally invisible … until it fails.  A good security program for a VA facility makes use of antiterrorism measures and systems, force protection, layered zones of protection and incorporates both passive security measures and active security systems to effectively deter crime, detect breaches, assess alarms, delay incidents, limit damage and improve response. 

VA facilities are very dynamic and busy healthcare facilities with a high throughput of clinical staff, veterans, visitors and VA staff on a day-to-day basis.  Many of the VA’s existing facilities were built when the security risks and threats to a VA facility and its occupants were less than they are today and the national threat posture was more relaxed.  Today, there is heightened concerns for active shooters, violence in the workplace, arson, drug abuse and criminal acts. 

As we evaluate and then design security programs for VA facilities today, we find that older facilities are faced with serious monetary and design challenges to comply with all of VA’s Physical Security Design Manual (PSDM) life-safety protected and mission critical design guidelines and requirements.  In particular, we find that existing facilities are challenged both in terms of having the physical space to meet the PSDM anti-ram force protection, standoff distances and perimeter protection requirements, but also the funding necessary to make the changes to comply with the PSDM.  It is, therefore, incumbent upon Telgian and the VA design community to identify creative ways to comply with the PSDM while minimizing the upgrade costs.  We find that the design team must be very innovative in order to identify cost effective ways of complying with PSDM requirements.  In most cases, compliance can be achieved by introducing pedestrian and vehicle screening, traffic controls, anti-ram barricades and minor site revisions in selected areas of the site. 

Another area that typically represents challenges for compliance with PSDM requirements is the use, deployment and condition of the technical security systems that are in place.  VA facilities are dynamic environments that are in a state of constant change in order to accommodate new medical technologies and processes.  While the function and use of various areas and changed and spaces are remodeled, in many cases, the security technology is not properly adapted or upgraded because of budgetary restrictions.  As an example, the VA recognized that as more and more advanced technologies, automation and artificial intelligence is incorporated into the medical equipment, IT networks and computer systems at its facilities, the protection of IT networking closets, server rooms and demarcation closets has become paramount.  As a result, the PSDM requires greater levels of physical and technical security protection for those networking spaces, which typically do not exist on older VA facilities. 

The VA PSDM also requires that the security program for each VA facility address the risks for each type of use within each VA building on the site with an umbrella or overarching security program for all of the VA buildings and the site.  The intermingling of uses, such as emergency room, patient rooms, clinical areas, operating rooms, laboratories, offices, meeting spaces, SCIF’s, cafeteria, infrastructure, support, parking, receiving and security monitoring and command spaces, lead to security risks that must be identified and mitigated.  The VA PSDM states that the basic structure of the security program at any VA facility must be based upon the results of a “risk assessment” and the design solutions then selected to reduce the identified risks and threats.

The basic tenant of a good security program requires adoption of appropriate force protection, use of state-of-the-art technologies and industry best practices in order to provide a comprehensive, flexible, and scalable security program for a VA facility.  The security program must be cost effective, sustainable, maintainable and tailored to protect each VA facility’s mission, its veterans, its visitors, its clinical staff, its VA staff, its assets and its facilities on an around-the-clock 24/7/365 basis.  Telgian’s approach to defining the proper levels of security for a VA facility is to employ a problem seeking methodology with VA and design team representatives to define the requirements and then to develop the necessary levels of security in strict compliance with PSDM requirements and within the framework of balancing the physical architectural, technical and operational security planning areas.

A task-oriented approach to designing security for Veterans Administration healthcare facilities

Our approach to performing the security risk assessment and designing the security program for a VA facility is task-oriented for several important reasons.  It enables our consultants and engineers to manage our consulting resources more effectively; it enables us to provide week-to-week tracking and verification of the progress of our work; it allows us to maintain the design schedule and initiate remedial actions when warranted to meet schedule dates; and, it ensures that our work efforts will result in meeting the VA’s expectations.  We establish the extent of protection and level of design detail needed in the contract documents that will be required for bidding and implementation.  This encompasses not only the detail necessary to fix technical security system device and installation requirements, but also technical  and performance specifications, scope of work descriptions, special installation requirements, raceways and infrastructure, work scheduling and phasing, and special instructions.  Following the risk assessment, our planning efforts consist of detailed building surveys, structured planning meetings, staff interviews, research, conceptual design, liaison and interaction in order to establish the most appropriate mix of security measures and systems to meet the PSDM guidelines and the VA facility’s operational, cost and strategic objectives.  

Our detailed security design efforts consist of not only developing appropriate and adequate security measures and systems, but also accommodating efficient and cost effective VA Police operations.  Our security design includes designing flexible cabling plans, infrastructure, risers and wiring closet design, force protection anti-ram barricades, physical security, measures security sensor and device locations, pedestrian and vehicle screening system, entry control systems, security door hardware, modern access control systems, intrusion detection systems, video surveillance and digital video recording systems.  It also includes designing primary and backup security command centers and developing security systems integration and interfaces.  The access control system must employ access control credentials that will comply with Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Staff and Contractors and the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201.   

We prepare a comprehensive set of security design documents suitable for the bidding process.  The security design documents include a full set of security design drawings and a set of detailed security technical and performance specifications.  The security design documents cover the full scope of work for the security integrator/contractor, including all of the security cabling, hardware, devices, equipment and systems they will be required to furnish and install.

We provide design coordination of physical security measures and force protection barricades, and interfaces to fire protection, building automation and elevator control systems.  We coordinate the architectural modifications necessary for physical security protection, electrical and HVAC system load requirements for security, security electrified locking hardware requirements, exterior security lighting requirements and the protection for site mechanical, electrical, plumbing and utilities.  We coordinate lobby screening, entry control, security zoning, pedestrian traffic flow, security posts, security checkpoints, and security command center and backup facility design requirements.

Designing Security for Veterans Administration Healthcare Facilities by William Sako, Telgian Engineering & ConsultingAbout the Author

A security expert with more than 45 years of experience in the industry, William Sako is Vice President of Security Risk Consulting for Telgian Engineering & Consulting. Sako oversees the planning and design of security projects for Telgian clients across a broad spectrum of industries, and is a member of the UL Security Council.

His expertise includes the design of physical security measures, technical security systems, operations security programs and anti-terrorism programs, as well as the creation of protective design standards for super towers and comprehensive force protection programs for high-value and government facilities. Over the course of his career, Sako has had oversight and direct responsibility for the successful conduct of more than 2,700 projects, such as designing security for Veterans Administration healthcare facilities. These involve master planning, threat and risk assessments, and security program design, bidding and implementation management. These projects represent well over $2 billion in security planning and design experience. 

To learn more about Telgian Engineering & Consulting’s strategic/enterprise risk management, fire protection engineering, industrial security, environmental health and safety, emergency management, operations continuity consulting, and construction administration services, as well as Designing Security for Veterans Administration Healthcare Facilities, please click here.

Media and Interview Inquiries:
Susan McNeill
Telgian Holdings, Inc.

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