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California State Hospitals Expand Personal-Duress System

The expansion to two other psychiatric facilities follows a successful deployment at Napa State Hospital, where employees use Ekahau RFID tags to transmit an alert if attacked by patients.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 30, 2013

Following the 2010 killing of a staff member by a patient, as well as other attacks against personnel, Napa State Hospital (NSH) implemented a radio frequency identification-based solution to ensure the safety of its workers in the areas in which they are most vulnerable, such as in the open-area campus. The solution, implemented by AT&T's State and Local Government Solutions division and NetXperts, uses Ekahau's Wi-Fi-enabled B4 badge tags and Vision 2.0 real-time location system (RTLS) software to enable any worker to indicate an emergency situation, identify that individual's location and issue an alert to dispatch and the hospital's police force, as well as to coworkers via their own Wi-Fi badge tags. The California Department of State Hospitals (DSH), which manages the psychiatric hospital and four others within the state, is now rolling the technology out at two of those other sites.

Napa State Hospital, which has been in operation for more than 130 years, provides diagnostic, habilitation and rehabilitation treatment for its more than 1,300 psychiatric patients. Because NSH is a forensic facility, the majority of the mentally ill patients that it houses and treats have a history of violence. Most patients are court-mandated to be there, and many have committed at least one violent felony. Despite the serious nature of many patients' psychiatric illnesses and tendencies toward violence, however, the campus itself consists of expansive lawns and shade trees, and many inhabitants are allowed to freely move around its 138-acre campus, or pass through accompanied by a staff member.

When faced with an emergency, an individual can pull on the Ekahau B4 badge tag, causing it to transmit a Wi-Fi signal calling for help.

Although the gates and buildings are secured, personnel cannot always protect each other from attacks on the campus itself. In 2010, a patient strangled a female staff member on an outdoor patio of the campus.

As a result, the hospital sought a personal-duress system to ensure that if an incident occured, help would arrive quickly. AT&T's State and Local Government Solutions division, the hospital's IT services provider, served as the technology integrator for the implementation. NetXperts expanded the campus' existing Cisco Wi-Fi network by installing additional access points to provide more dense coverage throughout the facility. The security treatment area (STA) alone now contains 1,500 such Wi-Fi nodes.

Each employee has his or her own Ekahau badge tag that transmits a unique ID number linked to that person's identification in the Vision software, according to Mark Norris, Ekahau's president. Staff members wear the device on a lanyard everywhere throughout the hospital campus.

At any given time while on campus, if an individual faces an emergency situation, he or she can pull the badge, causing it to transmit a Wi-Fi signal summoning help. The Vision software then sends a notification to the hospital's dispatch unit, police on staff and other workers within the vicinity. Each staff badge found to be in the area vibrates, emits an audible tone, flashes and lists the individual's location and name on its screen. This feature can reduce emergency response times, since personnel could be within seconds of the conflict and could thus reach the scene much more quickly than other aid responders. Notification is accomplished within a matter of seconds once the alert is triggered.

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