Changing Face Of Safety

February 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — In the unlikely event of an infant abduction at the future Metropolitan Hospital campus in Wyoming, a sensor-equipped bracelet on the child will alert the building's security system that a breach has taken place, alarms will sound at the security command center and throughout the hospital, certain areas of the campus will automatically lock down, and cameras will follow the event as it occurs, recording every detail. Throughout, nurses and security personnel communicate via wireless devices integrated into the hospital's call system.

In the unlikelier event that a fire occurs at the same time, the system will automatically adjust itself, feeding the new information to the command center, sounding separate alarms and opening and closing areas as required.

Only in the recent past has safety technology advanced to the point where commercial fire, security and communications functions can be integrated into a single system. The command center equivalent in most buildings or campuses today will likely have a separate monitor or terminal for the security and fire systems. If it has a closed circuit television system, modern installations could employ a digital video recorder and motion detectors, with a potential link to the security system, but likely a separate system. Some settings today have digital communications linked to wireless phones, such as a VoIP phone system.

For an administrator, this could mean juggling a half dozen systems, each with a separate terminal and protocol. But in the same way that business systems from payroll to inventory have become integrated over the past decade, campus administrators have discovered the ability to merge complimentary systems for greater response and efficiency.

"Everyone is rethinking what security means," said Tom Kramer, founder and president of Riverside Integrated Systems Inc., the vendor for the Metropolitan Hospital project and at least parts of every safety system in the Medical Mile. "It used to be that a security system was break a window, open a door, sound an alarm. It goes far deeper than that these days — card access, CCTV, cameras coming up automatically that you can access remotely."

The same is true for communications systems, such as a nurse call systems, patient pull stations and intercoms. Traditionally, a patient pulls a cord or pushes a button, and a light blinks at the nurses station, who will then respond in person or through an intercom. The nurse or orderly might also be called to document each event, with an administrator later gathering all that information for statistical and billing purposes.

"The intent is to create efficiency," said Kramer. "You want to only enter the information once. You want the system to log it for you, to track the response time, to send it along to the IT people."

Attending nurses also find immediate efficiencies through these systems. If a patient wants a drink of water, for instance, and the call is patched directly to a nurse next to a sink, a back-and-forth trip could be saved. These few seconds per call add up throughout the day, Kramer said, eventually providing hours or days of added efficiency.

Vince Reagan, Riverside director of sales and marketing, said the evolution of the technology aligns with a changing perception of security at many organizations. Historically, it has been an administrative responsibility, reporting to a vice president of administration or similar executive. Today, he finds himself working more with Chief Information Officers or vice presidents of information technology or information services.

The integration has been a boon for the 55-employee company. Founded in 1990 by Kramer and his wife as Riverside Fire and Safety, the firm changed its name earlier this year to Riverside Integration Systems, a title Kramer felt better fit its services. As one of a handful of vendors nationwide with strategic partner relationships with fire, security and communication suppliers, as well as GE Security's integration platform, Riverside has built a product portfolio positioned to serve the region's fastest growing sectors.

The company has been involved in many of the region's most significant developments, including the Michigan Street Development, the David D. Hunting YMCA, DeVos Place and the Grand Rapids Public Schools bond construction, among others. It has recently updated systems for the University of Michigan, Fifth Third Bank and nearly every health care system in the metro area.

In the past three years, Riverside's revenue and headcount has grown by roughly 30 percent, prompting a move to a 19,000-square-foot facility on Oak Industrial Drive in Grand Rapids. Although it has not been located there for many years, the name comes from the company's original location on West River Drive in Belmont, when it sublet space from Brigade Fire Protection.

"Even though the economy in Michigan is poor, the economy in West Michigan, if you're a leading-edge company, has not been that bad," said Kramer. "We've been able to take advantage of that."

Riverside was honored by GE brand Edwards Systems Technology in 2004 as its Strategic Partner of the Year.

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