Focus, Health Care, and Lakeshore

Code Blue’s market growing in health care

Emergency help points are appearing on hospital properties.

July 12, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Code Blue's market growing in health care
David Cook, COO of Code Blue, stands by one of company’s units that have been installed on the grounds of Holland Hospital. Photo by Johnny Quirin

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The increasing consolidation of health care organizations, resulting in multiple facilities on expanded campus-like locations, is a new growth market for companies like Code Blue in Holland.

“And another big growth area are municipalities,” particularly city parking facilities and mass transit sites where passengers are getting on and off, added David Cook, COO of Code Blue.

The two core product lines produced and marketed worldwide by Code Blue, a firm launched in 1989, are emergency help points and emergency communications software, similar to that in use by municipal emergency dispatch departments.

In the world of risk management, Code Blue is a product name widely recognized by campus security administrators throughout the U.S., due unfortunately to the series of mass shootings on college campuses over the last couple of decades.

“If you were at MSU, you’d see them all over the place,” said Cook, referring to emergency help points, of which there are two types. One is freestanding, with communications equipment mounted on a pedestal in an open public area, and the other is wall mounted. They are designed to withstand bad weather and the most determined vandals.

Each help point has a prominent, highly visible blue light that is always on. When someone pushes the large “help” button, it instantly connects the person with campus security or the local police dispatch center.

Pushing the button also causes the blue light to begin flashing, calling increased attention to the scene. It will flash until the emergency dispatch operator resets it.

Some models also immediately begin to videotape the individual who pushed the button and the surrounding scene, so the dispatcher can see what is happening as well as talk to the individual.

The help points may be equipped with public address speakers for mass notification of emergency situations on campus, when all people in the vicinity need to be given warnings and instructions.

Code Blue’s highly advanced audio technology “is a big one for us,” according to Cook.

He explained the “intelligibility” or clarity of the voice communication on Code Blue help points is exceptional, unlike many public address systems at sporting events — not to mention the squawking systems in use at fast-food drive-throughs.

Walgreens is a Code Blue customer, and when the corporation was testing a Code Blue help point in one of its store parking lots, Walgreens discovered the Code Blue audio equipment was far superior to the intercom system it was using at its drive-through window.

Cook said Walgreens is considering a project to replace some of its drive-through communications equipment with technology developed by Code Blue, even though it is more expensive than the typical intercom system, he noted.

A key driver behind the burgeoning business in sophisticated new electronic equipment for enhanced campus security is the federal Clery Act, which was enacted in 1990 and originally called the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act.

It was renamed in 1998 to commemorate Jeanne Clery, whose parents were instrumental in getting it passed.

The Clery Center for Security on Campus (clerycenter.org) is a foundation started in 1987 by Connie and Howard Clery, following the April 1986 rape and murder of their 19-year-old daughter, Jeanne. The foundation lobbied for passage of the law, which requires higher ed institutions to maintain and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses.

According to Law & Higher Education (lawhighereducation.org), in 2008, Congress amended the Clery Act as a result of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

The amendment now requires a “campus emergency response plan” at every institution and requires them to “immediately notify” the campus community in an ongoing emergency.

Cook said demand for Code Blue products was stronger after the Virginia Tech shooting.

“People really started saying, ‘We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to take more responsibility for our students on these campuses,’” he added.

Code Blue’s communications software, which they call “emergency communications systems,” can be used by campus security departments to notify all students of emergency situations via text and email.

In the case of health care organizations, Cook said the risk to pedestrians on the sidewalks and in parking ramps does not seem to be on the same scale as a large, open university campus, noting there is no legislation pertaining to public safety on hospital grounds. However, the help points can prove very helpful at times and are reassuring to hospital visitors, so they are more “about customer satisfaction” at those types of institutions, he said.

Code Blue counts Spectrum Health among its customers, as well as The Rapid and Gerald R. Ford International Airport. It has markets growing overseas, too, including the mining industry in South Africa and the canal system in India. The mines and canals involve large areas where security can be an issue and two-way emergency communication is critical.

Code Blue does not reveal its annual sales, but Cook said it was at the top of its industry.

“Code Blue is what we call the industry standard. We were the first one that developed it; we’re the pioneers of the help point, and we remain that today,” he said.

“We are a predominantly Michigan-made company,” said Cook. “It’s safe to say that two-thirds of our components are made in Michigan, and 98 percent of our components are made in the United States.”

All of the company’s products are assembled at its plant in Holland.

The emergency communications software Code Blue sells is also developed in-house, said Cook.

The company, which has 35 employees, has its products installed on an estimated 10,000 higher education campuses around the world.

He said the U.S. market for help point equipment last year was estimated at “probably $144 million.”

A typical outdoor pedestal-mounted help unit costs from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on how it is configured, said Cook.

The original Code Blue product was introduced in 1989 by a small start-up business in Holland that had won a technology competition sponsored by the University of Illinois to encourage development of an emergency telephone service for students on college campuses. A year later that start-up was in financial difficulties and the company was acquired by the Genzink Steel family in Holland, which supplied the steel for the equipment. Genzink Steel renamed the company Code Blue and still owns it today.

Code Blue is such a prominent player in public security issues that its help points have been seen in a few movies and, in one case, was used by the actors, according to Cook.

And then there’s the everyday reality of real crime. Code Blue help points have been visible in television news reports many times.

Recently, for example, police in Miami said a Code Blue help point was used by a person who was being attacked, causing the suspect to run away. However, the data that had been communicated to the police helped them capture the suspect an hour later.

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