Thursday, January 2, 2014

Is Your Hospital Security Guard Uniformed or Uninformed?

Imagine you have just departed a hospital helipad. A security guard on duty notices something peculiar about your aircraft. Would she know what to do? Would she know who to call?

Spending some time with the security staff at the hospitals you visit can pay big dividends... Image courtesy Centra One

It was quiet in the early morning stillness. The alert-tones had screamed across the radio around 3:00 AM, and the entire crew was roused from sleep. The pilot checked the weather and accepted the flight, and then the three of them walked downstairs for the short ride to the helicopter. As each approached the aircraft, they split off into different directions. The medic went to remove and stow the heater, the nurse began her walk-around check on the left side. The pilot went down the right side, passing the nurse near the tail, and upon arriving back at his door put his hand on the shore-power extension cord plugged into the receptacle underneath the door-opening. As the crew climbed in, he lifted the cord off of his door handle, where it had been draped as a reminder to be removed, and was just about to grasp the plug and pull it free when a deep voice sounded out of the darkness.

"What'r y'all doin?"  The low-country drawl was thick on the security guard, Omar, who had ridden up on his bicycle to break the monotony and chat up the crew. He was bored after hours alone riding around the parking lots.

"Hey Omar! We are headed to Douglas; gotta go get someone..." answered the pilot, turning as he spoke.
As he rotated to the left, the pilot dropped the cord in his hand to the ground. He was a friendly person, and always took time to speak pleasantly with others.

"Well, it sure looks like a nice night for flying. I'll see y'all when you get back."

"Okay! See you in a bit." The pilot smiled and turned back toward the aircraft, thinking about the time that had elapsed since the first tones on the radio. He grabbed the handle and shoe-horned himself into his seat, lifting his foot up and around the cyclic. He closed the door and started the engines for departure.

The security guard moved back a safe distance and watched them prepare to fly away. He always liked seeing the chopper in flight; it was a real eye-catcher. As they lifted off the ground and spun slowly over their landing pad, he noticed that an extension cord was plugged in underneath the pilot's door. As he watched, and they began to fly away, the long part of the cord pulled free from a shorter cord that remained plugged into the aircraft. It reminded him of the movies of rockets lifting off from Florida, with cords and hoses pulling free as the rocket climbed away from it's tower.

"That's different," he thought to himself. He had watched the chopper take off many times, and never noticed a cord before. Then his mind moving on, he shoved off on his bike for another ride around the campus.

Forty five minutes later, after they landed at the referring hospital, the crew climbed out. It was the pilot who saw it first. Hanging down below the belly was the four-foot long short-cord, still plugged into it's receptacle beneath his door.

"Oh crap."

He remembered having the cord in his hand, and could swear he had unplugged it. But there it was. He dropped down onto his knee to look up under the belly, and his breath caught. There, underneath the aircraft's belly, were thousands of small dents in the sheet metal, where the cord-end had flailed in the wind.

"I'm fired" went through his head over and over. How could he have missed it?

And just as importantly - for us - why didn't the security guard, "Omar" (not his real name) know what to do when he saw something different about the departing "chopper."

Ask yourself, how would the security staff at the hospitals you fly to respond to a situation like the real-life event above. What if your aircraft departed leaking fuel, or with a seat belt hanging out beneath a door, or, God-forbid, on fire. Would the security guards in question be uniformed and informed or would reality have to reach you the hard way?

At the last Air Medical Transport Conference, Rex Alexander - former president of the National EMS Pilot's Association - presented a great class on developing relationships with ALL of the people we interact with, as we go about our business. Rex believes that we can derive maximum benefit from these "customers" ( I would call them team members, but the intent is the same) by putting forth a bit of effort, and developing our relationships.

Part of that development is educating people about who we are, what we do, and how they can help us. Of course, we have to reciprocate, and be willing to help them in return. It's part of the deal.

And make no mistake, people do want to help. We just have to show them how. If we ask for help, without adequate preparation and attention to detail, we risk suffering an event like this...

Accident report - security guard killed by tail rotor (link repaired 11/10/15)

A hospital security guard walked into the spinning tailrotor. The pilot and a nurse were on board the helicopter preparing for an EMS flight. The medic stayed outside the helicopter to connect the battery cart. The medic stated that the hospital security guards were standing next to him when the helicopter was started. The medic disconnected the battery cart and was closing the battery access panel when he heard a loud noise. When he looked up he noticed that the battery cart was near the tail of the helicopter. He yelled to the pilot to shut down the helicopter. When he circled around the helicopter, he saw one of the security guards lying on the ground near the tail rotor. The guard later succumbed to his injuries. The security guard had received training on how to safely approach a helicopter when the rotors are operating. The guards duties at the time of the accident were to keep unauthorized personnel away from the helicopter when it was operating.

NEMSPA has a great powerpoint presentation on heliports.... Google it sometime... "NEMSPA heliport safety"

I talked to a lead pilot at one of the bases I visit about training security guards to help us with our operations. He opined that he doesn't want hospital security anywhere near the aircraft, and isn't interested in providing them any training. Fair enough. But at his base, the staff are uni(n)formed, and won't know what to do when something bad happens. We land on scenes daily, and who knows who is recruited to help us load our patients. We do think about training them, so why not the guys and gals we see every time we land at a hospital? I remember landing with a pediatric-team at the Waccamaw Hospital in South Carolina; with several fire-fighters and security folks standing by. As we touched down, a sheet of plastic, blown from a construction site, passed between two of them. They watched dumbly as the sheet got swept up into our rotor wash and caught on a main rotor blade. I shut down the engines wondering why they didn't know enough to reach out and grab the plastic.

Simple answer: no one took the time to explain this to them.

"But we don't have the money to train all these people!"

Well, perhaps you don't have enough money to fly the aircraft over to every hospital you serve and visit with the security staff; but training - or "developing relationships" need not be expensive. You can easily create a small flip-book with pictures - what things should look like and how something wrong might look. This hip-pocket-training resource can be stored on-board; and when you land to pick up a patient, if a security guard is on hand, the pilot can spend a few minutes with him or her while the crew goes inside. If you want to make sure that more people are interested in this training, have some patches, stickers, or hats made, and provide these to the security staff who take the time to listen to your class. Leaving them with a laminated credit-card sized information sheet - with your com-centers phone number listed will provide a means of passing information to you about problems they observe. Using the hospital's radio frequency might work, but crews often off-tune from the hospital's frequency after landing (they should not, they should leave this channel for receiving a warning open)

In our industry, we are all about leaving trinkets and pizzas with the people we think might call for our service. Perhaps we should provide such gifts to the other people we cross paths with, in and around our landing areas. Their call might not mean another patient gets transported, it might mean we stay alive.

"The aircraft departed the hospital helipad with (insert problem here). An alert security guard observed the discrepancy and immediately contacted his supervisor via radio, then went one step further and notified the helicopter service's communication-center on his cell phone. The com-center relayed the info to the crew on board the aircraft who were able to land safely. The helicopter company credit's the security guard's attention to detail and knowledge of what to do when something looks wrong with saving the aicraft, patient, and crew."

If you found this useful, please share with your friends and co-workers...

safe flights...


  1. Thanks for the encouragement Abby. Best of luck...

  2. Police say a hospital scrubs-clad man caught breaking into an ambulance outside a Denton hospital early Thursday may be linked to similar crimes in the area. Sydney Security Company


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