Always at the Ready
On a recent Thursday morning, Lieutenant Scott Meier steered into one of the Texas Medical Center’s 20 garages. He slowly drove up each level in the garage, eyes scanning cars looking for any sign of trouble or visitors in need of assistance. Meier is part of the team that tackles the monumental task of maintaining safety and order in the biggest medical center in the world.
With 56 member institutions and 42 TMC-owned garages and parking lots, the Texas Medical Center campus has a lot of ground to cover—but the TMC Security Services team is ready to handle any threat that arises, all while lending a helping hand to the millions who visit the TMC each year.
On that particular day, Meier was one of the eight to 13 security officers assigned to patrol the medical center that shift. Every day is divided into three 8.5-hour shifts, with a half-hour of overlap between shifts. Generally, two officers conduct a full campus patrol, while one to two officers are assigned to each of four districts on the campus.
“They’re trained to handle a variety of situations, they’re very customer-service oriented and they’re our face out there in the garage,” said Cheyne Day, director of TMC Security Services.
On an average day, officers take numerous motorist and customer assist calls, from jump-starting cars and retrieving keys locked in vehicles, to helping visitors navigate the parking payment system or find where their cars are parked. Calls to the security team phone number, plastered on the campus security vehicles, come in through the TMC Operations Center. All security officers also monitor the same radio channel.
Not long into Meier’s patrol, he receives a typical request. A hospital visitor locked her keys in the car. Within minutes, a couple of security officers have the door open. The visitor said she had been distracted after visiting a family member in the hospital, which Meier said is not unusual.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that many of the visitors to these hospitals have family members who are sick or injured,” he said. “We can’t imagine what is going through their minds, and for that reason you really need to step up your game.”
The importance of having a positive attitude is a core tenet of the entire TMC Security team. Proprietary Security Officer Joyce Thompson, stationed at a garage exit, described the job as requiring “stellar customer service skills.”
“We have some customers who are in a haste to see a friend or a relative for the last time,” she said. “Not all customers are going to be nice, but if you give them just a little bit of a smile, they’ll usually smile back. We have to have the right attitude and character for a medical environment.”
In addition to patrolling by car, the TMC now has a bicycle security team—there are six security bikes and eight officers certified to ride. Weather permitting, there are generally at least two officers patrolling by bike each day. While patrolling by bicycle is certainly more rigorous than driving—a TMC security cyclist can log up to 25 to 30 miles in a day—it offers security officers a number of advantages.
“There’s a lot of stuff you can see that you won’t necessarily see riding around in the car,” said Edward Powell, a proprietary security officer and bike program enthusiast. “We interact with the public more. We’re more readily available vs. someone having to flag a car down.”
All security officers are equipped to handle virtually any motorist or customer service related issue. Should any officer encounter criminal activity, however, they contact the two police officers assigned to each shift. The police officers, contracted through Harris County, are notified of crime through the radio channel they share with the security officers or through direct phone calls. Common crimes include burglary of motor vehicles, vandalism, suspicious persons and even domestic disputes in parking garages, where emotions can run high. In general, the crime rate in the medical center is low compared to the overall crime rate in the city.
“We compare our statistics with the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and we run about eight percent of the crime in this general area,” Day said.
Despite the relatively low crime rate, the security team takes preparation seriously. Through TMCER.org, anyone can sign up for mass notifications through email, phone and text message.
“We also have a new system called Perspective that helps us map criminal activity across the property,” Day said. “Any incident dispatch or call is logged into the program, and it helps us analyze where the most crimes occur, the most parking incidents, the most suspicious activity. Then we can reallocate our assets according to that analysis.”
TMC Security has plans in place to deal with a variety of campus-wide emergencies, from radiological releases to weather disasters to active shooters.
“You name it, we’ve done training exercises,” Day said. “We’ve done risk analyses with most of the institutions on their biggest risks. We know how to mitigate it from the outside in.”
In fact, collaboration between the TMC and its member institutions is paramount to keeping the campus safe, Day said. To that end, emergency directors and security representatives from the TMC and the surrounding area meet for quarterly Security and Emergency Preparedness Council Meetings.
“What affects one hospital is going to affect another,” Day said. “That’s how close we all are.”
If an emergency occurs on the TMC campus, the security team notifies member institution security departments and local police chiefs, and then each institution initiates its own protocol. Should an institution request security assistance, TMC is ready to oblige.
“We try to be the clearinghouse of communication across the property,” said Day. He cited the Memorial Day flooding as an example of a recent major emergency on the TMC campus.
“Our new policies and procedures instituted after Tropical Storm Allison worked very well, even though we actually took on comparable water to Allison,” Day said. “We communicated with institutions to shut their flood doors at certain levels, and we went out to help them with some. The improvements worked.”
Each day in the Security Services department comes with unique challenges, whether it’s the day-to-day tasks of helping the medical center’s many visitors and patients or long-term emergency planning. There is one constant, however, that each member of the team emphasized: being busy.
“The garages are always full and there are always customers needing assistance,” Thompson said. “It keeps me busy, but I love talking with people. I make them laugh, they keep me laughing. This is not just customer service, it’s also healing.”