Veterinary practice security: The layered look

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Keep your practice safe with security cameras, safety procedures, and an early warning system.

Here's a pop quiz: What measures do you have in place to protect yourself and your veterinary team from a disgruntled employee or client? Security cameras, locks, or door chimes? If you answered none of the above, give yourself an "F" in practice safety.

You might think that your practice isn't a potential target for violence or that the addition of security measures will make your practice feel—and operate—like a fort. Wrong on both counts. Most security procedures don't cost a lot of money and they integrate easily into everyday operations. And if you don't think the risk is serious, consider that a Maryland veterinarian and his wife were murdered in their hospital during a robbery just a few years ago.

The most effective and unobtrusive security program includes four basic layers. They are:

1. Procedures and policies. Procedural security includes things like keeping doors locked (see No. 2 below), counting the day's receipts in the back of the practice—away from the front desk—and developing a safety routine for employees who work alone. Establish these procedures as part of the practice's everyday protocol and the team is more likely to follow them. In cases of workplace violence, investigators usually find that someone has disregarded a key procedural safeguard. Reinforce procedural policies with discipline when employees violate them.

2. Physical barriers. A locked door is your practice's best defense. Every entrance to your building should be supervised and controlled. You should also designate safe rooms throughout the facility that employees can use if another team member or a visitor becomes violent. A safe room should have a sturdy, lockable door that swings outward and access to a telephone so staff members can barricade themselves inside and call the police. Barriers are the primary defense tool in your arsenal, but a door or a lock is useless if not used properly and consistently.

3. An early warning system. Door chimes and cameras alert the staff that someone has entered the clinic or a "protected zone." These are employee-only areas like the treatment room or pharmacy. Although chimes and cameras don't replace barriers, just a few seconds' warning may make the difference between an incident and a tragedy.

4. Telephone assistance. If all precautions fail, employees need a way to summon help quickly and easily. In some cases a telephone is adequate. Portable panic alarms are ideal for employees who leave the facility after hours to walk to their car or help someone bring a patient inside.

So take the time to outfit your facility with the proper equipment and arm your employees with a safety plan. Their lives depend on it.

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