Getting smart

SARS and the possibility of a flu pandemic have together made security – and access to buildings – critical issues for hospitals.

It’s led some of them to look to technology that offers more reliability than swipe cards.

Enter contact-free card systems.

Two Toronto-area hospitals have switched from a magnetic swipe card system to Verex smart card readers, with Mifare technology, to read and write to contact-free smart cards.

Trillium Health Centre and the New Women’s College Hospital both selected Mississauga-based Veridin Systems Canada Inc. to deploy the system. Veridin integrates security systems for buildings, using card access, video surveillance and alarm systems.

The smart cards are to be used by hospital employees. The Verex system was already installed at Trillium but branded under a different name with a national service provider, according to Veridin CEO Colin Doe.

For Trillium, it meant a switch from their previous service provider as a result of addressing a reliability issue.

“The number one issue was the software wasn’t communicating properly with the field panels,” said Doe.

What this means to clients, he said, is that whenever they’re updating their software – adding or deleting users, for example – the information isn’t readily available at all times.

“In a facility like Trillium, reliability is very important because they have to know they can access the system whenever there’s an issue.” Doe described magnetic stripe access control as “an antiquated system. It’s really not used any more.”

The Mifare system is being used strictly for security at Trillium, according to Doe.

“Every employee has a Mifare access card, and on that card is their photo identification, as well as their critical information that needs to be known at a glance,” he said.

The Mifare technology offered the best level of security available, said John Fodor, manager of security and parking services, Trillium Health Centre.

“The original system incorporated swipe card technology, and in terms of maintenance the card readers tended to fail a lot more, so we wanted to go to a contactless system,” said Fodor. “It’s more reliable, and you also have a lot more information that can be stored on a smart card.”

The bit size of the data on the card is so large it would take “a few thousand years” to break the code, according to Doe. “It’s an encrypted code only readable by the card reader assigned to that card.”

Facilities that are added to the card is provided with access code numbers so that can’t be duplicated anywhere else, he added. “This makes the cards that much more secure.”

The card has credentials built into it to allow or deny employees access into different areas of the building, depending on their authority level, said Doe.

“The thinking for the future is that smart cards can incorporate other features to make the facility a one-card facility for various uses such as logging on to the computer and paying for parking and cafeteria items.”

The Mifare installation at Trillium took about a year, providing 3,000 employees with new access cards which they received department by department.

“We had to identify key doors in the facility that everyone used,” Doe said. “We put smart card readers at those doors in addition to the magnetic stripe readers already in place, which allowed them to use either, and gradually everyone was photographed and given their access cards.”

Doe said they’re in the final stages of completing a similar project for the New Women’s College Hospital, a new project that, unlike the Trillium installation, doesn’t involve addressing other problems.

“The only issue with them is not everyone will have their access cards right away because there’s 1,500 people and it’s hard to get that many people in one room for their photo badges,” he said. “It has logistical challenges, but so far it’s been going well.”

The Women’s College system was to come online in mid-July.

Ken Ferguson, manager of safety and security services at the New Women’s College Hospital, said the system was selected because of the ease of use and flexibility of the software.

“In an older facility like ours, where there’s a lot of wires, control cabinets and different things mounted in hub rooms and electrical closets, we’d run out of space,” said Ferguson. “The brains of the smart card system were more compact. It didn’t take up tons of feet on my wall, and that was a bonus to choosing the Verex system.”

He added that it’s also not a proprietary system, a deciding factor in the selection process. 062630

Lisa Williams (lwilliams@itworldcanada) is a senior writer with

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