Toronto area hospitals make switch to Smart Cards

SARS and the looming possibility of a flu pandemic necessitate that security and building access are critical issues for hospitals.

And for two Toronto-area hospitals it prompted a switch from a magnetic swipe card system to the installation of the Verex smart card readers, with Mifare technology, to read and write to contactless Smart Cards, in an effort to make their systems more secure and reliable.

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

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

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.

Doe explained that what this means to the client, is whenever they’re updating their software, for example adding or deleting users, the information wasn’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.”

He added that what they had in place at the time was magnetic stripe access control, which is “an antiquated system, it’s really not used anymore.”

Presently, 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.”

Whatever facility they’re putting on to that card is provided their own access code number so it 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 employee’s access into different areas of the building, depending on their authority level, said Doe.

“The thinking for the future is the 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 their 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 install 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.”

He added that the Women’s College system is scheduled to come online in mid-July.

Ken Ferguson, manager of safety and security services, The New Women’s College Hospital, said they made the selection 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.

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