RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Five months after a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health employee was shot and killed while at work, the university is expanding its network of security intended to keep weapons out of its buildings.
The deadly hospital shooting on May 10 prompted VCU Health to expand security efforts across its facilities, starting with installing weapons detectors at their critical care hospital.
Now, a couple months after that first wave of detectors were installed, the healthcare system announced plans to continue bolstering security by installing weapons detectors at McGlothlin Medical Education Center, Sanger Hall and West Hospital.
The shooting in May was just one factor that contributed to the decision to amp up security. Security experts told 8News that hospitals can often be some of the most dangerous places in their respective communities.
Michael Jones is a security expert who has dedicated his life to evaluating and improving safety across the country. Through his years of experience, he’s come to learn a great deal about the inner-workings of criminals.
“The majority of our criminals are just dumb,” Jones said.
Since their installation in August, VCU Health’s current weapons detectors have caught 23 firearms, as well as “numerous other prohibited items like tasers and knives,” according to a VCU Health spokesperson.
“Hospital security is so important because you have such a vulnerable population,” Jones explained.
A hospital can be a place to heal, but also a place riddled with its own violent bouts. This year, lawmakers enacted a law requiring Virginia hospital emergency rooms have security or police officers. The law went into effect this past July and was largely intended to address violence in hospitals.
Weapons detectors are an effective way to minimize potential threats within hospital walls, but they can only do so much.
“It’s not the panacea that everyone thinks it is,” Jones said. “When you look at the location of the metal detectors, they’re going to be at the main pedestrian entrance doors. Well, VCU Medical Center has hundreds of exterior doors.”
The deadly shooting in May involved two hospital staffers who likely knew the back doors and ins-and-outs of their workplace. According to Jones, even if the detectors had been in place then, circumventing the system as an employee probably wouldn’t have been too difficult. However, he explained that weapons detectors can stop heat-of-the-moment criminals.
“They’re angry. They’re letting their anger drive it and they walk right in, pass a metal detector and the light bulb goes off.”
Other criminals may require more complex plans.
“I hate to say it, but we catch those dumb ones,” Jones said. “When that happens, that’s a good thing. The ones we worry about are the ones who are cagey and who’ve planned it out.”
Jones told 8News that sometimes it’s best to know how to protect yourself in large public spaces like hospitals. He recommended avoiding large groups, because those can often be seen as targets. Hospital visitors, patients and even staffers should also be aware of their surroundings at all times and know where the nearest exits are.
VCU Health’s next wave of weapons detectors will be rolled out starting Nov. 1.