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How to Increase Safety for Healthcare Security Professionals

How to Increase Safety for Healthcare Security Professionals

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has entered our world, business as usual has changed drastically. Being security professionals in a healthcare environment, we are dealing with a variety of challenges even without the addition of COVID-19 to the equation.  Emotions fueled by anxiety and escalated fear of others, coupled with the devastation and destruction of panic are the ingredients needed for chaos in any industry. Healthcare professionals see this every single day.

As emergency department lines circle around the hospital grounds, going to the hospital for any reason is serious business not only for the patient, but also for their families and the staff who provide the medical care for them.

The "New Normal" for Typical Interactions 

Managing your safety as a security professional in a healthcare environment now has several new elements.  In a society that usually starts interactions with a smile, traditional handshake, or sometimes a friendly hug,  now starts with a different facial expression along with the one hand stop sign displaying a concerned, not so friendly, tone to stop someone as you introduce yourself and ask them how you can help.

Whether we’re listening to the news or reading the newspaper, we hear the term social distancing, which is a very polite word for “pleased stay away from me, so you don’t get me sick.”  In these challenging times, I want to discuss a few strategies and options that security professionals in healthcare have at their disposal.

Vistelar-Blog-GraphicsArtboard 2At 10 feet, you conduct a visual risk and threat assessment. The risk assessment is nothing more than a visual survey of the area around you to identify for escape routes, positions of cover, or objects in the area that can cause harm to you. At this distance, you are basically stopping to visually inspect the entire area where the person(s) are standing that you’re intending on approaching in order to decide the best possible way to enter the area.

As you do this visual survey, you’ll start looking for escape routes; what is the best way to get out of this situation if it goes bad. Getting out of the area might appear to sound easy; however, you want to make sure you keep these escape routes within your own physical limitations and abilities. This means if you are out of shape, running up three flights of stairs might not be the best option for you.  If you don’t feel it is safe, it is because you do not have an escape route and you may want to stop in place and let the contact come to you.

At this point, if you feel it is unsafe to continue, you can deploy an Exit Strategy. This exit strategy could be something such as stopping and touching both pockets or quickly looking in the bag that you’re holding. This gives the person the impression you might have forgotten your keys or your phone and allows you to turn around and go back to where you came from.

Whichever exit strategy you use, we recommend you practice it, so it feels comfortable. Exit strategies allow you to leave the area quickly, avoiding the contact all together.

If you feel it’s safe to continue the contact, then you could step closer to them, and stop approximately 6 feet away.  The way you assess 6 feet is if you are standing in front of someone and extend your arm, which is approximately 3 feet long, and they extend their arm to hand you an ID, this gives you a total of 6 feet of distance between you and another person.

In addition to managing this 6-foot distance, we recommend standing off at an angle or slightly off their right or left shoulder. This will also stop you from being directly in front of them and out of the path of their sneezing or coughing.

Another important reason a 6-foot separation is important, is to help you to have enough time to sweep and escape from danger should they charge toward you.  If you are too close and wearing personal protection equipment like a face shield, goggles, gloves, or even a protective suit, you should be able to protect yourself at a greater rate than if you were up close and personal.

Remember your contact does not have to jump on your back, all they need to do is breach the personal protective gear and you could become contaminated. As security professionals in the health care industry,  you should  be wearing protective gloves under your tactical gloves or climate weather gloves to give an extra layer of protection in case your initial gloves are pulled off or you have to remove them for whatever reason.

Universal Greeting

As we approach the contact and stop at a safe distance, we typically apply our universal greeting. This is offering them an appropriate greeting, giving them our name and affiliation, explaining our reason for contact, and asking them a relevant question.

A Universal Greeting would sound something like this:

C1.  Appropriate Greeting: “Good morning”

C2.  Your name and Affiliation: My name is Dave Young a security Rep for the Hospital

C3.  Reason for contact: I’m here to help our nurses get additional information from you to complete their report.

C4.  Relevant question: Is it possible to sit over here so I can ask you some questions in privacy?

The Five Basic Threat Indicators

As you continue, you want to be mindful of five basic threat indicators that can help gauge your actual safety.Vistelar-Blog-How-to-Increase-Security The first one is the ability to manage distance. Distance is important because it equals your level of safety and a comfort level with the person you’re making contact with. For example, let’s say you’re sitting in the back row of the movie theater and you see a couple sitting a few rows in front of you. They’re watching the movie like everyone else except they’re sitting extremely close shoulder to shoulder almost as if they were leaning on each other. However, as the movie goes on, you see their position change and they’re not sitting shoulder to shoulder anymore, in fact they’re sitting extremely far apart and one of them is facing in another direction this indicates a level of discomfort.

Second is managing position. When you stand and talk with someone that you don’t know, standing off shoulder is typically the best position. You may find as you’re talking to the person, they keep trying to position themselves directly in front of you. This provides a couple of disadvantages that you want to try to manage. If they’re right in front of you, then you really can’t see what’s going on behind them, which is important. However, if you stand off shoulder and position yourself to the side of them, you can see what’s going on in front of you and what’s going on behind them.  It also allows you to possibly see what may be approaching from behind.

The third indicator is broken up into three parts: tone of voice, precision word choice, and excessive repetition. The first sign that a person is feeling angry or frustrated can be measured by the tone of voice they use, so typically the louder a person gets during a conversation, is an indicator of their level of frustration.  In addition, if their word choice changes to threatening and assaulting language, this is an indicator of their anger. Then, when a person goes on and on and on about a traditional topic, such as they say the same thing possibly three or four different ways, such as; you’re not listening to me, do I have to say this again? why do I have to repeat myself? This person gets stuck in a repeating record.

The next indicator is hand positioning. Watch for fidgeting: playing with their ring, adjusting their watch, moving a bracelet around their wrist, rubbing their hands together as if they were washing them.   This could also be clenching hands, making a fist, cracking their knuckles, or moving their arms and hands away from their bodies in a flailing motion.

The last indicator is one you can see almost immediately, eye focus. Traditionally what is in a person’s line of sight usually shows what’s in their mind. For example, a woman is exiting a store and a stranger walks up and asks a question. While you are talking, they spend more time looking at what’s going on around them, than looking at you when you give them your response. Eyes are a very strong giveaway and can be a great indicator to managing your safety.

Use of Skill to Manage Escalation

When you make contact and things go well, you have a positive closure and move on to the next contact. However, if things start to escalate, you have some physical skills with or without wearing personal protecting equipment that can be a great option for you to escape from danger.

The first one is called sweep and escape. This is when a person is quickly advancing on you with one or both of their hands out to grab you.  You can stand up, place your hands out in front of you in a two hand stop sign, and then in a sweeping motion sweep their hands away from your body bringing their hands across their body as you move in the opposite direction to get away.

If you’re unable to escape and you could possibly be hit by something: a clipboard, a book or even their fist. You can do what’s called protecting cover. Protecting your head, face, neck, and throat by using both of your hands.

If you are unable to escape from this sort of attack traditionally, you will more than likely be grabbed. They’ll grab your arms that are out towards them, your shirt, your body, or even your hair. Being able to have avoidance techniques for these tactics are critical; however, there is an option called the apex defense. Whether you’re standing or on the ground, if they happen to grab your arms, your shoulders, or even if they try to do a front choke with their right hand, left hand, or using both their hands, you can use the apex defense.

The "Best" Technique

As I travel around the country teaching others how to be safe, the same question is always asked: what is the best technique for—you can add anything after that; blocking a punch, escaping from a grab or choke etc.…

I often start out my classes with asking the students the exact same question, what is the best technique for getting away from a grip and grab, getting away from somebody who has you on the ground, or the best technique for blocking a punch etc.

First, I’d like to discuss the definition of the word best. If you were to ask 10 of your closest friends what the word means, you’ll probably get responses that sound like this: ultimate, superior, or better than the rest. However, I’d like to give you our definition of the word best. The definition of the word best means a series of important elements.

  1. The best technique can be performed in real time. You can choreograph anything to be successful, can’t you?
  2. The best technique is easy to remember under stress. It’s important that your techniques can be taught within three steps or less. Any more steps under stressful conditions, you won’t remember it.
  3. The best technique can be performed in any environment such as standing, on the ground, even in a chair.
  4. The best technique can be performed with either the right or left hand meaning your techniques are not to hand dependent which means needing both hands in order to be effective. What if you have a hand that is injured?
  5. The best technique is one that can be performed within your own physical and emotional limitations, and this covers a very large spectrum.

A technique that only works under certain conditions, like aligning of all the moons in a row, really isn’t a technique at all.  It’s more like buying tickets to a movie you’re never going to see.


Remember that being safe for security professionals in a healthcare environment is a balance of emotional safety, mental conditioning and physical health. If you cannot remember it, or remember what to do, then WHY teach it!  Many say let’s keep it simple.  The Apex Defense is as simple as you can get.  Just clap and spin!

If you have any questions on this information or feel it is relevant in assisting you to manage your safety, please feel free to contact me at

Dave Young

Dave Young / About Author

Dave served as law enforcement officer in Florida and in the Marines as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander. He now serves as a defensive tactics consultant for numerous police and correctional agencies. Dave also is an industry leader in testing public safety equipment and non-lethal weaponry. He applied all of this expertise as host of “Crash Test Human,” a TV series for National Geographic in which he tested emergency scenarios such as being trapped inside a water-submerged car.