What I Learnt About NICU Security With My Own Infant

By Bernhard Mehl
March 22, 2018

You might think banks, art galleries and penthouses are secure. But until you have your first infant, likely you never thought about hospital security much. At least that was me a week ago.

Please be aware: The experiences in this post are purely subjective – if there are corrections we can make to the post, please get in touch with us.

NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) security experience

Generally it was amazing how efficiently simple low tech equipment is being used to create a secure environment in hospitals. For example the use of a 1 button voice neck wearables that every nurse interacted with instead of handhelds.

However due to the chaotic nature of hospitals there was naturally plenty of opportunity for social penetration testing, below some experiences:

Shortly past midnight I entered the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) of Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after parking the car. My wife was already past NICU security at that time.


NICU security started in the lobby

First thing I noticed: The lobby security post wasn’t occupied. Later I learned that security guard also has to help people get to the right floor if they can’t really walk. During that time his security alert dashboard stays unmanned. It would be easy to check off a few alarms on the NICU security dashboard to not create awareness of an unwanted intrusion (in that case me).

Elevator and device security

infant security bracelet
Centrak tracking tag attached to a hospital bed

Going up in the elevator to the real NICU security desk the next thing I noticed were the big radio frequency boxes over each exit of the elevator. Later I learned that each large item (such as beds or babies) are tagged. That means if they are being pushed or taken into the elevator the NICU security system notices that and marks them as “left floor”. Very useful as long as the tags are in the right place, but more to that point later.

Admission to NICU unit

Standing confused in front of the NICU security desk got the guard on duty to ask me “are you the parent?”. A simple “yes” answer got me in the otherwise closed off baby delivery section. Doctors and nurses need badges to get in there. I just said “yes”. Bingo.

Voice-controlled smart device as security feature

Passing by the first nurse made me aware that they all communicate through a kind of “in-house” Siri system. Basically a 1 button wearable device they have tied around their neck. When pressing the button they can give voice commands like “call Doctor Jim” and the system checks if the doctor is available and if yes, connects them directly. Sort of like a smart, mesh networked walkie-talkie. Pretty cool.

Infant security bracelets

The most astonishing NICU security feature for infants was the security bracelets. Once the baby is born, the baby and BOTH parents are being tagged with a barcode printed on a security bracelet. However in most cases the barcode isn’t used and the NICU security staff just asks “can you please read your number to see if it matches the babies’?”. There is no check if I’m the real owner of the number, if I have the number from someone else.

What’s next for NICU security?

Anyways, going through NICU security was a great experience for anyone working in the security industry. There are so many areas of opportunity for innovation in this area, even the use of smartphones as on-demand access credential might be an easy fix to start with.

Bernhard Mehl

Bernhard is the co-founder and CEO of Kisi. His philosophy, "security is awesome," is contagious among tech-enabled companies.

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