Culture: The Driving Force behind Security at Seattle Children’s

We sat down with Sara M. Smith, Research Operations Supervisor at Seattle Children’s Research, one of the nation’s top five pediatric research centers. Sara manages physical security for the campus including the lobby and operations staff.

Sara was an engaging and passionate advocate for Seattle Children’s. She is highly attuned to the vision and mission of an organization that is over 100 years old. “One of our founding promises is to care for children regardless of race, religion, gender or a family's ability to pay, and it still guides Seattle Children’s today”, said Sara. “Our patients and families are highly diverse. Therefore, my guard force is highly diverse; a fact I am highly proud of.”

Sara has extended that diversity to the vendors she contracts with. “When selecting a manufacturer, I look at their advertising. When we conduct an RFP, I look at the team they bring to the meeting. If I am setting up a relationship, then I need to be aware of the unconscious bias they may be bringing into our culture.”

For Sara, perception equals reality. “What do people perceive when they have interactions with security?”, said Sara. “Warm, welcoming environment?  When there is an issue, do they see a rapid, personal response?”

She takes personal responsibility for her own mistakes and learning in this area. “Early in my management of security here, I did not respond correctly to an incident”, said Sara. “The person I engaged interpreted my actions and demeanor as uncaring. It doesn’t matter if I, in fact, care passionately, but they do not receive it as such. That lesson has embedded itself in my cultural memory. Now, I take every interaction with a consciousness that the conversation is not simply between two people; it is about the very nature of the culture Seattle Children’s; of who we believe we are and will be.”

According to Sara, when someone approaches security with an issue, there are two problems to address. The first is whatever issue they are bringing which a technically competent officer can typically handle.  The second is – the person is often upset about whatever problem or barrier they’ve encountered.  “They had something stolen, they can’t get where they need to go and are running late, whatever the issue may be”, said Sara.  “An empathetically competent officer can handle the emotional side as well.  The truly excellent officers are going to resolve both.  Find these people.”

Sara recognizes her hard won lessons are not immediately transferrable to her people and her organization.  “Building a culture of safety and security does not happen by accident, and it certainly does not happen overnight.  It takes TIME.  It takes intentionality.  It takes consistency of message in every interaction – we are here to help keep you safe, to keep your work safe.” 

When security measures were rolled out over a decade ago at Seattle Children’s Research, there was initially some resistance.  “Many of our senior leaders are from academia”, she said. “They have a much different approach.  Colleges and Universities are highly porous – highly permeable.  Our security measures were initially seen as not supporting the collaborative environment they wished to promote.”

However, attention to the vision, mission and personnel training has helped. “When we conducted a security assessment a year ago, I was surprised and pleased to hear our staff and leaders provide a very different response.  Our security measures are now seen as valuable and necessary.  As we have grown, as our neighborhood has grown and changed, our people appreciate the steps we take to keep them safe.  The overarching culture has changed.”

To Sara, it’s the little things that make the difference. “Metrics may change minds, but it takes a personal connection to change a heart.  More than metrics, it's a relationship. Trust. Show up, every time.  Show you care. Be known, be recognized.  People are much more likely to report oddities to a friendly and familiar face.”

And, she said, once security is seen as part of the team, it can drive the larger culture.  “At Seattle Children’s, like most organizations, we have a history of silos. Working with my counterpart at the main campus, we realized that systems, like people, are best when they are collaborative. But, in many cases, security systems don’t talk to one another. For example, video management has been separated, as well as our badge control and vendor support.  As we have continued to grow, our organization has changed, and our neighborhood has changed.  The visible costs of software, hardware, and licensing, plus the invisible costs of supporting two nearly identical systems is a strain on limited resources and it no longer makes sense to run parallel systems. By partnering together – creating enterprise-wide standards, by leveraging the experience and history on both sides, by combining our systems where it makes sense to do so, we mitigate risk, optimize our response, and save the company money.”

And this collaboration also supports one of the other core value of Seattle Children’s; innovation. “As a Research Institute, we exist to innovate!”, said Sara.  “But primarily with medicine and science.  Security is also an innovator, and in powerful ways, contributing to the long-term vision, mission and values of our organization.”