A Chicago-based bank found out that rapid growth
 
A Chicago-based bank found out that rapid growth

Apr 1, 1999 12:00 PM
MICHAEL FICKES

No matter how you look at it, growth costs money. And unplanned growth costs more money.

For years, security technology did not accommodate planning for sustained growth. Growing mid-sized companies, for example, could not afford large-capacity access control systems until they got bigger. When they needed the larger system, their existing field panels often didn't work with the new software. And if everything is replaced, the original investment is lost.

Lately, security directors and their integrators have been demanding that their suppliers provide solutions to preserve existing hardware investments.

The Chicago-based ABN-Amro North America bank has been wrestling with the problem for several years. An affiliate of the seventh largest banking system in the world, ABN-Amro of the Netherlands, the Chicago bank has grown at a startling pace. During the past six years, the company has gone from 120 card readers to 1,000 - a nearly 10-fold increase.

Today, ABN-Amro employs 25,000 cardholders - both employees and contractors - at 32 sites in Chicago, including five major downtown office buildings. The bank's access control system logs more than 100,000 transactions per day and monitors 370 alarm points, talking to about 500 old and new field panels.

Four years ago, a much smaller ABN-Amro used a DOS-based access control system to run mag-stripe card readers supplied by American Magnetics Corp. (now Group 4 Securitas), Carson, Calif.

At the time, Dennis Morgan, CPP, an operations officer in the bank's security operations department, foresaw the need for a higher capacity access control system, one that could accommodate the bank's growth into new office space in buildings throughout downtown Chicago.

He asked NTC Electronics Inc., a Chicago-based integrator that has worked with ABN-Amro for more than a dozen years, to suggest a solution. NTC responded with an AIX Unix system running on a RISC computer network. The system could accommodate 500 card readers. Data in this system passed through 347 old and new American Magnetics field panels, preserving the investment in existing field panels. The original panels date back to the earlier DOS-based mag-stripe system and can handle only two card readers per panel. Newer panels can accept data from eight readers.

But that was just the beginning. The bank continued to grow rapidly. Within a year, the 500-reader capacity of the virtually new Unix system had begun to max out. Another system purchase loomed.

Morgan asked NTC to find a system that would accommodate the bank's continuing growth and evolving needs. He also asked for system-wide integration that would merge elevators, fire alarms, CCTV, alarms and access control into a single, unified security capability.

Tall order Several years before, ABN-Amro's badging system had gone on the blink. "We couldn't run reports properly because we couldn't get updated printer drivers from the supplier," says Mark Lesmeister, project coordinator for NTC Electronics.

Instead of looking for a new supplier that might have required other system alterations, NTC's software people wrote their own badging system software and called it Badge It!. The product fixed the problem, while earning a place in the OEM product line carried by Group 4 Securitas.

Not long ago, NTC's software group, happy with the success of Badge It!, decided to spin off a new company and develop software to accommodate requests such as Morgan's for a fully integrated, rationally expandable access control system. The new company called itself RS2 Technologies LLC and set up shop in Munster, Ind., a southern suburb of Chicago.

Last year, RS2 introduced its first product: Access It!, an access control software application designed to integrate security systems across an enterprise while providing a rational path for growth.

Y2K compliant, Access It! works with Windows NT, 98, and 95 operating systems and supports Access 97/SQL Server 7.0/ODBC. ABN-Amro's security officers will only have to learn the system once: The same screen interface appears on single-user workstation and multi-user, enterprise-wide systems.

The system speeds data entry by downloading badging data - including zone access information - directly to the access control panels. Because the system stores access control and badging information in a single database, it can generate comprehensive reports easily.

The new software works with a variety of field panels, too. It communicates with both the older and newer American Magnetics field panels at ABN-Amro. "We did not have to replace or even upgrade existing panels," Lesmeister says. "All we do is simulate a loop of card readers on the system, plug the computer into the communications port for that loop and take off."

The Access It! system also works with panels selected by NTC for new ABN-Amro access control installations. The new panels are manufactured by Mercury Security Corp., Signal Hill, Calif. "With the Mercury panels, I can use Internet protocol (IP) addressing to connect them," says Lesmeister. "So far, we've installed about 20 Mercury panels."

According to Douglas Robinson, a managing partner with RS2, combining Access It! with the new panels makes it easier to connect remote sites to the system. "Say you have a remote facility with 20 card readers, and you don't want to spend the money for a workstation and an operator at that site," Robinson says. "You can simply install the readers, hang the Mercury panels directly on the wide-area-network (WAN), and talk to the panel over the WAN from the main security station."

So far, NTC has tied 370 alarm points spanning five buildings into the system. The alarms include teller duress buttons, cash clip alarms in the cash drawers, door contacts, window bugs, and motion detectors that cover large areas after hours.

"We have also connected the fire alarm panels to the system," says Lesmeister. "This way, the officers in the security center get an alarm before it goes out to the monitoring service, and they can check to see if it's a false alarm. They can also use the system to supervise the monitoring service."

Next, Lesmeister plans to integrate the bank's substantial CCTV system into Access It!.

The CCTV system monitors video from Panasonic color cameras located around the exterior of the bank's downtown office buildings and numerous remote locations, at the entrances, in the cash vaults, above the teller lines, and in the lobbies and hallways.

About 400 cameras are located in the bank's headquarters building, and another 40 cameras have been installed in a newly leased building.

Video signals flow through existing bank wiring systems including coaxial cable installed specifically for the CCTV system, twisted-pair runs made available when the bank converted from analog to digital telephones, and fiber-optic cable used by the bank for a variety of purposes.

At the main security center in the headquarters building, two switchers manage the 440 cameras. A Pelco 9750 matrix switcher handles the 400 cameras monitoring the main building, while a Pelco 9760 covers the 40 cameras in the new building.

Robot multiplexers and Panasonic 24-hour, time-lapse video cassette recorders tape the video, while 13-inch JVC color monitors display the video.

A new equipment room is under construction to house these devices. Upon completion, 24 racks will circle the room. Each rack will accommodate three multiplexers, three VCRs and three monitors.

In an adjacent control room, security officers will keep an eye on two alarm monitors and two other monitors keyed to crucial security areas.

About 160 cameras cover remote locations. Currently, the video is recorded there and not brought back to the security center. Lesmeister says the bank can connect to a Pelco switcher and bring video back over the corporate WAN.

Video brought back to the control room is managed through the Access It! system. "We can bring up floor plans that contain camera icons and program the system to call up a camera when the operator double-clicks on its icon," says Lesmeister.

Morgan also wants NTC to integrate alarm points with the CCTV system. "The bank has mandated that when anyone hits a duress button, whether it's in a teller line or an executive office, a camera must be activated to show security officers what situation they must deal with," Lesmeister says.

Instead of tying the bank's 370 alarm points into the switchers, however, NTC will use Access It! to control the process. "The alarm will come in through the access control software," says RS2's Robinson. "From there, we will set up a macro in the software to bring up a map on the PC screen and to switch to the appropriate camera on the alarm monitor. The PC screen will have a joystick icon that the operator can use to pan, tilt and zoom. Other icons will allow camera switching.In addition, certain cameras can be programmed through the software to go to preset positions when an alarm comes in."

Why not use the switcher directly to perform these tasks? Because the bank CCTV system is controlled by two switchers now. Should a decision be made to bring video back from more remote locations, the system will grow even more complex. By routing all functions through the graphical software interface, system operators need to deal with only one set of controls.

According to Lesmeister, the process of integrating the CCTV system into Access It! has just gotten under way.

When complete, ABN-Amro will have a fully integrated security system offering a rational growth path designed not just to protect the bank but to control the cost of growth.

 
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