Aug 1, 2001 12:00 PM

The security savvy of employees and the sophistication of surveillance capabilities can mean the difference between identifying attempted crime in real-time, living color and heading it off at the proverbial pass, or watching fuzzy, black-and-white film of the banditos beating a hasty, successful retreat ! hours after they are long gone.

To ensure that any criminal attempt is identified in the present ! not past ! tense at United National Bank (UNB), San Merino, Calif., Peter Leung, vice president/manager, general affairs, has implemented a comprehensive security program that relies equally on watchful human and digital eyes.

To appreciate the crime-reduction value of digital video recording, look no further than the FBI. According to Leung, a bill recently introduced into Congress would give the FBI director full regulatory authority over surveillance systems that go into FDIC-insured financial institutions. "We are ahead of the curve and recording according to their specifications already," Leung asserts.

Security preparedness is the name of the game at all nine of the community bank's California locations, where Leung has handled the security and IT functions since 1991. "On the security side, most small banks do not have a full-time security staff ! people wear many hats. When I was appointed, the bank had only four locations, and there was no formal security program in place," he explains.

Leung points out, however, that all banks ! big or small ! are by law, held to the same basic security standard. "According to the Bank Protection Act, which was signed into law in 1968 and amended in 1991, each bank has to appoint a security officer who reports to the board of directors at least once a year. It is then the responsibility of the officer to write a security program, maintain it and ensure its effectiveness," he says. The program is then audited once a year to ensure it is suitable and cost-effective.

The mission of the program that Leung developed is to "maintain a high standard of security to protect the interests of the bank and its customers against loss" as well as to "provide adequate protection for employees in the course of their employment against any crime or criminal harm."

To help realize that mission, United National Bank relies upon the skilled support of its employees who are trained by Leung and his assistant in security practices and policies on a quarterly basis ! and more often if necessary. "From the [mission] statement, I developed the responsibilities of the security officer, the branch managers and the branch departments," Leung explains. Branch managers or department heads at each location are 'deputized' as security officers, and all staff must immediately report any suspected criminal activity to the security officer or internal auditor as well as all crime to the local police or FBI.

"We are small compared to national banks," concedes Leung. "Some banks have 15,000 employees, and the bigger the bank, the better the chance for internal and external fraud, so you need more officers. As a community bank, we know probably about 85 percent of our customers personally, so although no bank is immune, the odds of someone coming in to defraud our bank are less."

Leung notes, however, that the way he trains staff is no different than the way Chase or Bank of America do so. At the beginning of every year, he reviews the security program, covering issues such as what to do in the event of robbery, workplace violence or a weapon in the workplace ! for which the bank has a zero-tolerance policy. He also covers opening, closing and cash handling procedures, new combinations, control measures and emergency preparedness for disasters such as fire and earthquake.

Then on a quarterly basis, Leung covers much more specific topics such as how elderly customers can protect themselves against financial abuse, or the differences in procedure for individual branches.

Leung believes that where UNB really differs from bigger banks is in its customer service emphasis, which extends to security-related mailings. "Again, we know most of our customers. So, we'll send out pamphlets or fliers with their monthly statements that provide information about topics such as how to ensure ATM security or how to prevent identity theft," he says by way of example.

Interestingly, Leung notes that the Bank Protection Act is less specific now than ever before. "Before the Act was amended, it specified that you had to have a surveillance system, a robbery alarm system, a safe with certain requirements ! because, back then, many banks had never heard of using a camera. Nowadays, they don't give you specifics because technology is much more commonplace ! even cameras are not specified. They simply say, 'Develop a security program and install and maintain it within the bank.'"

And in recent years, the evolution of video recording technology has been a boon to Leung's ability to expand his program and maintain it internally.

"When I first came on board in the early '90s, we were still using film cameras," Leung recalls. "So when there was a robbery and the teller pushed the panic button, the camera would start filming ! but when that teller is safe to push that button, it is already too late." To solve that problem, he put in cameras that continuously recorded the teller lines, but only one camera at a time could record ! with a significant turnaround time before switching to another camera. He adds that later, multiplexers were certainly a technological improvement, but that even with multiplexers, turnaround time was a challenge.

So in the late '90s, Leung began researching companies that were developing digital recording systems. He says he ultimately selected Alpha Systems Lab's ATM Watch system, provided by UNB's security dealer, Hamilton Safe, Fairfield, Ohio, for its flexibility. "I have always believed in technology, and in 1998, we were a pioneering bank for using digital recording at ATMs," he says.

In addition to digital recording capabilities, Hamilton Safe provides UNB with sundry other security hardware, including Radionics alarm panels and Hamilton vaults, safe deposit boxes and night depositories, as well as panic buttons and motion sensors.

Hamilton account executive Dave Rohrbachker notes that "the financial institution market is different from other markets as far as digital video is concerned. Very few companies have products that work for a financial institution's criteria ! the system has to be able to interface with ATMs and store information for 90 days, among other specifics. ATM Watch allows recall of specific information by time, date or ATM transaction number."

Rohrbachker also alludes to the FBI bill pending in Congress, noting that Alpha Systems Lab has upgraded version 2.0 of ATM Watch to a version 3.0, which features new recording, playback and storage features in anticipation of FBI standards.

Leung first deployed ATM Watch at UNB's ATM locations and then took advantage of a branch relocation to pilot the recording system inside a branch. "That location was tied to our NT network for the first time for a fast connection, so there were no more speed limitations in terms of transmitting the video. It worked perfectly," he says.

Then, confident that the system would work for both ATM and branch locations, Leung proceeded to roll out the digital recording, along with color, private-label Hamilton cameras, in all nine of UNB's locations.

"The system allows continuous recording at every location, so when I dial into one, it's still monitoring and recording all the others," adds Leung. "And when there is no activity, I can record at say, one picture every three seconds, but when someone presents a card to an ATM, it speeds up to, say, one picture per second. And I can monitor all the systems right from my desktop PC."

Image storage is handled locally on a hard drive, according to Leung. Images are stored for a minimum of three months, depending on the branch location. Also, the system can be programmed to record certain sections of the bank 24 hours a day; others record only at key times.

Leung says the system has already paid off. "We had one instance where a person had a stolen ATM card and did not know the PIN, so he was guessing, and it was all captured on the camera, so we were able to show the recording to the police.

Leung plans soon to implement version 3.0 of the system, which will allow him to integrate it with other security functions. "For example, if a teller pushes the panic button, the system will automatically page me," he says.

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