Apr 1, 2002 12:00 PM

When security officials at First State Bank of Texas explored the possibility of upgrading their video surveillance system from traditional analog VCR tape to digital, they did so for the usual reasons. As it turned out, there were additional unforeseen benefits of making the change.

"We recognized that everyone was going digital because of the drawbacks of VCR tape," says Bobby Maxwell, security director for the 36-branch, $2 billion financial institution that is one of the five largest independent banks in Texas.

The advantages of digital systems include greater versatility in accessing cameras from remote locations, better picture quality, and the ability to locate and use particular images.

"They also wanted access (to camera images) through their intranet," says Doug Bardoff of North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold, the bank's longtime access control equipment supplier. "They wanted a system they could reach out there and touch from anywhere they were, without having any proprietary software loaded. They also believed their VCR was archaic."

A digital system, on the other hand, offers the possibility of easier management of multiple locations with fewer personnel. It also allows security officials to have greater confidence in the cameras guarding the banks. Too often security officials might devote time to reviewing tape for an image of a particular incident only to discover that the tape quality has degraded or a camera was out of focus. Even if image quality is acceptable, the bank is still faced with the question of how to make the taped images available to law enforcement in a timely manner.

"We can e-mail digital images to different branches and e-mail them to law enforcement ! we didn't have that capability with our old tape system," Maxwell explains.

Bank officials readily agreed that the system offered enough advantages to begin making the switch a couple of years ago. The company turned to Diebold to perform the installation, and its AccuTrack Digital Video Series system was placed in 15 branches in the Texas communities of Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Garland, Plano, and Terrell.

In March 2000, First State officials also discovered a new and unexpected advantage to remote access digital technology. Without warning, a series of violent tornadoes struck downtown Fort Worth. Television images vividly depicted the towering Bank One building being shattered as a funnel ripped through the city. The office tower was just blocks from the downtown First State Bank branch, and to make matters worse, police immediately closed off a 12-square-block area. Concern mounted when the branch president was turned back by emergency personnel when he tried to get to the bank facility that evening and again the following morning. They had no way of determining whether their facility had been subjected to the same level of destruction as its neighbor.

The president made his way to the bank's Denton headquarters, where he and security officials were able to log onto the AccuTrack server. From the Web, they were able to shift from camera to camera at the branch, looking first down the teller line, then shifting to the lobby camera to verify that the glass windows were still intact. Then they scanned down the drive-thru lanes and were able to determine that the building itself had not been damaged.

"We realized that we didn't have to get anyone out there that night," Maxwell says. "It was a use we had not foreseen."

While urban twisters are rare, First State officials say the system also excels in the day-to-day work of running a bank. In addition to security, bank officials can log onto the system to monitor teller performance or take a look at traffic using the outside drive-up windows.

Diebold's AccuTrack digital server is capable of capturing digitally-signed images and transaction data in real-time from 12 to 15 color cameras positioned at critical points around each facility ! inside, at the drive-thru and at ATM locations.

The digital information is stored on a multi-gigabyte hard drive. First State retains daily images for 60 days with ATM information being kept on hand for 90 days. The system also has a removable drive that allows for long-term archival storage of critical investigative evidence.

Digitally created images stored on a hard drive are advantageous over VCR pictures because they are consistently the same quality. VCR images, on the other hand, begin to degrade after as few as three tapings. In addition, instead of trusting branch staff to check the cameras regularly to ensure that they're getting the right image, security officials can periodically log onto the system to check each branch's camera and make any necessary adjustments.

"It's in investigations where the system has helped us the most," Maxwell says. "It helps by saving time. We don't have to go to a branch to review tape, and we don't have to go through a whole tape looking for a particular sequence of events. We can do it here by putting in a date, time, and even a particular camera if we don't want to look at them all. You don't have that capacity with tape."

Maxwell and other authorized users can log onto the system from any branch location through First State's intranet, using a standard desktop PC or laptop loaded with a Web browser. The server's remote programming capabilities eliminate the need for system interaction with personnel at the surveillance location.

"We only use it on our wide area network," Maxwell says. "It could be accessed on a dial-up modem, but because of security concerns, we don't allow that."

During business hours, the cameras ! which are not centrally monitored ! record a continuous sequence of two pictures per second. After closing, the system slows down in order to save memory during a time when there are no transactions taking place. AccuTrack is tied into a Checkpoint security system. Motion detection devices can switch the camera back into fast recording mode. If a burglar trips the bank's alarm system, security personnel can immediately access the nearest branch's CCTV system and view the images of that particular incident.

The jpeg images are stamped with the time and date, and the system provides a secure image that can later be used as evidence in court. The system also has built-in text insertion for the ATM camera that superimposes transaction information on the picture itself.

"That gives you a true evidence chain," Bardoff says.

The images can also be enlarged and enhanced to give a clearer ! and often more usable ! picture that can be printed and distributed to police officers in the field as they search for a suspect.

"With a VHS system, you're stuck with just the image that was recorded on the tape," Maxwell says. "At some point you start losing clarity, but if you have a very small image you can increase it 150 percent and still get a pretty clear image."

First State has three separate AccuTrack systems at its service center in Lewisville, Texas. The center has an armored car depot that handles large numbers of deposits, from surrounding merchants.

"It's a high-traffic area," Bardoff says. "They have a garage that has an armored car that backs up and unloads the cash. We put in a Checkpoint access control system for the cash vault area, for the branch, and for the data processing area."

The three AccuTrack systems are linked to ensure continuous monitoring of the area because of the large amounts of cash that are exchanged there each day.

"We have a two-way communication between where the guard comes up to the gate, gets out, and [security officers] look at him," Bardoff says. "They have a video monitor so they can see inside the armored car area. They only have a pass-through to get cash in and out. So the guard does not have access to the inside of the building. We also have alarm systems at all of those locations for which we provide the hardware and do the monitoring."

While most of First State's branches are still using the older VCR-based systems, Maxwell says that eventually they will be converted to the AccuTrack digital system. At that point, the entire bank will be able to make use of the progressive digital technology.

Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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