Keeping ATMs in focus
Keeping ATMs in focus

Feb 1, 1999 12:00 PM

Citibank protects ATM customers in New York City and around the country with a real-time remote video and audio system monitored from a central station. "Good morning ladies and gentleman. This is the Citibank security staff. We are currently monitoring this location for your safety. The time at the Grand Central Citicard Banking Center is 10:21 on Dec. 29. If you can hear my voice, please acknowledge by saying hello."

The Citicard Banking Center at Grand Central Station in New York City houses 29 ATMs and is one of the largest and busiest nationwide ATM installations. Dozens of people transact business in the lobby at any given time.

An officer from the Citi Alert Center checks in with bank customers about every hour by calling up several fixed Panasonic and Sony color video cameras monitoring the location and speed-dialing an audio telephone link to the location. Citibank's security staff regularly repeats the procedure at more than 140 Citibank ATM lobbies citywide and 10 remote locations nationwide.

Forty of these sites receive round-the-clock attention seven days a week. The rest are monitored at pre-set intervals.

The audio announcements elicit a variety of responses. Some people wave toward the ceiling where Eagle speakers broadcast the audio transmissions. Savvy media types wave at the cameras. Kids jump up and down and grin. Now and then, a cynic might laugh off the announcement as a recording, at which time, the voice on the other side of the two-way audio hook-up might respond with a compliment about that person's outfit.

Citibank has been keeping real-time eyes and ears on other nationwide customers as well, which has enabled the bank to improve safety for ATM customers, says James Biggin, vice president of security for Citibank's Retail Bank Division for New York and Illinois.

"Since installing the system, we have cut the number of crimes committed against our customers in half," Biggin says. "The year before installing this system, we had 61 incidents. A year after the installation, the number dropped to 30. In 1998, that trend held true. We had about 36 incidents last year."

In addition, Citibank's regular surveys of customer attitudes have turned up fewer complaints about ATM lobbies. Such complaints generally concern the presence of panhandlers.

"Aggressive panhandlers walk up to customers and say, 'You are taking money out of the bank. I need a dollar.' It's intimidating," Biggin says.

The Citibank ATM remote monitoring system aims to eliminate such threats, to help customers feel more secure, and to provide other services made possible by video monitoring and two-way audio.

When an officer in the Citi Alert Center notices someone who appears to be a panhandler loitering in one of the ATM lobbies, the officer will push a button on the console, which speed-dials into a connection with speakers in the ceiling, and will address the person, saying something like: "To the gentleman in the brown shirt, may we assist you?"

"About four of 10 panhandlers will leave after that kind of announcement," Biggin says. "When the announcement doesn't work, we inform the individual that we are dispatching a security patrol officer to help him. That or the arrival of security officers usually solves the problem. We call the police in fewer than 10 percent of these cases.

"Over the three years we have been doing this, we have taught aggressive panhandlers they simply can't loiter at Citibank ATM lobbies."

Biggin outsources the roving security patrol work to the New York City firm of Copstat Security Inc.

The Citibank ATM security system has its roots in Local Law 70, enacted by the New York City Council in 1991 to protect customers using ATMs.

The provisions of Local Law 70 require banks to install closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, record every square foot of ATM space and store the video for 30 days. In the absence of a CCTV system, a security officer must guard the location.

In response to Local Law 70, Citibank installed CCTV systems in its branches to monitor adjacent ATM lobbies. These basic systems, which continue to operate, consist of four to eight cameras in the ATM lobby with cabling to send the video signal to a back office inside the branch. Robot multiplexers and Gyyr videotape recorders manage the video and the video record-keeping, while an American Dynamics switcher makes it possible to call up individual cameras.

While branch-based CCTV systems have satisfied the requirements of Local Law 70, increasingly aggressive panhandlers have continued to harass customers at Citibank and other bank ATM lobbies throughout the city.

In 1995, Biggin decided to investigate advanced remote video monitoring technology that might provide more control over the problem. "A number of companies offer this technology," Biggin says. "We looked at products offered by six different companies. The technologies are essentially similar. We made our decision based on what we thought was a compatible package of technology, service and price."

Biggin selected the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada-based Javelin Division of Ademco to supply and integrate the system.

The heart of the system is a black box and software called Rapid Eye. A Rapid Eye box at each ATM site accepts video signals from each camera. "Rapid Eye software processes the analog video feed into a digital format appropriate for storage on a disk drive or transmission over a communication link," says Harvey Barnes, vice president for product marketing with Javelin.

Citibank's first Rapid Eye configuration came on line in April 1996. That system transmitted video over phone lines to the Citi Alert Center. Continual touring of 110 sites plus 24-hour-a-day monitoring of 40 more sites using the phone lines proved too expensive. "We decided to move from the dial-up system to the bank's data network," Biggin says. "After testing it, we found that it worked. There were some concerns related to the bandwidth required to transmit video. We had to be careful not to use so much bandwidth that customer transactions would be slowed. Javelin solved the problem with controls to limit the bandwidth available for the video."

In the Citi Alert Center, sweeping ceiling-high consoles hold 84 IBM computers with 20-inch Viewsonic monitors. These computers receive the digital video transmissions from the Rapid Eye boxes at the ATM locations. Inside the computers, Rapid Eye software rebuilds the video and displays it on the monitors.

All told, the system monitors video collected by 1,100 cameras at ATM banking centers.

Bandwidth limitations make the reassembled video look slightly jerky. "We call it near-full-motion video," Barnes says. "But you do see what is happening as it is happening."

As a real-time system, Rapid Eye's uses go beyond security. "One of our officers saw a woman faint while using one of our ATMs," Biggin says. "We tried to talk with her over the audio connection, but she didn't respond. So we called the police and Emergency Medical Services. Help arrived within 15 minutes, and we kept an eye on her the entire time. Without the video and audio connection, who knows what would have happened to her."

The system also enables the Citi Alert security staff to advise the bank's maintenance department of problems. "We can see lights that have burned out, ATM machines that aren't working, debris in the lobbies and mag-stripe door poppers that have failed," Biggin says. "When something like that happens we call the appropriate department."

In addition to providing a way to monitor ATM locations from a central station, Rapid Eye can also retrieve video swiftly.

To retrieve video from a cassette tape storage library, someone has to go and get the tape, hoping that it has been filed appropriately. Then a system operator must fast-forward through the tape to the requested date and time.

Because Rapid Eye stores digitized video on a disk drive, retrieval requires a few keystrokes specifying the date and time. The system accesses the information on the disk and displays it onthe screen without delay.

Citibank's Rapid Eye system provides a limited amount of storage. As a result, the security department currently saves only the digitized video that records incidents. The existing CCTV systems in each branch satisfy the 30-day requirement of Local Law 70.

Biggin is considering an upgrade to the Rapid Eye system that would provide storage for 60 days of video at each ATM location. "Ultimately, this will be a business decision for the bank," he says. "But we are going to test the larger storage system in one of our branches later this year."

Rapid Eye also offers inputs for other kinds of devices, including sensors. According to Biggin, Rapid Eye may receive a variety of new assignments at some point in the future. "Possible options include controlling door access with electronic locks, allowing access to the cash rooms, and tying the system into the hold-up buttons at the teller stations. All of these things can be done, but we haven't made any firm decisions about them."

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