Facility Solutions: 5 Branch Security Lessons

Contributing Writer

4 minutes

Key things credit unions can learn from retailers

Credit Union Management magazine’s Web-only “Facility Solutions” column runs the third Tuesday of the month.

CUs can learn a lot about keeping their branches safe by looking at what big box retailers do. Try these five on for size.

1. Look open. Retailers always want passers-by to be able to see inside the store. A bright open space bustling with activity makes the store look busy and inviting, and it draws customers in. But it’s also a good move from a security standpoint, because criminals don’t like to operate where they can be seen.

Paul Seibert, CMC, VP/financial services at EHS Design Inc., Seattle, says some credit unions don’t project that kind of we’re-open-for-business message. Their branches are designed with very few windows—or, if they do have lots of windows, they lower the shades to block the sun and then forget to raise them again. That’s a mistake a retailer would never make.

2. Control your inventory. Just as retailers put security tags on their most valuable merchandise, they also tend to be conscientious about securing their back-office machinery. Dana Turner, security practitioner at Security Education Systems LLC, Pipe Creek, Texas, says the best way to accomplish this is to stick adhesive bar codes or GPS tracking devices in unobtrusive places (for example, in the inside compartment of that $10,000 printer in the office).

“When I go out to my clients' places, I take a look at [office machines] and see if the credit union has ever marked them as being the property of the credit union and put a bar code on them,” says Turner. “I’ve maybe found two or three out of several hundred that have ever done that. I will tell you right now that if I'm the detective and all you give me is a serial number, I'm not working that case.”

3. Pay attention to unmentionables. Retailers think strategically about placement and management of restrooms, says Seibert. Restroom entrances must be located in a place where they are observable, so security can see people going in and out. At a department store, a restroom is a place where a customer might put on unpurchased clothing. At a credit union, it’s a place where a robber might put on a hood.

“I would say that half the branches we design have member lavatories in them,” he says. “We've got to be very careful where we position them. Not just for security, but also if you put them by the front door, after a while people know there's a bathroom and they just stop there to use the bathroom. The best is if they need to ask a staff member to be able to use the bathroom.”

4. Use video intelligently. For security reasons, it’s a good idea to place security cameras at angles where they can observe both tellers and members who are conducting transactions. Retailers do the same thing. But retailers are also pioneering video intelligence platforms, which use facial recognition software to determine gender, age, and other information about customers. They can then use this information to improve their marketing campaigns and customer service policies.

“In a credit union, it can be used, let's say, behind a teller line to understand when peak periods and low periods are, determine if there are issues about wait time, and tell you if it's males or females who are primarily in the line,” says Seibert. “It can observe that activity for you and give you a report.”

5. Monitor the perimeter. According to Turner, retailers like Target have avoided numerous premises liability lawsuits by attaching cameras to the lighting standards in their parking lots. “Credit unions don't do that,” he laments. “They don't want to spend the $400 per light standard to put those things up there. But if you put a camera up whenever you put a light up, you can cover your entire parking lot so that if there is a robbery, you have video. If someone says, ‘I slipped and fell,’ and yet there's no record of it on the camera ....”

Turner was recently asked to be an expert witness in a case in which a woman was robbed at a drive-up ATM. A robber shot her three times with a .357 hand gun. The parking lot was, in Turner’s words, “lit up like a surgical room” and was covered by nine security cameras.

“When I get to go to court for these people—and I'm working for the credit union on this one—I can honestly, professionally say that the credit union exceeded expectations for providing a safe place for people to go conduct their business,” he says.

Jamie Swedberg is a freelance writer based in Georgia.

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