Looking at the growth and changes in banking security, few industry watchers can pinpoint what direction technology is headed. Most banks have changed their security systems very little in the past few decades and much of the growth you do see in bank security installations is in new construction of additional branches. However, a closer look finds emerging changes and growth in a variety of banks, branches and corporate finance centers.

The good news for electrical contractors is that business seems to be steadily rising in the retail and corporate banking industry after a decade of decline. As banks leave behind the growth stall following the recent merger mania, electrical contractors will find renewal in bank construction, with related security and other systems installations in both new and retrofit applications.

Network nuances

Much of the change and innovation is based on the network. New ways to use and tap into the local, wide and Internet network continue to emerge. End-users are not only using their existing network for stricter data and information management collection, but may also use it for voice, such as intercom and paging, and even access control and more.

Other highly visible upgrades are coming in the way of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance. Again, security managers are often using their existing Ethernet, WAN or LAN to accomplish surveillance and monitoring tasks. Most banks, when enhancing their security systems, look at digital surveillance and recording to replace their videocassette recorders where necessary, and right now that seems to be the largest security system push among financial institutions nationwide. That's not to say that VCRs are going away any time soon. In fact, there may still be a place for the VCR, especially in smaller or remote applications or record-on-demand-only installations.

There are plenty of other options in security-system technology, some more expensive than others, and the choice is up to end-users and their budgets, as it has always been. Wireless is an up-and-coming technology that may help financial institutions save money on hardwiring installation expenses where no-wire technology will suffice or drilling is not an option. An access-control device for a single door or remote location is a perfect example of where wireless may fit into the application. (Another example would be a wireless passive infrared or dual-technology security motion sensor. ) But for most financial institutions, wireless still presents the fear of the unknown, so in many cases, hardwiring and using the existing network are the way to go.

Kevin O'Brien, vice-chair of The American Society of Industrial Security's Banking and Financial Services Council, said he's not totally convinced wireless is the correct choice for life safety.

“Hardware is more reliable,” he said. O'Brien, who is also vice president of the Bank of New York, pointed out that with every wireless system, a battery is required and if the battery is not replaced regularly, an important loss of security can occur. “Yes, the cost savings [for wireless] is significant, [however], I don't see it as getting that big. Most new construction banks are definitely doing hardwire,” he said.

Wireless manufacturers don't share the same sentiments some may have over concerns regarding the technology. Many reported that wireless has new more reliable batteries and, in all cases, proper supervision and back up for even the most extreme situations. Others also assert that regular testing, maintenance and battery supervision eases the fear of lost or missed signals or monitored events.

For many banks and financial institutions, camera and recording systems are one way to make fairly inexpensive improvements to security. Manufacturers have responded by making a variety of Internet protocol (IP) based cameras that can be either wireless or hardwired.

New breed of video

“We're definitely seeing a trend toward IP-based cameras,” said Carrie Higby, Global Network Applications marketing manager for The Siemon Co., Watertown, Conn. “The biggest reason is because the monitoring is then done remotely.”

With IP cameras, a lifetime archive can be recorded on disk and a central monitoring person from a remote location can watch multiple branches at once. Siemon has created a digital CCTV system that replaces those systems that require a separate infrastructure connected via coaxial cable. With the development of digital video, these systems can now operate over twisted-pair and fiber optic cables, with image streams stored in a digital format on servers or other computers instead of images being stored on videotape. This new breed of video allows IP transmission of the video signals in a combined voice/video stream that can be viewed in real time.

In general, IP cameras can be connected either through Ethernet or with a direct electrical connection. “People are starting to catch on to Ethernet (wireless),” Higby said. Ethernet saves the bank the electrical connection unless the electrical cabling is already in place. “Certainly [Ethernet] powered cameras are picking up momentum,” Higby said, adding that the lower cost is a driving factor.

Automated services

John Thompson, vice president of T & T Electric in Shepardsville, Ky., handles security system installations but said as remote monitoring devices continue to gain a considerable following, his role will change. He recently installed a remote teller system that allows customers to do much of their banking without ever seeing the teller. “Bankers [the end-user] can be at home and see who's in the lobby if necessary,” he said. T & T's role is to integrate equipment, in this case the Diebold Remote Teller Station. The system includes two-way audio-video to allow customers inside the bank to see and hear tellers working in a secure back office on- or off-site.

Security manufacturers are always looking at new ways to beat security breeches, acts of violence or other criminal activities. The latest trend to protect against these problems, many predict, is biometrics. Diebold has a bank access control system that includes biometrics and hand geometry to verify and recognize individuals.

The system allows customers to let themselves into vaults and access their own lock box, eliminating the extra employee, said Randy Benore, director of product marketing for physical security and facility at Diebold, North Canton, Ohio. In this case, the electrical contractors' role would be to provide conduit into the vaults, allowing security camera monitoring of everything that happens inside, Benore said.

For the most part, biometrics may seem a bit too ambitious for the cost-conscious financial enterprise, but that too will continue to change over time as the cost of equipment and peripherals drops due to economies of scale. Banks may also establish safe locked areas, such as security vestibules with several sets of doors, bullet resistant glass and metal detectors.

Contractors should see continued growth in bank branches or remote sites. Many banks have been building branches recently, with Bank of America and Washington Mutual adding 100 branches in the past year, according to industry statistics. Credit unions are growing just as fast, according to Benore.

Older banks too, he said, are beginning to reexamine their facilities.

“They're saying, 'How do I make this branch more effective?' Many banks haven't changed much in 50 years. Now we're seeing banks reconfigure their branch lobbies,” Benore said, adding that this often means upgraded security.

“There was a downward turn for awhile,” said O'Brien, when mergers opened opportunities for small savings banks to make a comeback. Now many smaller banks are adding branches with the same floor and security plan throughout. In addition, there has been a gradual move to decentralize operations in corporate financial establishments from one large building to a series of smaller campuses following Sept. 11, 2001. For corporate institutions, O'Brien predicted an increase in access control, such as electronic turnstiles integrated with card access and barrier arms.

The financial community is slowly changing. New branches and remote facilities, as well as an upgrade of older facilities, has the end-user looking at a variety of different technologies, many of which will be able to provide the perfect application.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.