Bank security systems are now so sophisticated that it is virtually impossible to use a hankie without being in full view of a surveillance camera. Uniformed guards making their presence obvious are as much an ornament as a deterrent to crime. Interestingly, modern security systems are installed as much to protect the institutions from their employees as from external theft.

The entire financial field is awash in opportunity for electrical contractors. Hard currency is easily transferred, but knocking off a vault filled with bearer bonds or stock certificates at a brokerage firm or trust company may be equally lucrative. As security systems become more sophisticated, electrical contractors are providing hardware and qualified labor to complete an installation.

Designing these networks involves the evaluation of the interior and exterior of a site and creation of plans that anticipate the movement of everyone in the area, from the janitor to customers to the chairman of the board.

And, the plans are rife with subtleties. Assuming Bonnie and Clyde will enter with evil intent, a blueprint must identify potential targets based on entry points, vault locations and teller lines. A rule of thumb is that a teller line within 15 feet of an entrance is a convenient location for a robbery. A desk placed in the middle of a large open space may impede the movement of the crooks. The unwary electrician who balks at this type of arrangement because it requires subsurface placement of electrical outlets rankles security types.

Kevin O’Brien, vice president of Physical Security for the Bank of New York, joked that the ideal pairing is “a security person wedded to an electrical contractor.” Why? “A video system requires the talent of the installer and an integrator who programs the computers and systems,” he said.

Surveillance systems are now so sophisticated that, depending upon their location, they may run continuously or may be triggered by motion detectors and record at various frame speeds.

The obvious use is a camera that records all of the movements of customers in a lobby as well as employee interaction with the public. Add special requirements in vaults, cash rooms and public areas and the bank becomes a virtual stage.

An ATM located outside a building must have cameras that record 24/7 in direct and indirect conditions, and displays must be visible regardless of the position of the sun.

“You would be amazed at how dishonest people change their tune about transactions after they’ve seen themselves on film,” said O’Brien.

There are requirements for the lighting and surveillance of night depositories, landscaped areas and parking facilities. “The difference between glare reflected off concrete, compared to grass, is so crucial that we use a lighting engineer,” he added.

Communication systems are equally important and vulnerable. In addition to hardwired telephone systems, banks use backup systems that include radio communications and cellular systems. Vaults are equipped with video surveillance and alarm systems and wired with telephone terminals that connect to a police department in an emergency where permitted.

Managing the entire operation is a Big Brother electrical scheme that provides failsafe operation, even during a blackout.

“Our auxiliary systems ran nonstop for 80 hours during the recent blackout in the Northeast,” O’Brien said.

Entering the game

In order to enter into the field, experts tell contractors to expect to have their credentials carefully scrutinized before being invited to bid for jobs.

“We want to know what they know about the field,” O’Brien said. “It’s obvious they should be qualified firms. Beyond that, they should have a passion for this type of business, and a clear understanding of the end product.”

Judy Matheny, chairman of the Criminal Justice Department at Remington College and a banking and financial services consultant who served as the director of security for a national bank, said the key is to “bring the electrical contractor into the process early.”

While technical expertise in the field is important, there are other factors.

“An important item is that the electrician must be willing to learn to be a value-added team member. In the old days, a contractor said ‘Tell me what to do. I’ll get the equipment. I’ll do the installation.’ That’s not good enough today.

“A second item is education,” she said. “There’s a wide chasm between older contractors and younger, better educated and certified professionals. The new professionals see themselves as members of a team,” playing a more prominent role than a traditional subcontractor.

Where to go?

The combination of improved security systems and the gradual transition to an e-commerce world has changed the landscape of financial institutions, which are more diligent about security issues than ever. An electrical glitch can disturb an electronic transaction, fail to record a robbery at an ATM or thwart evidence that may show a teller handing an extra $100 to an accomplice.

The horizon changes as quickly as the bad guys develop new methods of plying their trade and manufacturers respond with new technology. The result: more opportunities for those interested in expanding their expertise.