Transforming Security Infrastructure

Florida Credit Union deploys ALPR cameras as another banking security feature

While many people look to financial institutions for products and services that fit their budget and improve their life, others can potentially see them as an opportunity for something far different.

That’s what Kevin Owens, VyStar Credit Union’s Vice President of Security and Safety, means when he talks about the “money store,” referring to the criminal element that exists in the banking system.

To protect against such activity, VyStar recently chose Hanwha Techwin security and surveillance solutions, especially Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), to safeguard its assets, protect its members and employees and better serve its communities.

This is a changing process that significantly impacts the industry over the years. When Owens joined VyStar 25 years ago, the state of the organization’s video surveillance relied on “a 35mm camera activated by a remote switch behind a teller lane that was over a door,” Owens said.

VyStar evolved to VCR tapes, and later eventually worked through generations of digital video using NVRs. “We started moving away from analog and into digital cameras,” Owens said. “We partnered with a company that had good cameras, so we were making progress, but still needed new technologies to keep pace with our growth.”

VyStar Credit Union has grown to more than 60 branch offices and over $11 billion in assets since its start in 1952. Today, it is the second-largest credit union headquartered in Florida. Headquartered in Jacksonville, VyStar has a footprint from Central to North Florida — including 250 remote ATMs, 18 high school branches and remote office buildings in Jacksonville and Orlando.

When VyStar learned of Hanwha Techwin’s new ALPR cameras, they knew they’d found the right fit to revamp their security efforts.

“If someone commits a crime in our drive-through lanes, it can be hard to capture any additional information due to license plates being blocked by poor lighting,” said Jeff McDonald, VyStar Security Operations Manager. “We were simply wowed by how well the Hanwha cameras could accurately capture that data in the dark, or in any lighting condition.”

In addition to the low-light features, VyStar was also impressed with another capability that complied with a Florida law requiring vehicles to include a white light that makes the license plate visible from 50 feet.

This light typically washes out plate numbers and makes them impossible to be read by most video cameras, including the system previously used by the credit union. The Hanwha ALPR cameras use software that can filter out ambient light and clearly identify the license plate number.

Seeing Results

VyStar started testing the Hanwha ALPR camera in a few branches, working with its long-time security integration partner STANLEY Security. They quickly realized the benefits of upgrading.

“We immediately started getting better image quality and performance from the Hanwha cameras than from the camera system that cost a lot more,” Owens recalls. VyStar soon began replacing all their video cameras with Hanwha models, also including 360-degree cameras and other models. This includes teller lines, waiting areas and hallways inside the branches. Exterior security includes a 360-degree view of the building perimeter in addition to the drive-through lanes and the ATM stations. All camera data and alarms are routed back to VyStar’s 24/7 security operations center (SOC).

The credit union uses motion-based analytics to trigger most video events, as well as for transaction mapping. “We know precisely when and where an alarm is triggered, which is a huge benefit to our security personnel,” McDonald says.

With the new Hanwha cameras, especially the ALPR technology, VyStar can now more easily capture fraudulent transactions. “Capturing the license plates and being able to turn them over to law enforcement immediately makes a huge difference,” Owens says.

VyStar is also having more success in deterring vandalism and theft. There are many instances of vandalism across the country, and the vandals can do a lot of damage, especially at remote locations like ATMs. “We may not be able to identify them just by looking at their face, but if they have a vehicle, we are going to get that license plate,” said Jim Kelly, PSP, Security Operations Center Supervisor at VyStar Credit Union.

The new technology also helps VyStar work closely with the police on matters that may not have originated at the branch, but still threaten the larger community, such as car jackings that can turn into a forced withdrawal of money from the ATM. VyStar offers an online link system for officers to be able to download videos, retrieved by the SOC, of incidents they are investigating.

VyStar also uses two different video management system partners to cover its needs. The company uses a Milestone VMS at its corporate headquarters, which has close to 600 cameras. All branches and ATMs use a solution that VyStar teamed with Verint to create. With the large amount of storage video systems require and the credit union’s concerns about keeping relevant images for future evidence, VyStar helped Verint design a software program that saves three or four snapshots of each transaction.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2022 issue of Security Today.


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