It’s In The Vault
Employing effective video security for banks
- By John Monti
- Jun 03, 2009
For banks to be successful, they must be secure -- and their customers and partners must have confidence in their security.
Banks face real and serious threats, especially from theft. Thieves might be bank robbers, identity or credit card thieves, or within the employees’ ranks. Employee theft is a serious problem. In the United States alone, losses from employee theft total $1 billion annually, which exceeds any amount stolen by common bank robbers.
In response to internal and external threats, banks have modernized their strategies for combating theft, such as increased reliance on security cameras and, more recently, public view monitors.
The Role of Security Cameras
Of course, bank security cameras are nothing new. We’ve all seen the images from early generations of these cameras. They are murky, grainy, indistinct images that make it nearly impossible to identify people or actions accurately. As technology has improved, so have the images produced by security cameras.
Too often, however, traditional cameras based on analog charge-coupled device technology still fail under imperfect lighting conditions such as bright sunshine, strong backlighting, glare or reflections. And unfortunately for banks, these lighting conditions are quite common.
Typically, banks set up security cameras to provide visual coverage of all areas of the bank, including entry ways, lobbies, teller stations (with one set of cameras observing customers and the other pointed at tellers or directly at cash drawers), security deposit box areas, vaults, ATMs, non-public internal areas and outside areas (including parking lots).
In bank lobbies and teller areas, most cameras are installed in ceilings to provide overhead views of customer and teller activities. In other locations, cameras might be installed overhead or on walls, for example, pointed at a block of security deposit boxes or at a vault door.
Why Details Matter
If a video camera is used for non-critical activities, such as recording a child’s birthday party, the occasional indistinct image might be disappointing but is not a serious problem. If the camera is providing bank security, however, it is critical that images can clearly show a person’s face, reveal unusual jewelry or tattoos, or distinguish between a $1 bill and a $100 bill in a teller’s hand.
In the real-world challenges of high-contrast or uncontrolled lighting, analog CCD-based security cameras have difficulty delivering the high-quality images needed to identify suspected thieves or other intruders. These cameras can suffer from severe image artifacts (such as vertical smearing, pixel blooming, over-saturation or under-exposure) that obscure important details.
For that reason, more banks globally are adopting security cameras and PVMs based on the ultra-wide dynamic range capabilities provided by Pixim’s Digital Pixel System® technology. These cameras capture 1,024 times more dynamic range than analog CCD cameras, so they are able to maintain high-resolution, clear images with natural color even in scenes that contain both bright light and dark shadows.
A manager at a commercial bank in China recently said, “With CCD-based cameras, the entire outside scene is washed out, including the presence of a person. However, the cameras with Digital Pixel System technology can capture the details of both the inside scene and the outside environment.”
From China to Europe and North America, banks are discovering that the ability to see details clearly, both inside and outside a bank, regardless of lighting conditions, is important to maintaining the high level of security required of financial institutions.
Another serious issue for banks is that the effectiveness of analog CCD cameras depends on who installs the cameras and when. For example, a camera installed and adjusted at noon would not perform well in the drastically different lighting conditions of early morning or late afternoon. Differences in installers’ camera-tuning expertise and knowledge of CCD cameras has led to inconsistent image quality from one location to another.
At one branch of a specialty bank in the United States, the images from the security cameras were often under- or over-exposed, and they suffered from image artifacts such as vertical smearing and over-saturation. The potential impact was significant, as these artifacts and poor exposure could obscure important details such as the identity of an individual or the flow of a suspicious transaction.
The specialty bank switched to cameras using the all-digital Digital Pixel System technology. The new cameras are able to produce high-quality, color-accurate images automatically, under all lighting conditions. The camera integrators established simple camera settings for each case within a branch and by every installer, and the new cameras adapted automatically to environmental changes from branch to branch -- such as positions of the buildings relative to the path of the sun.
By using simplified, standardized camera settings -- and with cameras able to adjust automatically to any lighting conditions -- the bank achieved a point, focus and forget approach and a consistent, repeatable rollout across all its locations. Now, the bank is achieving the image quality and consistency it needs from its security cameras.
Deterring Crime with PVMs
Many banks are enhancing theft deterrence programs by setting up PVMs, which make customers immediately aware that the their actions in the bank are under video surveillance.
PVMs typically are installed facing entrances to bank lobbies. As a result, savvy potential criminals have sometimes been able to outwit traditional versions of these flat-panel displays by timing their entry into the bank with the highest-contrast lighting conditions facing the PVM.
As a result, banks are choosing to install PVMs based on DPS technology. These PVMs can capture accurate color, skin tone and facial features even in harsh or radically changing lighting.
A couple of regional banks in California have adopted PVMs from Pelco that incorporate DPS technology.
“We are overwhelmed by the beautiful, clear and accurate pictures on these PVM screens,” said one branch manager. “Having the right equipment and technology is becoming even more important in these tough economic times. And as facial recognition applications become more sophisticated, having the right equipment that produces a clear, crisp picture is becoming a true financial asset in the banking industry.”
People with plans to rob a bank now need to be aware not only of the time of day but also the technology behind the PVM of their target banks. Otherwise, they might find themselves caught in the act, with enough clarity and accuracy for successful prosecution, by the latest generation digital image sensor technology.