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On the morning of Thursday, November 17, 2022, employees opening a bank on Martha’s Vineyard were ambushed by three armed robbers. At gunpoint, an employee was forced to open a vault, from which more than $39,000 was stolen. In an age when crimes against financial institutions are increasingly virtual, this case highlights the need for vigilance when it comes to physical security measures, particularly during branch opening.

While this bank was not an ISG client, we followed the case in the news and found that it highlights common risks that banks across the country face. It’s well known that opening and closing hours are the most vulnerable part of the workday for bank employees—and unfortunately, the criminals know this too. In fact, investigators found research on bank security measures on the cellphone of one of the Martha’s Vineyard robbery perpetrators (all three of whom have now been caught).

Because nothing is more important than protecting your people and your assets, financial institutions will always need to stay one step ahead of security threats. With that in mind, let’s review the best practices for bank opening procedures.

Keeping Your Alarm System Up-to-Date

First and foremost, banks require a cutting-edge commercial alarm system, which should consist of interior and exterior security cameras, an access control solution, audible and silent alarms, emergency lock triggers, and remote alarm monitoring that ensures help gets to you quickly when needed. All of these components come into play during opening procedures, when employees must disarm the system as they unlock and enter the building.

In the Tisbury robbery, the criminals rushed the employees just as they were entering the back door, and then forced their way in, so this was most likely just after the branch alarm was disarmed. A more complex, multi-step process for disarming the alarm system—requiring a second passcode to be entered from another location within the building—provides opportunity for an SOS signal to be sent in a crisis such as this. While this process could also introduce more room for human error and false alarms, modern alarm systems have been designed to streamline the process for employees. For example, by using a cellphone app, employees can begin opening procedures from the parking lot, before even exiting their vehicles, and then continue using the app throughout the process.

If it’s been a decade or more since your bank’s alarm system was installed, it’s time to contact a security professional to see what upgrades could help keep your facility safer. And of course, your security system is not a one-time consideration: ensure that all equipment is tested and maintained regularly.

Capturing the Facts with Video Surveillance

To ensure that activities are always on camera during opening procedures, your video surveillance system should either be motion-activated or should record at all times.

Surveillance cameras were in use during the Tisbury robbery, and captured footage of the perpetrators as well as the events that took place. Although the men’s identities were concealed by the identical masks and hooded sweatshirts they wore, surveillance cameras also revealed additional clues, such as the semi-automatic handguns they carried, and the getaway car which they fled in, stolen from one of the bank employees.

In any bank robbery, it would be understandable for the staff to be shaken up, and especially given that these employees had been held at gunpoint and bound with duct tape and zip ties. But no matter how prepared or well-trained bank employees may be, they may afterwards struggle to clearly recall what happened during a robbery, or how long it lasted. Security camera footage ensures that investigators have an accurate picture of the events and the timeline, and allows them to examine it from multiple angles.

Further Considerations for Opening Procedures

  • Multiple employees should always be assigned to perform the opening procedures together; these employees should receive specific training on maintaining security during opening duties.
  • Regular landscaping should be done on bank grounds to ensure that overgrown trees and plants do not obscure security cameras or the line of sight through the parking lot.
  • Exterior lighting should be inspected frequently to ensure that all bulbs work, and that the light they give off is adequate throughout the year, since the level of natural light varies.
  • Your bank’s written security plan should be reviewed with all employees regularly, and should be updated whenever your building is remodeled, businesses move into or out of the surrounding properties, or foot traffic greatly increases in the neighborhood.

Make sure your branch has the right technology in place to protect your staff from security threats of all types. If it’s time to upgrade your alarm system, install new security cameras, revisit your written security plan, or otherwise improve your opening procedures, we can help. Reach out to ISG today.