Given that digital crime has become a billion-dollar industry, we certainly welcome increased focus on cyberthreats to bank security systems. But we also recognize the very real possibility that increased attention to digital security creates blindspots on the physical security side. Fortunately, a few key investments in building security can vastly improve worker safety at banks.
According to the American Banker's Association (ABA):
"Individuals are primarily deterred from robbing a financial institution by the fear of failure, the fear of apprehension, or both. Deterrent factors can be successfully implemented against the vast majority of potential robbers. … [and a bank’s] ability to present deterrent factors is extensive."
The ABA advises a holistic approach to physical bank security. This should take into account the building (including design elements, landscaping, the parcel's location relative to major roads and freeways, etc.), staff, signage, and policies.
Bandit Barriers: Bank Security Systems That Actually Deter Robberies
Bandit barriers are bulletproof glass that separates tellers from bank customers. The deterrent value of bank security systems that include bandit barriers is fairly well established. Some studies have found that 85% to 90% of bank robberies target banks without bandit barriers. This is also reflected in testimony from bank robbers, who indicate specifically targeting banks that don’t have bandit barriers.
As award-winning investigative reporter Ronald Kessler explains, “FBI agents say that banks with Plexiglas or bulletproof glass barriers between tellers and customers are held up far less than are banks with open spaces between tellers and customers.” One FBI agent told Kessler, “[banks with] bandit barriers are robbed much less. It’s night and day. Every now and then you have someone who slaps a note against the plexiglass. Usually, the teller crouches behind the counter, and that’s the end of it.”
All of this aligns with what Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions, has seen in his decades of furnishing ballistic barriers for bank security systems.
“Even when a location has suffered multiple robberies," Jim observes, "once that barrier is in place, there is not a recurrence. Ideally, [bank robbers] want to quietly walk in, flash a gun, hand over a note, and walk out with a few thousand dollars. Anything that slows that process down is a huge disincentive to them."
TSS Systems Approach to Bank Security
TSS focuses on the physical security of the building, helping banks leverage the deterrent value of the "psychological barrier" provided by a well-designed ballistic security solution. These solutions usually take the form of a freestanding bandit barrier. Such a barrier could be as simple as a large expanse of bulletproof glass with cutaways at the wickets, steel cash trays, and talk-thrus mounted at each station.
But even a seemingly straightforward ballistic barrier is still an interlocking system of bullet-resistant components. These include the transparency and cash trays, as well as bulletproof reinforcement for counters, and often at least one drawer or large passer. Most are UL Level 1 through 3 systems, with Level 1 being the most common by far.
Most banks opt for either a baffle window system (like that shown above) or an arch window system (shown below). Both styles use staggered pieces of bullet-resistant glass and provide completely unobstructed views for tellers, security personnel, and cameras. They also provide an unobstructed between customers and staff while maximizing voice clarity—all of which eases communication through the barrier and improves the customer experience.
Bank Security System Glazing Considerations
For interior glazing, most banks use acrylics (for Levels 1 and 2) or laminated polycarbonates/glass-clad polycarbonate (available in any security level). Some banks choose to use ballistic security glazing on their exterior windows as well. In those cases, TSS recommends a Level 1 through 3 exterior window. The DEFENDER Ballistic Insulated Glass is a good option for many banks, as it adds ballistic and forced-entry ratings, has good thermal performance, and is available in many tints and other coating options.
Because bank tellers are stationed very close to ballistic barriers, most banks will want to consider "no-spall" or "low-spall" glazing.
Spall refers to fragments that fly into the "secure side" of a ballistic barrier system when a bullet strikes the "threat side." Spalling can be minimized by selecting the appropriate ballistic glazing: while acrylic and tempered glass produce significant spall, other materials (like laminated polycarbonate) produce little to none.
The total height of the ballistic barrier also matters. Jim Richards notes there's usually no reason for the transparency to run from the countertop all the way to the ceiling.
“Putting eight feet of bullet-resistant glass on top of counters is totally unnecessary," Jim explains. "Bank robbers aren't acrobats. Putting just four feet of bullet-resistant acrylic on top of a standard counter is going to create a seven-and-a-half foot barrier."
Running bullet-resistant acrylic all the way to the ceiling can add $7,000 to $15,000 to your cost, in addition to adding 400 to 900 pounds to the total weight of the transparency. "If you want to fully enclose the teller station, a non-rated half-inch acrylic louver above the rated glazing is fine. It won’t stop a bullet, but it will stop someone from attempting to jump or reach over."
Bank Security System Case Study: Peoples Bank of Kentucky
In recent years Peoples Bank of Kentucky suffered several robberies at their rural branches. They were concerned about employee safety and wanted to replicate their existing security solution in other locations. This was a basic ballistic acrylic system, with stainless steel deal trays, package passers, and bullet-resistant fiberglass panels backing the teller counters.
TSS Project Manager Tom Zink recalls that “there were some obstacles with these banks because they weren’t just standard squares or rectangles. There was a lot of decorative countertop work." Bob Hoshaw, a TSS Senior Account Representative with over 30 years of experience in the security industry, further noted that in cases like this "it really helps us a lot when customers can send pictures or drawings. It makes it a lot easier to pinpoint what they want and create a solution customized for their exact needs.” Peoples Bank was glad to do so, accelerating the design process.
Installation ultimately took place during the evening hours to minimize any disruptions to the branches’ normal operation. Technicians started working around 6 p.m. and finished in less than seven hours, even after completing additional on-site measurements and adjustments of the barrier system.
According to Mary Jane Pettit, Peoples Bank Vice President of Marketing Communications, “It looks very nice and blends in well. I was worried the customers would think we were blocking them out, but I was shocked at how well you can see and hear through the new teller windows. Everything fits together seamlessly.”
This is exactly what TSS is always aiming for, especially with a bank security system: a seamless fit and finish, which arises from taking a systems approach to bank security. Contact TSS ballistic security experts today if you have questions, or want to get started with a specific bank security project.