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Cashing in on CCTV technology.

Whether you take a drive across town or a trip across the country you'll pass one of America's 84,000 convenience stores (c-stores). More than 5,000 people shop in a c-store during an average week. These mini grocery stores obviously have become big business in America. Today's c-store and petroleum retailers take in, on average, more than $2,500,000 a year in store merchandise and gasoline sales combined.

The mix of a high volume of cash transactions, a high turnover of store level employees, extended hours, and high visibility present c-store operators with several security challenges. Armed robbery, inventory shrinkage, and employee safety are the top three concerns on the minds of retailers today.

The FBI's 1990 Uniform Crime Report concluded that c-stores accounted for 6.1 percent of all robberies in the United States. The individual store rate was estimated at .312 robberies per c-store with an average dollar loss of $341.

Equally important, Convenience Store News 1991 Industry Report revealed that the average percent of sales lost because of shrink in 1990 was 2 percent. Research from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) estimates that employees are responsible for between 65 and 80 percent of that shrink. Using the present sales volume average of $2,500,000, employee theft can cost a c-store operation more than $40,000 a year - or more than $3,300 a month.

Providing a secure environment for store employees and customers receives top priority from store owners and the community. Despite the relatively low FBI figures concerning the robbery rate and dollars lost, robbery continues to present a major safety threat to c-stores. In fact, recent legislation in Florida mandates the use of two-clerk shifts to deter c-store robbery and other violent crimes receiving national attention.

As a result of this attention, NACS conducted a three-part study on c-store security. The objectives of the report were to establish violent crime patterns and recommend deterrent measures.

In its research, NACS interviewed convicted armed robbers to find out what made a particular c-store an attractive target. The overwhelming response was the amount of money they expected to find in the cash register. In answer to this, many retailers have successfully implemented strict cash control procedures to limit the amount of money in the registers.

CCTV is also being used as an integral part of c-store security programs. In fact, Convenience Store News 1991 Industry Report noted that 19 percent of traditional c-stores and 43 percent of petroleum retailers had CCTV systems in their stores.

Many c-stores have installed CCTV systems with interactive video and audio (IAVA) to deter robbery and increase employee safety. C-stores using IAVA verify alarms and can provide law enforcement with details about potentially dangerous situations. Exhibit 1 depicts how IAVA transmission works.

Using IAVA, die retailer has die capability to communicate, monitor, and record audio and video activity in the store selectively from a remote central alarm monitoring location. The IAVA communications can be initiated either by an employee activating an alarm or by the central station dialing the store.

Stores are equipped with multiple alarm activators and different types of alarm codes. One West Coast petroleum retailer uses green-yellow-red button activators located near the register and in the back room to signal IAVA alarms.

The green alarm notifies security of a normal in-store procedure such as a shift change or an armored money transport. The yellow alarm alerts security of a potentially threatening situation, such as a repeat shoplifter entering the store or a customer dispute. The red alarm warns security that a robbery or other crime is under way.

Once an alarm is triggered, the system automatically dials the central monitoring station, sends an alarm signal, digitizes a primary video signal for initial transmission, and initiates audio communication. Simultaneously, the in-store CCTV system kicks into high-speed switching, recording real time, color pictures, and audio.

At the central monitoring station, the signals are processed and transferred to an operator. A black-and-white video picture from a primary camera is displayed on a monitor with a description of the alarm type. Audio communications are achieved over the phone. Settings on the receiver control the speed in which the video images are received. The transmission speed corresponds directly to the reproduced picture quality - the slower the speed the better the quality.

Unfortunately, even the best picture quality obtained through IAVA transmissions is roughly 200 lines of resolution or 50 percent of that produced in normal CCTV recordings. In addition to altering the picture quality, the operator can call up additional cameras in the store and transmit from them.

Microphones and speakers are installed at the store, and a telephone is used at die central station to allow employees and security operators to communicate.

The role of the central station operator is critical. He or she must be prepared at all times to manage difficult situations such as armed robberies and customer disputes. In most cases the central monitoring station is an independent alarm monitoring company that has been contracted by the c-store owners or management to monitor store transmissions.

Store owners and operators normally prepare specific instructions on how to respond to each type of alarm for security operators. Extreme caution is taken with regard to remote intervention.

The crucial role played by the cental monitoring station in the success of the interactive process has lead some IAVA users to consider in-house monitoring. East Coast oil retailer Crown Petroleum has been researching interactive technology for more than two years.

Initially, Crown contracted an outside monitoring firm. In September 1991, however, it set up its own in-house central monitoring facility. "We thought we could take the technology and make it work more efficiently for us," Ed Parker, senior corporate security representative, explained.

Crown's IAVA setup is similar to the system described above, with the exception of additional alarm activators in the store. Parker pointed out, "What really sets us apart from other IAVA systems is our monitoring center.

"Our unique understanding of the retailer's security needs," explained Parker, "prompted us to develop custom IAVA software for our central monitoring facility that enables the system to operate not only as a robbery deterrent measure but also as a full-service management system. In fact, we use the system proactively to control inventory shrink and supplement training at the store level."

When alarm signals are received at Crown's monitoring center, the video transmissions and alarm codes are automatically processed and displayed for the operators. Crown operators are highly trained on how to respond to an incoming signal, and most have competent backgrounds and experience as 911 or police dispatchers.

When asked about the training of Crown's central monitoring intervention specialists, Parker responded, "The nature of interactive systems requires a fair degree of intervention of operators, and there's always a risk of provoking increased violence when choosing to intervene. We follow a look, listen, and evaluate process before making a response."

With 24 of its stores currently being monitored and 76 more expected this year, Crown estimates its IAVA monitoring center's capacity will reach 500 retail stores.

Crown also offers its monitoring services to other c-stores and petroleum retailers. "Our monitoring center offers retailers a versatile store management system," Parker noted. "In addition to our interactive response capabilities, we have a fairly unique system of reports and the ability to download raw data to a personal computer at the store so the owner and manager can generate their own reports."

While IAVA is an effective monitoring tool to deter robbery and supervise store operations, the 50 percent loss in picture quality that occurs during IAVA transmissions and its inability to process color makes it less effective in documenting evidence to control shrink.

Color recording is beneficial because it provides more information on a suspect's clothing, skin tone, complexion, and hair color. In high crime neighborhoods where an violence is prevalent, clothing colors distinguish gang members and assist law enforcement in apprehending suspects.

Color makes it easier to identify like products. For example, it would show whether a customer is buying a six pack of Coors or a six pack of Coke. Parker commented, "Our employees are much more likely to review color recording as opposed to black-and-white."

These important advantages of color combined with its increasing affordability have strengthened the demand for color recording systems in the c-store industry.

In addition to color recording, retailers are relying more on CCTV electronic cash register (ECR) interfacing to combat internal shrink. This technology processes and integrates transaction information from the register and superimposes it on the videotape.

Eliminating the need to cross reference register tape printouts with the video recordings, ECR interfacing combines video recordings with all sales activity at the register. In 1990, NACS reported that 80 percent of employee theft was the result of money manipulation at the register. Excessive no sales, safe drops, and voids can indicate a theft problem.

Combining CCTV recordings with cash register data gives c-store owners and management concrete evidence about transactions in question.

Today, many c-store operators employ some form of ECR interfacing to control internal shrink. Their overwhelming reliance on and daily use of ECR interfacing has aroused concern about the amount of time it takes to review videotapes. This isn't surprising since a careful review can be time consuming.

In recent years retailers have elevated their expectations of ECR interfacing and compelled suppliers to refine the technology. In addition to their desire to speed up tape review, many users have called for a way to identify and review the most common red flag events. This technology, known as event tagging or video signal indexing, dramatically reduces review time and facilitates theft detection.

One event-tagging device allows a c-store operator to select up to 10 custom events occurring at the register that may signal a problem, such as no sales, safe drops, or pay outs.

When these events occur at the register, the CCTV system automatically marks and records them. The c-store operator can specify the recording speed to be used during the tagging process and can choose whether or not to use audio.

As tagged events are recorded they are logged and stored in the video system controller and printed out. Exhibit 2 is an example of a printed report. It lists all events and tallies them at the end of each shift.

The number assigned to a particular event is a combination of event type, cash register number, and sequential number of the event. Exhibit 3 is an example of an event number assignment.

The event type is determined by the user. A number is given in place of the event description so employees don't know which events are being tagged and reviewed. The user can select up to 10 types of events to number and tag.

Event-tagging devices dramatically reduce tape review time. For instance, with the event-tag software, the tape reviewer can do a high-speed search, event search, or time search to review suspect transactions quickly. A brief description of each type of review follows:

* High-speed search. This is a rapid search through the entire tape to find and display all tagged events for review.

* Event search. This allows the reviewer to examine specific events using the event numbers from the printout or log.

* Time search. This search seeks tagged and nontagged events based on the time and day they occurred. An example of a nontagged event is a robbery.

The advancements in CCTV technology offer c-stores added protection against internal and external security threats and have enabled them to better control the safety and security of their employees and profits.

Kelly Norton is an independent marketing consultant. She has been involved in the security industry for nine years, working mainly with Navco Security Systems of Anaheim, CA.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Supplement: A Consumer's Guide to Retail Security; convenience store television
Author:Norton, Kelly
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Seeing your way with X-ray screening.
Next Article:Security illumination for the 1990s.

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