SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – When former Banco Popular Security Director Plinio Rodriguez met Nova Comm CEO/Founder Bill Diaz neither knew that they would be laying the groundwork for a new security system for financial institutions. “In 1992 or 93 there was an unusually high rate of bank robberies in Puerto Rico. Most were very violent takeover robberies with lots of weapons ranging from AK47s to shot guns and about half were the more passive note passers,” said Rodriguez. “I had spent some time in Italy and Spain and noticed they had these revolving doors that could lock robbers in. Coincidentally when I returned Bill was pitching a standalone metal detector to me and I told him that what we really needed was what I had seen in Europe and asked if he could build something similar.” With the FBI reporting some 10% of robberies are takeovers, 60 seconds is the average time it takes to rob a financial institution. Diaz went back to Nova Comm and started designing a prototype based on Rodriguez’ suggestions that would be wheelchair accessible and in 1994, created his first patented access control unit (ACU) also known as a “mantrap.” “The units are like the unwelcome mat for robbers,” said Rodriguez. Based on the ACUs’ potential, the Economic Development Bank for Puerto Rico made an investment to set up manufacturing in 1995. The following year the Industrial and Economic Development Administration of Puerto Rico named Nova Comm the “Innovative Company of the Year.” The ACUs, which are gaining popularity in the United States, work like this: Patrons entering the credit union pass through one door, which closes and locks behind them. In many units, they then pass through a metal detector, and if they aren’t carrying any large metallic objects, a second door unlocks and allows them to enter the branch. In other setups there is no metal detector, and a teller must buzz members in. On their way out, members pass through a second set of double security doors. Generally, the second door will automatically open once the first one has closed, but credit union employees can lock both doors with the flip of a switch. “Each financial institution has to make that decision whether to trap the criminal or just prevent them from entering the branch,” said Rodriguez. “When I was head of security at Banco Popular I would trap them because if you set them free in my experience they will rob some other branch or financial institution.” Nova Comm’s manufacturing plant doubled in size in 2001 by taking over a 6,500 square-foot building adjoining its existing plant in the Trujillo Alto Industrial Park. The move was necessary to manufacture another new security device-a high-speed scanner, which can scan a person in three seconds. The company also added security consultation services for financial institutions and Diaz lured Rodriguez out of retirement to head the new division. “It was a great challenge and opportunity for me,” said Rodriguez. “Let’s face it robberies are on the rise and while camera technology has come a long way even the best digital system out there can’t identify someone wearing a mask. I think the reason we are doing so well is that people are looking for more proactive solutions to prevent or stop the crimes.” According to Rodriguez, units are sold through various dealers throughout the United States and pricing varies according to the glass’ bullet resistance. In addition, the customizable unit orders are filled in six weeks and installation of the mantraps generally takes about eight hours. So far over 300 units have been sold to banks and credit unions. As for what’s ahead, Rodriguez says the company is looking into establishing a U.S.-based plant in Florida and developing even more sophisticated ACUs. -mdigiovanni@cutimes.com