ECORSE, Mich. – Another credit union has taken the step of installing technology at one of its ATMs that will enable cardholders to call for help via the 911 network, furthering the debate over whether ATM deployers should seek to assist machine users who might be in trouble. Michael Chmiel, CEO of the $108 million Downriver FCU, based in Ecorse, said his credit union had decided to add the technology, and to upgrade the lighting and cameras at one of its ATMs after there were four muggings at the machine. “The police caught the guy,” Chmiel said, “but the incidents brought home to us how we could have helped them and the machine users more if we had better cameras and lighting at the ATM.” The decision to install the new technology flowed from the other security upgrades, Chmiel explained. Although it looks a lot like what a “panic button” might look like, the manufacturer of the ATM 911 system, Safe Alert Systems headquartered in Pensacola, Florida, said that the name “panic button” offers too simplistic a notion of what the alert system does. When the ATM 911 system is activated by pushing the red and white “911 button” located on the face of the ATM, the system is activated and the ATM user is in direct two-way communications with the local 911 dispatcher, the company explained. The two-way communications allows the dispatcher to hear what is going on at the ATM up to 30 feet away, and, with the enhanced services, the actual location of the ATM is displayed on the 911 computer screen. The 911 dispatcher is then able to determine the kind of assistance needed and dispatch either police or medical help, or both. A “panic button” would only alert the authorities and would not offer other information. A card has to have been swiped or otherwise have been entered into the machine in order for the technology to work in order to cut down on possible false alarms. Chmiel said that the credit union’s board responded enthusiastically to the new technology and that the system’s relatively low cost – $1400.00 – had also helped. If members accept it and it seems to be functioning well, Chmiel said Downriver will consider putting the system into its other two ATM’s, Chmiel added. According to Chip Minto, a consultant with Eastern Equipment, the firm which sold and installed the system to Downriver, roughly 2,000 of the nation’s 375,000 ATMs have some sort of similar device. But there are signs that the concept has begun catching on. Various state legislatures have been looking at requiring ATM deployers install the technology, an approach that various bank and credit union groups have opposed on a number of grounds. But Chmiel said Downriver couldn’t see a downside to putting the technology in and that reaction so far from members and the general public have been very strong. The credit union’s move has been the topic of stories in Detroit newspapers and on local television newscasts, Chmiel said. Horrific Incidents Fuel Trend Because they lack their own statistical category, it is hard to track exactly how many crimes there are at ATMs each year. Financial institutions understandably dislike releasing their own statistics about crime at their ATMs and police generally track such crimes as assaults or muggings or robberies without recording whether they took place at an ATM. But an irregular and steady flow of genuinely horrific incidents keep the issue alive. In a case which recently went to trial in North Carolina, a defendant has admitted he kidnapped a young mother and her child from a convenience store parking lot while the husband and father were in the store. The defendant has admitted that he forced the young woman to make an ATM withdrawal, and then drive to a secluded area where he sexually assaulted her and beat her to death with a tire iron. The assailant abandoned the 18-month old boy in the 90-degree heat where he almost died, but was rescued in time to save his life. A similar case in Kansas, where two assailants forced four young men and women to make ATM withdrawals before killing three of them, has fueled debate in the state legislature about requiring ATM deployers to adopt so called “reverse pin” technology as a panic button measure. CO-OP Network, the credit union-owned, surcharge free, ATM network which includes roughly 50% of the nation’s credit union owned ATMs is on record as tracking the technology but opposing the application of it on a piecemeal or state by state basis. A national approach would help CO-OP and other networks and deployers establish a technical standard, CO-OP has said. -

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