Cash is still king.
Despite what you’ve heard about a “cashless society”, we’re not there yet. Cash remains a preferred form of commerce. There are still many benefits to cash: It’s universally recognized, immune to hacking, few problems with acceptance and there are no merchant fees. Cash is totally “fungible” and often described as the ultimate “liquid asset”. . . maybe because it so easily slips through your hand.
As a result, most parking and toll industry veterans have likely heard the adage (or a variant), “The job’s not done ‘till the money’s been run.”
Collecting Revenue is Only Part of the Job
Collecting the money in the field is just the beginning of a mobility manager’s job. Revenue can be considered “safe” only when it reaches the bank. Loss of revenues can occur at any time from the point of collection to the point of deposit.
But more importantly, mobility managers must also safeguard their employees. Minimizing exposure to robbery is critical to keeping everyone alive and well. Remember that any successful robbery will likely generate another attempt in the future. Recognize too, employees who are threatened and robbed often start looking for another job right away.
Thinking About Count Security
Some operations choose to trust a bank or security firm to sort and count their cash, moving the cash directly from safes into the custody of the third parties. Others choose to employ an internal, secure count room to prepare their funds for deposit.
Neither is inherently superior. Selecting which counting mode is best for your operation is a matter of comparing security options, reviewing available facilities and analyzing the costs of conducting the count.
If you count your cash in-house, minimize your risk. Experienced auditors in parking and toll operations have noted the following shortcomings commonly found with in-house count rooms:
1. Multi-purpose space — Count rooms are often used to serve other operational functions. These often include storing supplies and tickets. Or, it might be an employee break room or where employees clock in and out for their shifts.
If the count door is closed and locked during a count, as it should be, those purposes cannot be fulfilled and the operation suffers. If the count door is left open to accommodate these needs, security has already been breached. This traffic in and out of the count area is not only a security risk, it’s distracting to the counters who should be focused on their vital task. Sometimes a count room is also where the office safe is located.
No room where other persons require immediate access for non-count functions should be used as a count room.
2. Bad air handling — When warm bodies are closed within a small space for the count, the room temperature inevitably rises. Count personnel often react by propping the door open or cracking a window (see shortcoming #3, below). Door open = Security breach.
Cutting a hole and installing a ventilation grate to another room or hallway is an inappropriate “solution” to this problem; it typically won’t be large enough to create sufficient air circulation to solve the problem. And, it may create a new path of ingress for evildoers.
It’s best to select – or construct – a room with not just one, but multiple, small air handling delivery and recycling vents. Why more than one? A couple of reasons: First, more than one opening creates more cross-draft, improving the counting experience. Second, if criminals are outside the count room and attempting to force personnel inside to open the door, they might resort to restricting air delivery and re-circulation to force the issue.
Why small? Standard air ducting is 12” (about 30 cm), which is just large enough for a small child or a very slender woman or man to transit.
3. Room with a View — Windows of any kind – including skylights – are a no-no for count rooms. Windows enable those outside to see into the room and provide a possible means of entry. Preferably, count rooms should be located in the interior of a building. If there is no other choice but to locate counting in a room with a view, the window should be permanently and securely closed. Blinds should be deployed at all times, not just during the count. Lowering the blinds when the count is in progress can be a tip off to lurkers watching nearby.
4. Poor ceiling security — Look up. What kind of ceiling do you have? Many insecure count rooms have drop ceilings, which may provide relatively easy access into the room from above. Solid concrete ceilings are best for count rooms. It’s best to remove drop ceilings totally. If that’s not possible, at least remove the panels to ensure there are no openings between the count room and adjacent rooms and hallways.
5. Plank flooring — Look down. Solid concrete or tile floors are preferable to wooden plank floors. Planks or any other type of flooring that can be loosened prior to the count is a concern. The space underneath can then be utilized to hide cash for retrieval at a later time. If you see a loose tile in a count room floor, you should repair it immediately, even if there is no void beneath it. . . yet.
6. Too small — Occasionally seen are count rooms in a closet-sized room. One typical reaction to this problem is conducting part of the count outside the security of the enclosure. This might entail breaking down individual cash deposits in an unsecured area and subsequently moving the cash into the count room.
Another oft-seen response to the small-room dilemma is performing the count in a sequence, a smidgen at a time. This prolongs the exposure of cash and endangers the counter(s) as they move in and out of the count room with completed deposit bags.
If this is your situation, consider other options. When selecting space for a secure count room, keep in mind how many people will be participating in the count and how much horizontal table space is required for the amount of cash you are handling.
7. Insufficient camera coverage — All count rooms should be monitored and recorded on CCTV. Video should be stored off site and should be unavailable and inaccessible to the counters. However, camera placement is critical. One camera is rarely sufficient for a count room. Here’s a lesson from casino security: Place monitor(s) directly above the count table(s). Casinos watch the hands of the dealers to make sure they are performing their duties honestly.
There should be no blind spots; no action should occur unrecorded. Side angles and overhead shots are important to capture all actions of the count team. Also vital, there should be a camera monitoring the space outside the count room door with the video displayed on a monitor inside the count room. Count personnel must be able to identify outsiders before opening the door for them.
8. Lots of storage — Shelves and cupboards are practical in storerooms, but not helpful in count rooms. Any kind of shelving or cabinets with doors that close and obscure the view of contents inside should be avoided. Consequently, the best practice here is, the less storage, the better. Plush furniture might be comfortable, but it’s not safe for count rooms. Plain, “stick” chairs are best.
A closed cabinet and under the cushions or between the linings of upholstered furniture are easy places to temporarily stash money snatched from the count. The thief can return later to retrieve the hidden loot.
9. Long distance to the exit — When the cash is arriving or departing, observe the distance required to move it and the number of turns and twists required to complete the journey. Behind every corner could be a miscreant with a weapon. Too much back and forth between where the cash is stored and armored cars on the street exposes the cash and the cash-handlers to danger.
10. Weak doors — A door is supposed to define a separation of two spaces. A hollow panel door for a count room is almost the same as having no door. Criminals have no manners, so such doors do not represent much of an obstacle for them.
Flimsy doors that can be kicked in or knocked down with one concerted effort means your count staff has no time to react, no opportunity to call for help and increases the likelihood someone will be hurt.
Install “One Minute” doors; that is, models that cannot be forced open for at least 30 seconds to a minute. Metal doors with extra long and multiple locking bolts, metal frame and secured hinges are recommended. Locks should be two-way; that is, a person on the inside must have a key to exit just as one on the outside needs one to enter.
11. Stairs and curbs — If you have an operation that generates a large amount of paper cash or one that brings in a significant load of coin, you should have ramps for carts and dollies. One can navigate a few steps carrying a bank bag or two, but moving a large or heavy burden of cash is problematic. The team might be distracted as it lifts and moves the cash and doesn’t focus on potential threats. Likewise, cash bundles or coin bags might burst if dropped accidentally.
12. No communications — Panic alarms, either siren style or silent are recommended. Phone lines can be cut prior to a robbery, so they should be shielded in conduit. It’s better to utilize cell phones or cordless phones during a count. Instruct your counting staff to program the designated emergency number in a speed dial. Or, they can pre-dial the emergency number (not hitting “Send”, of course). Phones should be within easy reach.
These are just a few highlights from our collective years of experience in auditing and quality assurance for mobility managers. Of course, the reality is that mobility managers with cash-intensive operations must occasionally compromise with the principles espoused above and work with what space is available.
If you must compromise, try to compensate one weakness with another strength. For example, you may not be able to alter the room structure, but perhaps you can add more CCTV and upgrade the security door.
As long as cash is still king (or queen), do your best to protect it.
(Want more information? If you want more information on count rooms, you may register on the H2H2H website to download our *free* White Paper on this topic at:
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