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Olden Days, New Technology

THE 873 CHECKERS AND RALLY’S Hamburgers sites (some owned by Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, Inc., and some by its franchisees) sport a 1950s motif. They have found that evoking memories of “the good old days” can be good business. But asset protection methods have to keep up with the demands of modern times. That’s why Checkers’ corporate security has taken steps to ensure that surveillance systems at the corporate-owned stores aren’t reminiscent of a bygone era.

An example of the type of incident that the company hopes such systems can help to deter occurred at a franchised Checkers in Orlando, Florida, in March 2005. A 56-year-old manager, Betty Jane Wise, who had worked at the restaurant for ten years, was shot and killed during an armed robbery. It took authorities a year to catch her killer.

Corporate security began its move toward the improved surveillance systems in 2003, when the company’s loss prevention manager, Ron Kattner, realized that it was time to upgrade the existing security technology at the corporate-owned sites. At that point, “the equipment we had was more than ten years old,” he says.

Previously, the company had transferred some of its stores’ alarm services to Honeywell Security Monitoring (HSM). Kattner was pleased with the service HSM provided, so he asked whether it could offer the kind of CCTV system he wanted. HSM (which has since been purchased and renamed HSM Electronic Protection Services) worked with Kattner to create a system that met Checkers’ needs.

The objective was camera surveillance of the cash registers, of which all restaurants have at least three, as well as coverage of the office and the store safe. The system had to provide good quality pictures, an ample amount of storage, and the ability to burn video to DVD for use as evidence. Another requisite was remote access over Checkers’ private intranet, which has only low-bandwidth connections to the various sites.

The components that HSM assembled “exceeded our expectations,” says Kattner. The system included Honeywell color digital cameras and its Rapid Eye digital video recorders.

“We started off proposing four inside cameras,” says account representative Bill Delahanty. “They ended up going to seven inside cameras.” Later, two outside cameras would be added to cover the drive-thrus and delivery doors.

The nine cameras run continuously in motion-detection mode. Camera feed is captured by the DVR, which is kept inside a lockbox. The DVR can typically store up to 40 days of recordings before it begins overwriting from the back end.

HSM also overcame the technical issues with Checkers’ private intranet to allow store managers to remotely view their stores, regional managers to view the totality of their stores, and corporate managers to look in on any Checkers or Rally’s within the system.

Delahanty says that the installation takes only one day per site, including installing the intranet wiring and physically putting up and wiring the cameras, as well as putting in the digital recorder, lockbox, power supply, and surge protection unit. HSM began the installations in late 2004; to date, it has done more than 175 Checkers and Rally’s restaurants at a cost per store of approximately $5,700. The company, says Delahanty, is on the verge of buying about 65 existing franchisee stores. Once that occurs, all of those sites will receive the system, and all new corporate stores will receive them.

When Kattner lobbied corporate management for the new system, one of the selling points he made was that it would be beneficial to departments other than loss prevention and security, such as the company’s risk management, operations, legal, training, and information technology (IT) departments.

The system has delivered on that promise. “We began to see the return on our investment immediately,” Kattner states. For example, the risk management department has used surveillance feeds in identifying false workers’ compensation claims. It also bolsters genuine claims sent to insurers with accompanying DVDs of the incidents.

In addition, the training department uses the video from the system in the creation of new safety manuals and training programs. For example, the department uses clips of actual safety violations in various restaurants to illustrate to staff what not to do.

Checkers’ risk prevention and legal departments have also been able to use the surveillance video in determining the validity of—or defending against—lawsuits and insurance claims filed by customers. In one case, Checkers was facing a food-poisoning lawsuit. The company was able to present video footage of the incident’s food preparation, including the proper and thorough cooking of the meat blamed or the food poisoning.

The legal department uses footage to verify that incidents cited as the reason for termination occurred and that terminations were correctly conducted. The video evidence has also proven useful in resolving disputes between employees and supervisors, including accusations of harassment.

The operations department uses the system to see what is occurring in a greater number of restaurants. Previously, area managers had to travel to each site in rotation. Often, these visits did not present a genuine picture of a store, with staff evincing their best—instead of their normal—behavior.

Operations managers can now view deliveries, most of which take place late at night. In the past, these deliveries sometimes set off false alarms. The area managers were previously required to go to the store upon receiving an alarm report. Now, they are able to log in and view the site to determine what has caused the alarm. This has also helped in cases where deliveries are either said to be short items or to have included damaged goods.

Checkers corporate management is so pleased with the results of the new system that Kattner was named “Impact Employee of the Year.”

“There are many success stories that have come from the use of the system,” says Kattner, whose favorite is the thrill of handing over digital footage to law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies of an incident “that clearly shows what happened and who was involved.”

Kattner says that Checkers will take advantage of camera and other equipment upgrades as they occur and is hoping to marry point-of-sale information to the surveillance footage.

The company is also encouraging franchisees to purchase the system. Delahanty says that at a recent corporate and franchisee meeting, HMS was able to display the system in action to a crowd of interested owners.

(For more information on Rapid Eye: Bill Delahanty, account manager, HSM Electronic Protection Services, phone 727/647-2015; e-mail:[email protected])

—By Ann Longmore-Etheridge, associate editor