THE ATM SECURITY MEASURES taken by the nation's financial institutions often fall short of consumer safety expectations, according to a recently published survey.

Synergistics Research Corp., based in Atlanta, found that over 90% of consumers believe alarm buttons linked to the police are an important safety feature of an ATM site. And 84% of consumers feel telephones near the machines would help if a robbery were to occur.

Despite these figures, research from the American Bankers Association shows that as of 1992, less than 3% of banks had installed direct police hookups or other emergency hot buttons, and fewer than 10% of financial institutions had phones in their ATM sites.

Consumer awareness of ATM safety has been brought to the fore by several high-profile robberies that have resulted ATM security legislation in several areas of the country.

Data suggesting consumers are dissatisfied with ATM safety measures could obviously fuel the push for legislated security measures. But more important to bankers is how consumer perception of ATM sites affects the image of their institution.

"It is in each individual bank's best interest to make ATM customers feel safe," said Kurt Schaub. director of communications for the New Jersey Bankers Association, which is cooperating with state government in establishing ATM security standards.

Since the automated teller machine is the only regular contact many customers have with their bank, "customer opinion of ATM services, whether positive or negative, can often establish the whole image of the bank," said Mr. Schaub.

To be sure, there are areas in which banks are meeting the safety expectations of their customers. For example, over half the banks in the U.S. have installed some sort of security camera at their ATMS, despite the high cost of operation and maintenance. Many banks have also improved the lighting in and around their ATMs.

But neither of these measures addresses what customers seem to fear most: being trapped in an ATM site without the ability to contact the outside world.

"Consumers are concerned with the immediacy of the response" to a robbery, said Anne Moore, president of Synergistics. "They realize that a camera recording a [security] problem is not going to do them any good today."

The data from Ms. Moore's company are based on phone surveys of 800 consumers with household incomes of $15,000 or more.

Ms. Moore noted that while many consumers want to be able to call 911 directly from an ATM site, in some urban areas such a capability is too inviting to pranksters to be practical.

Thus, many institutions have taken to installing phones that are connected to customer service representatives of the bank. In an emergency, these representatives can contact the police

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