By John Mosebar
The parking industry is moving rapidly to contain costs, primarily by creating unstaffed facilities through the automation of ticketing and payment processes. Pair that with a large number of patrons and vehicles in easily accessible facilities and it’s easy to see why parking lots and garages can become magnets for criminals.
Crimes range from theft of property and vehicles to violent assaults against patrons. Fortunately, nearly all parking facility owners and operators feel a very real need to protect their patrons. Security is also an important issue with drivers. Surveys show one-third cite safety as a top factor in choosing where to park their vehicles.
Providing security has become easier with tried-and-true tools and procedures. But there is no one-size-fits-all security plan as parking facilities vary widely by size, type and location. For a parking operator, the process should begin by choosing a security integrator with proven experience securing parking facilities.
All-hazards assessment – Don’t spend money on security before first analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the facility. Check out the surrounding neighborhood and traffic patterns. Monitor patron’s daily routines. Identify
danger zones such as remote areas of lots and garage stairwells and elevators. This will help create a plan to allocate money for the right equipment, where it is most needed.
Then here’s a look at some of today’s best security tools solutions.
Audio intercoms – Build audio intercoms into entry/exit gates and ticket dispensers to provide instant two-way communication with an offsite security guard or facility operator.
Emergency stations – Although most parking patrons carry their own mobile phones, those devices can’t be counted on in many subterranean or concrete structures or even outdoors during severe weather. Mobile phones also are often the first target of thieves.
Emergency towers, wall-mount boxes or flush mounted stations are effective when placed throughout garages and larger lots. These units offer immediate audio assistance to visitors and help operators to assess an emergency situation. They also can be integrated with an existing video surveillance system. Some emergency boxes and towers come equipped with built-in cameras to provide additional visual information for security personnel. These stations should be installed in high foot-traffic areas and brightly lit to make them easy to locate and to act as a criminal deterrent.
These units can also broadcast emergency announcements from parking facility operators or security personnel, as well as remotely unlock emergency doors for ingress of operator employees or first responders.
Here’s the experience of one Halifax parking structure that added emergency communication stations. The operators of the unstaffed, eight-level, 700-space downtown garage wanted the ability to receive and respond to simultaneous assistance calls. As with most parking lots and structures, this facility had no phone lines.
The security integrator guided the operator to a hardwired system that ran from each emergency call station to the main control room. The challenge for the integrator was running cable in a 40-year-old structure lacking pre-existing conduits. Also, the garage was open 24/7 and the installation couldn’t impact operations. The job took tight coordination with the parkade’s management, but the result was a higher level of patron security.
Access control – Access cards can provide monthly parkers the ability to open special entry and exit lane gates. An access system also allows operators to know which vehicles of monthly patrons are present during an emergency. Limit pedestrian entries to the entry/exit gates and one other entry. Lock all other access points to the outside and install a keypad or card reader. That will save the cost of rekeying whenever keys are lost or stolen.
Video surveillance – Security cameras placed throughout a lot or garage can provide live, real-time video to assist security personnel in spotting potential or real problems and take action before they escalate. But realistically, few parking operators can afford a dedicated monitoring staff. Recorded video can be used to help resolve assaults, thefts, accident reports and other events after the fact.
It may make sense to record continuously during the day when the facility is busy. At night or at other quiet times recording may be triggered by motion detectors or analytics built into the cameras.
Work with the security professional to choose cameras capable of providing clear video under varying light conditions, especially in outdoor lots. And make sure to have enough cameras, properly placed, to avoid blind spots.
Make cameras easy to spot by painting them a bright color. Have a monitor show a live feed at all entries and use signage announcing the facility is under video surveillance 24/7. Cameras can be one of the biggest criminal deterrents.
Video analytics – Many parking facility operators are adding analytics to their camera/recording systems. One of the most common is license plate recognition software. LPR is being used to detect vehicles and count them as they enter and exit. By linking a credit card to a license plate number, monthly parkers could eliminate the need for a physical credential. Even pedestrian safety could be improved by not allowing gates to lower when a person is standing in its path.
Analytics can notify operators of cars that have been on the lot longer than expected and possibly abandoned or those improperly parked or moving in the wrong direction. Other analytics would allow large outdoor lot operators to use camera-equipped drones to get real-time data on vehicle counts, traffic patterns or other specific issues.
Once in place, all security equipment should be tested monthly to ensure it is functioning properly.
Design and Maintenance
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – CPTED offers relatively inexpensive ways to improve not only security, but also overall operations. Many of these steps will be identified during the all-hazards assessment.
Lighting is essential for both parking lots and structures. Dark areas conceal criminals; properly lit areas deter them. But be careful as excess lumens may cause inverse blindness and traffic issues when people drive into or leave the facility at nighttime. The best approach is a uniform level of lighting across the lot or in the structure. Also have standby power ready to maintain lighting (and gate operation) during a power outage.
Make sure soft- and hardscape items (trees, bushes, fencing, gates, bollards) are used to help restrict or channel access into or out of a facility. At the same time, make sure these elements don’t block views of the facility from the street or provide a hiding place for criminals.
Lost or confused drivers or pedestrians become an easier target for criminals. Signage helps patrons locate additional parking, exits, elevators and emergency call stations. Make sure signs have clear and consistent messaging. Use colors, characters or other designs to help patrons locate their vehicles faster. The goal is to limit the time a patron is in the facility.
Some parking facilities are experimenting with sections reserved for women. These special areas are typically near exits or elevators so that female patrons can leave the facility and return to their vehicles more quickly.
A well maintained facility sends a message that an operator is serious about patrons’ experience and safety. That means immediately removing graffiti, replacing burned out lights and repairing any damage from accidents. Criminals see a clean, well-maintained facility as a sign that security is also a high priority.
In unstaffed facilities, install pay stations in open, well-lit areas. Also restricting machines to credit cards can speed the payment process and lessen the need for cash – another temptation for criminals.
Work closely with the local police. Since 2008, the Safer Parking Initiative — a partnership between the Vancouver Police Department and a coalition of parking lot owners/operators and community groups — has given Safer Parking awards to security-conscious facilities. A web site pinpoints those award-winning facilities, encouraging people to park there. The program has been expanded to Edmonton.
Safe and Secure
The sign, “Park at Your Own Risk,” found in many parking facilities has long been a fair warning to patrons. And while there are still intrinsic dangers built into a parking lot or garage, many operators have taken important steps to protect lives and property.
A parking facility designed to be safe and secure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Criminals come to know – and avoid – those lots and garages that have emergency stations, surveillance cameras, video analytics, access control and provide a quick response to incidents.
Through proper design and the use of electronic security solutions, it is possible for parking facilities to minimize crime while promoting a welcoming environment.