Statistics from the International Parking Institute, Fredericksburg, VA, reveal that at least $26 billion of the American economy comes directly from the parking industry, which offers drivers a choice of more than 105.2 million parking spaces throughout the country each day.
More than $13 billion of parking income is directly attributable to public-sector parking operations – cities, colleges and universities, airports, hospitals, sports arenas, etc. The remainder comes from commercial parking facilities, shopping centers, office buildings, hotels, banks, etc.
Yet, this large, dynamic market sector tends to be one lacking in updated security measures – a scary thought when you consider that many parking structures are located beneath or in close proximity to the office buildings, retail centers, recreational facilities, and governmental buildings they serve.
“Security vulnerability of parking structures in the United States is a complicated issue. Parking structures should have a basic level of security to protect from and deter theft and personal injury,” says Rick Kinnell, a vice president at Rich & Associates, a parking design and management firm based in Southfield, MI. “In light of the heightened sense of security since 9/11, parking structures that service or are adjacent to higher risk buildings also should be evaluated for increased security measures.”
And should a security incident occur
in a parking garage – terrorist or otherwise – chances are the building owner and/or manager could be held liable.
“Building owners that don’t have updated parking facilities should be cognizant that they have increased liability if their security technologies aren’t up-to-date,” Kinnell says.
So, what exactly does updated parking facility security technology include? Professionals at Rich & Associates look at passive security considerations, as well as active ones, when designing new parking facilities or upgrading existing ones. The firm has extensive experience in the parking sector, having designed more than 1,500 parking structures across the country and around the world.
Passive security features are inherent to a structure’s overall design. These features can be as simple as glass-backed stairs and elevator towers that are more than just decorative. They let people see in and out, reducing the chances that some sort of security issue will occur in these areas.
Or they can be something that requires a bit of engineering, such as long-span design, Kinnell says. “We try to ensure that the columns are at the front of the cars rather than at the back,” he explains. “There are ways to do that structurally so you can avoid creating hiding spaces.”
Additionally, today’s parking designers also try to eliminate as much ramping as possible, aiming to create structures that have as large a flat-floor area as possible, keeping open parking visible from many angles within the garage.
In fact, minimizing obstructions throughout a parking facility’s footprint is a main design goal – but not all nooks and crannies can be avoided. Some, such as shear walls, are needed to keep the building standing up, but can create places where people can hide or lurk. You’ll always have a few, Kinnell says, but you can lessen the dangerous condition based on where you place them. “You also can highlight then and lessen the dangerous impact by throwing a lot of lighting around them,” he adds.
Lighting levels also play a large part in the passive side of parking facility design. All stairs, elevators, and entry points should have increased lighting levels. So should parking stalls.
“In older structures, the lighting tends to be down the drive path, but when you get in and out of your car, the area surrounding it is dark and dingy,” Kinnell notes. “You really need to have the highest amount of lighting where people get in and out of their cars.”
Actively Keeping Tabs on Security
It’s the busy entries and exits; the unavoidable dark areas; and the nooks and crannies found in most garages that require a more active, human-assisted approach to security. Kinnell breaks this side down into three components: limiting access, monitoring, and reducing risk.
One modern way of tracking access in and out of a parking facility is through an automated vehicle identification (AVI) system. This system replaces traditional card reader systems and heightens security in that users do not have to open their windows at any time to scan a card.
Instead, they have small AVI transponders that sit on the dashboard inside their cars. A larger reception unit is installed above the entryway into a garage and triggers a traditional lift gate system or more modern and secure rolling steel gates or bi-fold doors when a vehicle with an approved transponder passes through the entry.
The approach is based on electronic toll collection (ETC) technology that is used to automate toll collection at toll facilities in such areas as metropolitan New York City.
Another cost-effective way to limit access in and out of a garage is to limit the amount of entrances and exits that are open, Kinnell says. If you have a busy, multiple-use garage, such as a commercial one in the heart of a city or one attached to a hospital, chances are you have peak flow times. Open all points of entry during those times, and then close them down during the slower periods of the day, limiting entry to one access spot.
Limiting access simplifies the next phase of active security – monitoring.
Monitoring can be as simple as foot patrols by trained security guards or, in larger facilities, the watchful eyes of shuttle drivers.
Many facilities, however, do use some form of closed circuit TV (CCTV) monitoring, which Kinnell considers to be the “biggest single thing you can do to increase your security.” Some newer CCTV systems can be monitored via the Internet from any location. Others, which run from the traditional TV platform, have a sound system that gives security personnel the option to verbally interact with garage patrons in the event of an emergency.
“CCTV and the sound system are the next generation from the old alert station where you have a red button or a phone that the user activates in case of an emergency,” Kinnell says. “Those aren’t as effective as they require the person involved in a situation to be able to pick up the phone or push the button. If someone is being attacked, he or she might not be able to make the call or reach the button. With this setup, security personnel can track and potentially communicate with people from the minute they step into the garage.”
The third way to actively beef up security is to lessen the opportunities for incidents to occur, Kinnell says. One such way to do this is to change the way patrons pay for parking. Many facilities, particularly airports, are installing “pay-on-foot” stations that eliminate extraneous cash handling.
These stations require patrons to insert their parking ticket – before they enter the garage and retrieve their car – into a special kiosk located in a secure, heavily monitored area. While the machines do accept cash, large portions of transactions are paid with credit cards, Kinnell says. This system, he says, reduces the risk of attendants being robbed at toll booths, decreases the amount of cash being passed around the facility, and helps garage security keep better tabs on who is exiting and entering the garage into the attached facility.
“It’s robberies and people lurking in corners that make up the majority of security and safety things we deal with in most structures,” Kinnell stresses, noting that parking structures in and of themselves are probably fairly low-interest targets of terrorists.
“Their proximity to other structures of interest, combined with the potential for concealing a substantial amount of explosives in vehicles near these other structures, increases their security risk,” he says. “However, having said all of that, the greatest security risks in parking structures in general are still from the more conventional side, such as personal injury and theft.”