How robust is your parking garage or lot security? Beyond hazards like traffic accidents and slips and falls, occupants can be vulnerable to theft, assault, and harassment. All it takes is one incident and workers or customers may be skittish about where they leave their cars.
Don’t let your parking area become a minefield of menaces. You can deter criminal acts with commonsense strategies that won’t break the bank.
Understand Your Liability Risk
If you neglect parking security, lots and garages can leave your company open to risks that can negatively affect your business reputation and insurance rates.
“Parking is one of the greatest areas of liability for a property owner,” stresses Sean Ahrens, a security consulting practice leader with Aon Global Risk Consulting.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 2.4 million crimes occurred in parking lots or garages between 2004 and 2008. Of those, 16% were violent victimizations such as assault, rape, and robbery; the remaining 84% were motor and personal property theft. While the survey did not include murder, these numbers demonstrate the wide range of threats frequently encountered in parking areas.
Parking users are also exposed to less deadly risks such as traffic collisions, slips and falls, and medical emergencies, explains Ahrens. Individuals parking their vehicles deserve the same level of protection that they receive inside your building. This is true no matter if parking is free or paid, adds Ahrens – your company is liable for user safety either way.
The challenge is that the risks for parking areas are always changing, says Geary Robinson, director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of North Texas and co-chair of the Safety and Security Committee for the International Parking Institute. The 1990s put attention on bombings, 2001 gave way to terrorist attacks, and the last five years have seen an increased focus on mass shootings. No matter how big your parking area is, there’s a distinct reality that it could be a gateway or staging area for violence.
“It’s incumbent upon a building owner and the security team to constantly evaluate their property’s lot or garage and look for ways to improve safety,” Robinson stresses.
Without any data to trend, however, you’ll have a major blind spot when it comes to your parking shortcomings. You have to understand what conditions can produce an incident before you make changes to lighting, surveillance, or access control.
If you haven’t already or it’s been a number of years, conduct a premise liability assessment, recommends Ahrens. This security risk analysis will document potential areas of liability that could stem from the maintenance, operation, or design of your parking area. Some of these issues could be tied to poor upkeep, lack of a security presence, inadequate personnel training, failure to act and respond to incidences, or conflicts between policies and procedures.
“I can’t stress this enough – you should be doing security surveys every quarter or once a year at minimum,” says Robinson. “You need to confirm that everything is as secure as you think it is. Daily sweeps are even better. You need to be in the habit of identifying your safety gaps.”
You can also review incident reports or the calls for service logs, Ahrens adds. This assumes, of course, that you are keeping track of these occurrences in the first place. If you aren’t, your first priority is to establish a reporting system.
Robinson, for example, receives daily copies of the UNT police reports so he can see what type of incidents have occurred in parking areas. His goal is to spot small problems and address them before they escalate.
Don’t Ignore the Broken Window Theory
Stained concrete, rusted metal, faded parking lines, litter, and chipped paint – a dingy garage or lot appearance may lead perpetuators to think that security is just as lax as maintenance.
Well-lit spaces are a major deterrent to crime because good illumination eliminates hiding spaces and increases people’s awareness of their surroundings. The right lighting conveys a sense of safety and watchfulness that could make an individual with criminal intent hesitant about the risk of getting caught.
“While a formal light assessment is a plus, you can simply walk through your parking areas and see with your own eyes if illumination is poor,” Ahrens notes. “Look for fixtures that are burnt out or dirty, cast a yellow light, or create shadows.”
Take a note from big box retailers, advises Robinson. Bright area lighting keeps a store’s appearance inviting for customers as well as maintaining a high level of visibility for security. Schools, offices, and healthcare facilities can benefit from this same approach.
If your lot or garage still uses metal halides or sodium pressure lamps, consider switching to fluorescents or LEDs, Robinson recommends. These fixtures deliver white or blue light, which is perceived as friendlier than orange hues. They also offer better glare control and coverage. As an added benefit, you’ll reap energy savings while ensuring parking spaces look inviting and approachable.
Good janitorial practices can also make a big difference in appearance, Robinson notes. Have a maintenance plan in place to address cracks in the concrete or asphalt, refresh striping, and power wash spills. Trash bins should be emptied routinely, stray litter rounded up, and graffiti immediately eliminated. Any residual salt or sand from winter should be removed as well.
None of these individually presents a safety concern, but taken as a whole, this kind of clutter can indicate that there’s a lack of ownership with the parking area. A clean garage or lot sends the message that property management is routinely making the rounds, which increases the likelihood that a crime could be witnessed.
Monitor the Flow of Traffic
A parking attendant booth, cameras, and automated barriers – each of these security features can work in concert to limit who is allowed to park on your property.
To expand your monitoring capabilities, first take a hard look at access control.
Garages or lots open to the public may simply use an automatic barrier gate and ticket system, such as what is commonly used at airports. While access isn’t necessarily limited, each financial transaction can create an audit trail for reference.
To ensure only approved users can enter, you will need to implement a system that authorizes access based on a recognized credential. This may take the form of PIN codes, ID badges, or card readers.
If you currently use magnetic or proximity cards, it may be time to update to smart cards or biometric identification. Near-field communication (NFC) devices, which use radio frequencies, are also growing in popularity as they are increasingly embedded into smartphones.
Whichever access control solution you use, make sure that it works efficiently. Wait times aren’t simply an inconvenience to users, they can also create traffic jams that lead to security issues, cautions Robinson. The less time someone needs to enter or exit your parking area, the fewer opportunities there are for something to go wrong.
You should also assess surveillance capabilities. Cameras can detect an event in progress, provide recorded evidence of an incident, and demonstrate due diligence on your company’s behalf.
“No matter what type of surveillance you use, the most important thing is that you analyze and act on any information you’ve captured,” Robinson says.
If you can’t dedicate personnel to watch a live video feed, consider analytics. This embedded software monitors images according to a set of rules. If a camera perceives activity that violates one of the rules, such as the pattern of how a person walks between cars when searching for unlocked ones, it will create an alert.
There are many applications specific to traffic management, such as wrong-way detection, license plate readers, speeding, illegal parking, and congestion. Intrusion detection, facial recognition, and suspicious activity for crowds or objects can also be useful depending on your risk profile.
“The whole purpose of analytics is to look for irregular activity,” explains Ahrens. “Alerts can prompt security personnel to prioritize the video, encourage better situational awareness feed more closely, and support the overall response to an incident.”
Even motion detection, which is based on a change in pixels rather than image analysis, can improve your surveillance. Cameras can turn on only when cued by motion to conserve bandwidth usage or when movement is detected when none should be present, such as after hours.
In addition to surveillance, patrols are a smart move if you have the labor force, Ahrens adds. Whether doing a walkthrough on foot or taking a swing through in a vehicle, a human presence can curb incidents in the same way a police car cruising through a neighborhood can. It also serves as a reassurance to parking users that their safety is a priority for management.
At the very least, offer guests and employees the option to use an escort to and from a parking area, particularly in the evening hours. In the complete absence of security personnel or lot attendants, make sure to install call-for-assistance devices, Ahrens stresses. Like the blue poles installed on college campuses, these units will send a distress signal to staff or the local authorities. This ensures that occupants have an immediate way to communicate an emergency and don’t have to rely on their personal cell phones. More importantly, these devices call attention to the area as having witness potential.
While you can’t avoid that improving parking security will require a capital expenditure, investing in safety measures is never a waste of money. Treating your parking like an asset and securing necessary investments will result in lots and garages that remain functional and safe for all users.
Jennie Morton firstname.lastname@example.org is senior editor of BUILDINGS.