Magazine

Mitigating Risks Safety in Your Parking Facility

By Dennis Delaney

Reports of vehicles broken into during a concert downtown. A waitress assaulted in a parking lot while walking to her car from the restaurant. A student ending his life by jumping off a garage because of academic pressures. These are some of the tragedies that those of us in the parking industry can face at a moment’s notice.

But there are many things that we as owners and operators of public parking facilities can do to create a safer environment for our customers. With good design, proper maintenance, the latest

in technology and public awareness campaigns, we can minimize

safety concerns.



Facility Design

Let’s start with lighting. How many movies have you seen where the lone person was walking through a dark garage when the villain (or in some cases, a pre-mature scare by a cat) pops out of nowhere?

A poorly lighted garage or lot can be an uninviting environment, with shadows between cars, in stairwells and around columns. Improper lighting can be a tripping or falling hazard or offer areas where criminals can hide.

Selecting the correct lighting is key.

Light your facility too brightly, and you risk being a bad neighbor. Excessive lumens also can cause inverse blindness and traffic issues when driving out of a garage or lot onto a dimmer street at night.

Color rendition is also something to consider in lighting selection. Lighting with the correct color rendition will allow parkers and staff to more accurately see objects and people. It can aid in such scenarios as identifying a potential criminal when a mask is seen over his or her face or in distinguishing between a grey and a light-green vehicle of the same model.

Create an open and inviting parking environment. Allowing natural light in from the sides of the garage will make the atmosphere less cave-like and put customers more at ease. For open lots, good landscaping and fencing will delineate parking areas and direct people to the entrances and exits. This will not only enhance the user experience, but also create a mental barrier to criminals. They will think twice about having to scale a fence or jump over a bush.

Elevators and stairwells are other areas of design concern. Utilizing glass cabs and elevator shafts or even cameras can deter crime. Security and police can see if anything is out of the ordinary through glass cabs and open shafts.

Poorly designed facilities not only might attract criminals, but also become a destination for those wishing to end their lives. Stairwells and upper parking decks are high-risk areas and should be designed to prevent their use for suicide attempts. How can you keep these open for safe visibility, yet also create a barrier to keep a person from jumping?

 According to Dr. Annette Beautrais, Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University, a person wishing to commit suicide wants to ensure they are successful in their attempt and that their remains are found. Placing visual barriers such as trees or landscaping along the perimeter of a garage will often deter a person from jumping.

Other important deterrents are those that keep pedestrians from walking into traffic. This can be achieved with good pedestrian and traffic flow design. Good design also allows control of entrances and exits so they can be more easily monitored.

Lastly, call boxes or “panic buttons” should be placed throughout the facility so that police or security can be notified of potential issues. These call boxes need to be identified with blue lights and signage.



Maintenance

Proper maintenance not only extends the life of your facility, but also makes it safer as well. Fail to quickly replace a faulty light ballast in a stairwell, for example, and you are guaranteed to hear about it. Lighting surveys on a nightly or weekly basis will allow your maintenance team to fix any issues in a timely manner.

During light surveys, take the time when walking through your garage and also inspect general conditions. Is the safety certificate in the elevator up to date? Did someone move a trash can into traffic or a space?

You can notice things such as cracks in the decks or potholes starting to form in a lot. Make sure that wheel-stops are in their proper positions and secured. Fix these to prevent tripping hazards and tort-claim-form headaches.

Cleaning your garage daily will make it not only more inviting to patrons, but can deter criminals from entering your facility. If they see the garage is kept clean, they know someone is around on a regular basis. Picking up debris and trash also prevents tripping hazards. Ensuring that signage is secure and readable will help direct people in and out of your garage more efficiently, and lower the amount of exposure they have to potential safety issues.

Schedule a monthly testing of all call boxes, panic buttons and elevator phones. This may be a function of your police or information technology (IT) department.

Here at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), we recently discovered that the elevator emergency phones had an issue with their forwarding. At night, the phones failed to roll over to the police department and were going to a voicemail box. Simple checks by you or your staff can prevent safety concerns.



Latest Technology

A good access control system not only tracks who is in your facility, but also keeps people moving in and out of it.

Are your paystations and pay-in-lane machines placed in open areas? Both your staff settling the machines and paystation users need to be in an open area where they can be aware of their surroundings.

Also, consider restricting machines to credit card use only to speed up traffic and cut down on exposure to cash shortages or robbery when balancing the machines.

Another method to limit cash transactions is to implement online sales. We recently began to offer online sales for event parking at UT Austin. Using event handheld units out in the field, we are able to scan barcodes on the online sales parking passes. This allows us to take credit cards and decrease the amount of cash exposure to our staff, as well as track who is in the lot.

Maintaining Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance lowers your risk of security compromise. No parking operator wants a public relations incident with a newspaper story about hacking and fraud in their facilities. Keeping current on PCI compliance increases peace of mind for not only yourself but also your customers.

To decrease the potential for fraud by either a customer or staff, do not store credit card information or accept credit card payments over the phone.

Camera systems can assist with safety, but should not be relied on as a safety measure if they are not monitored 100% of the time. At UT Austin, we do a random hourly check of each of the garage roofs utilizing our cameras to look for people at risk for suicide.

Our cameras’ primary purpose is for garage operation management to help with ingress and egress, but we are able to review for illegal exiting of facilities, the occasional bike theft, and other potential hazards as well. If your cameras are not monitored 24/7, signage needs to be placed indicating this.



Awareness

Clear, coherent signage and markings will guide people around your facilities. A confused driver or pedestrian can become easy prey to criminals. As drivers focus too long on the signs, instead of the lanes in front of them, accidents also can happen. Make sure that your spaces, drive lanes and walkways are clearly painted. Paint the curbs in front of elevators so that people are aware there is either a step up or down. Post clear signage indicating levels. Place equipment so it is easily seen.

Create an awareness campaign with your patrons. Post signs to “Hide Your Things. Lock Your Car. Take Your Keys.”

Send a newsletter to your permit holders about garage safety. Items would include information about parking apps to locate your vehicle; pointers on choosing a parking space based on proximity to elevators, entrances, exits and cashier offices, and avoiding locations near vans; reminders to beware of strangers and to report any suspicious activity; and how to minimize crime risk by quickly returning to your vehicle with keys out and ready to go.

Parking staff should wear identifying uniforms, which reassure patrons that they are interacting with individuals representing your operations, and not potential criminals. A few years ago at UT Austin, we had a shooter on campus and were instructed to “shelter in place.” One of our personnel peeked out the door and was immediately confronted by the SWAT team and a university police officer. The campus officer was quickly able to identify the staff person by his uniform shirt and they moved on in pursuit of the real suspect.

Minimizing potential hazards in a parking environment requires proper planning with facility design and technology choices, as well as vigilance with facility maintenance and awareness campaigns.

By starting with the design, you can avoid issues down the road such as poor pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow, which will increase efficiency. Facility maintenance not only increases safety, but also makes for an inviting atmosphere where people will want to park, increasing your revenue. Taking simple steps to improve safety will also enhance your parking operations.



Dennis Delaney is Parking Services Manager/Garages for Parking & Transportation Services at The University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at ddelaney@austin.utexas.edu.

Article Abstract from March, 2013




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