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Parking Safety: Strategies To Improve Security In Your Parking Facility

David Rich


Throughout the U.S., parking facilities are the third most frequent place in which violent crime happens, with nearly 1,400 attacks occurring each day.
And it isn't just crimes against people that should concern parking managers. They must also worry about vehicular theft, as well as the theft of property from vehicles that are in campus parking areas.
Why are there so many safety problems in parking areas? Is there something inherently dangerous about parking? The answer is no.
While many parking lots and garages present safety and security risks, they don't have to. In the past, professionals whose areas of expertise didn't necessarily include parking handled the task of parking planning and design. As a result, many unsafe parking lots and structures were developed over the years. Now, safety professionals are faced with finding ways to make existing parking areas safer.
There are solutions available, including a number of parking planning and design approaches that can make the parking experience safe and convenient.
There are many elements that can go into a successful parking safety program, including increasing enforcement, making basic landscaping and engineering adjustments, adding security equipment, and even upgrading maintenance. Some elements are expensive and the benefits they provide must be weighed against their costs. Others are simple and inexpensive and can easily be added.
In any parking lot or structure, the key to personal safety is visibility. When parking patrons can see potential threats from a distance, they can take measures to avoid those threats. At the same time, if security measures are made clear and visible to attackers or other criminals, there is far less likelihood of crime within parking areas.
1. Lighting.
The best place to start is with lighting. Planners need to determine whether existing lighting is sufficient, not just to illuminate driving and pedestrian areas, but also to eliminate shadows in which attackers can hide. By painting walls white to reflect throughout the building, bright lighting can be further magnified. Additionally, by enhancing lighting in elevator and stair towers, planners can provide a safer parking experience for travelers as they leave and return to their vehicles.
The type of lighting used is also an important consideration. Soft white lighting may be easy on the eyes, but it isn't necessarily the best choice when security is at stake. Instead, metal halide lighting is often used in parking areas because it provides bright white illumination and much truer color, both of which promote safety.
Light spacing is also important, and should ensure a certain amount of overlap so that no area within a structure or lot is under-illuminated. This is also true of lighting that is placed on the facades of parking structures. It is just as important to eliminate shadows on the outsides of garages to assure the safety of pedestrians and parkers returning to their vehicles.
The same lighting principals apply to parking lots. Bright lighting should be provided throughout lots, and there should be liberal amounts of overlap to minimize shadows.

2. Landscaping.
Another consideration with both parking lots and structures is landscaping. High, dense shrubs and trees can provide excellent hiding places. Planners and parking managers should make sure that any vegetation surrounding parking garages or lots is thinned out and kept low so attackers can't hide behind them. This approach is one of the tenets of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.
Another area of concern is the cut-away areas beneath stairways in stair towers. These areas can also provide excellent hiding places for attackers. Fortunately, this threat can be easily and inexpensively mitigated simply by sealing off all areas behind stairways. Chain link fencing offers one simple and inexpensive solution.
3. Surveillance.
There are also a number of active security measures that can significantly enhance security in parking garages and lots. These measures tend to be more costly than those already mentioned, but they can have an important impact.
More developments throughout the U.S. are installing closed circuit television systems to make it easier to monitor activity within parking areas. These systems can be very effective, but it is vital that they be constantly monitored. They sometimes install CCTV systems but fail to monitor them, thinking that the mere presence of security cameras will be enough to discourage criminal activity. However, this approach is actually more dangerous because it can create a false sense of safety among parkers. When parkers believe that security personnel are watching them, they often let their guard down and become less vigilant in looking for potential risks. In addition to undermining security, this can also increase legal liability if crimes are committed in front of unmanned cameras.
One way to avoid this risk is through the installation of Voice Activated Security Sound systems. With VASS, parking areas are divided into zones. If someone is attacked within a parking area and screams, all CCTV cameras immediately focus on that area, video cameras record any activity, and security personnel are simultaneously dispatched.
4. Phones.
Another important active security tool that can easily be installed are emergency phones. These phones provide parkers direct access to security personal just by picking up the handset. A related technology that serves a similar function is the "panic button," which can be pressed by a parker if he or she is threatened. If a panic button is pressed, an alarm immediately sounds, and security personnel are directed to the spot where the emergency is taking place. Both can be installed in either parking garages or in parking lots.
5. Patrols.
Adding security patrols in parking structures or lots can also significantly enhance security. A heightened police presence can serve as a powerful deterrent to crime in parking areas.
6. Signage.
Each of these active and passive security measures can play a critical role in parking safety. However, in any parking security program there is one essential final step: communication. Criminals are much less likely to commit a crime in a parking lot or structure if they know that there are tools and strategies in place to stop them, and that they are likely to get caught if they do commit a crime. At the same time, if parkers know what security tools are in place, they are much more likely to use them properly if they do find themselves in trouble.
The best way to communicate these messages successfully is through signage. An effective graphics package that is posted throughout parking areas is all it takes.
Sensible approach
In a perfect world, whenever a parking structure or parking lot presented security problems, it could be torn down and replaced with a new structure that would be designed with security in mind. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. Most schools and universities have to make due with what they have.
But that doesn't mean that their parking areas have to remain unsafe. There are a number of very effective strategies that can be implemented to enhance security. While some are more costly than others, or more difficult to achieve, most are doable. The trick for managers and planners is to pick the right combination of these strategies to assure the highest level of safety and security possible.

David Rich is the director of development for Southfield, MI-based Rich and Associates (www.richassoc.com). He can be reached at (248) 353-5080.

Article Abstract from June, 2003




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