Security Doesn't Cost - It Pays, and Made This Garage the '10th Safest Place on Earth'
John Van Horn
Cost was an issue when the city of Derby in the United Kingdom decided to clean up a garage located near its criminal courts facility. The place was a complete mess. Beside being dark, filthy and mostly empty, it was a hotbed of criminal activity, including vandalism of cars and auto theft.
Then came Parksafe owner Ken Wrigley with a proposal. "Let me 'secure' the garage, put in place a system to collect the money, and we'll share in the profits," he told the local authority. The midland city had little to lose.
Wrigley turned the garage into "the 10th safest place on Earth," according to the British scientific publication Focus. It's listed alongside Air Force 1, Fort Knox, and the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD complex.
It's now nearly six years later, and since the system was installed, there has been not one undetected incident. This is in a facility that before the renovation had averaged at least one major incident a week.
The magic is a sensor invented by Wrigley that was formerly used to detect metal that would be in the way of a combine in a wheat field. (A bike or baby carriage left in a field can destroy the costly machine.) The sensor is located in each parking space and wired back to a central computer.
But wait, there's more. Parksafe also installed wrought-iron grille work to keep folks from entering the garage except through controlled doors. Also, high-speed gates completely seal off the parking lanes, except when a car is actually going through them.
The driver takes a ticket on entry. That process opens the gate and the driver proceeds into the garage. After the car enters, the gate closes, sealing off the garage from the outside world. There is an entry "magazine" between the standard parking gate and the rolling grille so that the grille has time to open as the car drives up.
The driver parks and then proceeds to a panel near the exit where the ticket is inserted and the space number entered. That "arms" the space. At that point, if anyone so much as touches the car, an alarm sounds in the central office and a CCTV camera is aimed at the space. The parker exits the garage.
When they return, they find a locked door with a "ticket reader" nearby. Their valid ticket is the "key" to open the door. They insert the ticket and the door is unlocked and the driver enters. They proceed to a pay-on-foot machine where they pay their fee. That process automatically "disarms" the space and allows the vehicle to be removed. The driver takes the vehicle to the exit, inserts the paid ticket, and the rolling gate opens and they exit.
If there is a problem and the alarm sounds, the attendant has the option of ignoring it (tipsy customer from a local pub bumps against a car) or in the case of a real theft, locking down the garage so no one can get in or out. The attendant then calls the police and notifies the thief through the PA system that the police are on the way and there is no hope of escape.
In the five-plus years since the system was installed, there has been only one real attempt at stealing a car. A thief noticed a person who dropped their car key and picked it up. He followed them back to the garage. The vehicle owner noticed that the key was missing and was talking to the attendant about what to do. The thief, who had piggybacked into the garage with the driver, noticed that the key was from a certain type of car and went through the garage clicking the "alarm off " button on the key until he found the car. The act of turning the alarm off actually caused the space alarm to activate. The attendant and the vehicle's owner were watching this activity on the CCTV and had called the police. When the local constabulary arrived, they found the prospective thief running from locked door to locked door trying to get out. He was carted off to jail.
The garage holds 440 spaces. It has four pay-on-foot machines, two "space arming panels" on each of its four floors and 220 cameras. In addition, there are emergency push buttons on every other column and an intercom system throughout the facility through which an attendant can communicate to patrons. Recorded instructions are played as parkers leave and enter the facility on foot.
Parksafe Manager Bob Pickering said that the previously filthy facility now is no longer a public restroom; it has no beggars and no graffiti. "Nightlife, which was almost nonexistent before we put in the system, is back," he said. "The local restaurants and pubs are teeming in the evenings. People now have a safe place to park. We put over 1,000 cars average a day through the garage."
But Wrigley adds a "kicker" to the deal. He guarantees to the parkers that if they actually take the time to "arm" their space -- about 80% do) -- Parksafe will cover the cost of any damage or loss that takes place to the vehicle while in the garage.
"Remember, we know if someone sideswipes another car, since the alarm on the non-moving car will go off and we can stop them and get all the information. It's so sensitive that even a door 'ding' can be detected," Pickering said.
Parksafe has never had a claim. It's a far cry from most garages where the owner or operator spends their legal time trying to absolve themselves from liability. At this garage, they embrace it.
But what about the cost? "The revenues jumped from about $120,000 a year before the system was installed to an average of more than $750,000 after," noted Pickering. "The installation wasn't cheap, but certainly we have covered the cost. Plus, remember that the entire garage is run by only one person on-site."
When PT asked attendant Phillip Daykin if he was busy. He smiled and plugged in his tea kettle. "In the U.S., you would liken me to the Maytag repairman," he said.
The interface equipment, space-arming devices and revenue control system were provided by Secom International.
Article Abstract from May, 2004