Parking Security Design and 'Intelligent' CCTV
Parking facility designs are many and varied. But in virtually every case, facility owner-operators seek to make their garages user-friendly, easily accessible, with a maximum number of spaces and maximum revenue.
As public concerns about security increase, facility designers are tending to build in more provisions for safety and security at the start. One set of principles, known as CPTED -- for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design -- is increasingly being applied at the initial design stage. In a parking environment, CPTED uses space to increase natural surveillance; to clearly identify and define controlled areas; to support the use of communications and monitoring technologies; and to improve access control through barriers and natural terrain. At the same time, safety concerns should be taken into account, especially evacuation planning.
The best thing that parking planners can do is to identify safety and security concerns from the patron's point of view, making the garage an extension of the adjacent space -- university, retail or airport, for example -- and creating an aura of comfort, control and sanctuary. But such an environment involves an investment in access control, lighting, physical and procedural security, safety and evacuation planning, monitoring, and capable security response by trained professionals. Recent experience demonstrates that liability issues and rising insurance costs demand that parking owner-operators take reasonable measures to minimize violence and the threat of violence within and immediately around their facilities. This approach also makes good sense from a business point of view, because parking garages are intrinsically inviting targets for criminals, while negative perceptions about safety and security affect shopping and tourism, as well as parking revenues.
One technology finding its way into parking facilities as a security enhancement tool is video monitoring. But make no mistake: This is not your father's CCTV -- an important distinction because typical old-style CCTV monitoring systems are fragmented and usually not archived. Many such systems are monitored by inexperienced guards who tend to become bored; eventually, they ignore images. Moreover, even when security personnel are actively watching, they generally don't understand what they are seeing. Also, information is often not shared quickly -- or at all -- with those who must respond in an emergency.
In fact, today's CCTV systems are increasingly "intelligent," built around behavior-monitoring software that discerns specific, user-defined events and only then displays the event on the monitor. For example, in a parking environment, a lurking person, a falling or prone person, a person moving erratically or a fast-moving vehicle are things that parking security people want to know about -- and all these can be identified by an intelligent system. Such software can also identify a non-vehicle stationary object such as a package left behind, which is valuable in an age of Orange Alerts and backpack explosives.
The best intelligent CCTV digitally archives all the images captured by cameras using an integrated digital video recorder, even if they don't warrant display or response. They also allow an administrator to quickly retrieve images from specific cameras using simple queries based on events and approximate times -- a valuable tool for law-enforcement and crime prevention.
Basic requirements and some real planning go into making intelligent CCTV a genuinely useful tool, including proper camera positioning, good lighting and a minimum standard of resolution. When these criteria are heeded, such a system can provide a positive return on investment in a short time. Proactive alarms can keep a potential incident from becoming a crime, while a rapid, directed response can reduce incidents, legal fees and judgments. Parking authorities can add cameras, expand monitored areas and consolidate monitoring of multiple facilities, all without hiring more security people.
Still, pay attention to some basics before investing in any security technology. Start by employing a professional security consultant to perform a risk-and-vulnerability assessment; this will help ensure that you choose the right technology or approach for your specific situation. Distinguish between safety and security; understand how and where they overlap and the implications on your physical facilities and operations. Develop an actionable, practical plan to deter crime as well as to deal with incidents, balancing security and safety with openness, convenience, utility, aesthetics and financial limits. Recognize the impact of crime and security issues on people, parking facilities and operations. And remember that your reputation is a valuable, tangible asset that you can best protect by making your parking facilities as safe and secure as possible.
David W. Gaier is Vice President of Urbitran Associates, New York, an
architecture, planning and engineering firm with a leading parking and security consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.