Meeting the Challenging Security Needs of Parking Facilities
By John Mosebar
The parking industry is rapidly driving toward automated, unstaffed lots and structures. User-friendly ticket dispensers accommodate entering vehicles. Automated pay devices, both pay-on-foot and pay-in-lane, allow drivers quick and easy options to exit.
But one thing isn’t changing. Parking facilities continue to represent a security challenge. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 7% of the country’s violent victimizations occur in a commercial, noncommercial or apartment/townhome parking facility. More than 11% of property crimes occur in these same places.
So, as parking operators continue to cut manpower, they are faced with finding security solutions to protect the people and property in their facilities. Fortunately, the electronic security industry has a range of options to meet the challenge.
Parking facilities are very different in size, type and location. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all security solution. But there are best-practices to apply to all facilities.
The following is a look at some of the security services and tools available to parking facility operators:
All-hazards assessment – Before investing in new equipment and services, engage a security integrator experienced in protecting parking facilities to perform a thorough review. This will identify security strengths and weaknesses and help spend money most wisely.
Audio intercoms – Make sure that audio intercoms are built into all ticket dispensing and revenue control systems to provide an instant two-way communication link with a security guard or facility operator. Intercoms are valuable in both emergencies and equipment failures.
Emergency stations – Emergency towers or wall-mount boxes offer immediate audio assistance to visitors and help operators assess emergencies. Some units are equipped with built-in cameras and can be integrated with an existing video surveillance system. These stations should be brightly lighted, making them easy to locate and also to act as a criminal deterrent. These units can also broadcast emergency announcements from parking facility operators or security personnel, as well as remotely unlock emergency doors for ingress of operator employees or first responders.
Access control – Access cards permit monthly parkers to open special entry and exit lanes. An access system also provides operators with a better idea of which vehicles are present during an emergency. Limit pedestrian entries to the entry/exit gates and one other entry. Lock all other access points to the outside, and install a keypad or card reader. That will save rekeying costs whenever keys are lost or stolen.
Video surveillance – Security cameras provide live, real-time video to assist security personnel in spotting potential or real problems and take action before they escalate. Choose cameras capable of providing clear video under varying light conditions, especially in outdoor lots. And make sure to have enough cameras to avoid blind spots. Also, make sure the security cameras are easy to spot. Paint them a bright color; have a monitor showing a live feed at all entries; and use signage to announce that the facility is under video surveillance 24/7. Cameras are a major deterrent to criminals.
Realistically, few parking operators can afford a dedicated monitoring staff. Recorded video can be used to help resolve alleged assaults, thefts, accident reports and other liability issues after the fact. It may make sense to record continuously during the day when the facility is busy. But at night or at other quiet times, recording may be triggered by motion detectors or “analytics” built into the cameras.
Video analytics – Many parking facility operators are adding analytics to their camera/recording systems. One of the most common is license plate recognition software. LPR is used to detect vehicles and count them as they enter and exit. By linking a credit card to a license plate number, monthly parkers could eliminate the need for a physical credential. Even pedestrian safety could be improved by not allowing gates to lower when a person is standing in its path.
Analytics can also notify operators of vehicles that may be abandoned, improperly parked or moving in the wrong direction.
Once in place, all security equipment should be tested monthly to ensure it is functioning properly.
Design and Maintenance
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – CPTED
offers relatively inexpensive ways to improve not only security, but also overall operations.
Lighting is an essential part of any security plan. Dark areas conceal criminals. Properly lighted areas deter them. Have standby power ready to maintain lighting (and gate operation) during a power outage.
Make sure all soft- and hard-scape (trees, bushes, fencing, gates, bollards) are used to help restrict or channel access into or out of a parking facility. But don’t let them block views of the facility from the street or provide a hiding place for criminals.
Signage helps patrons locate additional parking, exits, elevators and emergency call stations. Lost or confused drivers or pedestrians are easier targets for criminals. Make sure signs have clear and consistent messaging.
Create ways to completely close a facility to both vehicles and pedestrians when it is closed. And be sure to close off all potential hiding places beneath stairwells.
Install paystations in open, well-lighted areas. Also, restricting machines to credit cards only can speed the payment process and lessen the need for cash – another temptation for criminals.
Also, a well maintained facility sends a message that an operator is serious about the experience and safety of patrons. That means immediately removing graffiti, replacing burned out lights and repairing any damage from accidents.
Safe and Secure
The sign, “Park at Your Own Risk,” found in many facilities has long been a fair warning to patrons. And while there are still intrinsic dangers built into a parking lot or garage, most operators realize good security is good business.
A parking facility designed to be safe and secure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as criminals seek other targets.
The public also recognizes those parking facilities for creating a safer environment. As honest patrons fill the facility, criminals have one more reason to feel less comfortable.
Contact John Mosebar, Vice President of Marketing at Aiphone Corp., through its website: www.aiphone.com.