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Run, Hide, Fight

January 16, 2020

A Basis for Training in Garage Security

Bob Harkins

The days of parking being “run out of a cigar box” are long gone. Owning, operating, or managing a parking operation in today’s world is a very complex process. The present-day parking operation is deep in the use of technological process to provide easy and efficient processes for the customer. 


True safety and security should be based on the physical environment of the facility and the reality of a well-trained staff.


Apps on phones, complex monthly permit management operations and/or complicated revenue and ticket procedures require constant attention and supervision at all levels. Overseeing daily operations can be all consuming. However, sometimes we forget one of the most important missions of parking management. 


That mission is captured in the question: “Is my garage or parking lot safe and secure?”


The goal is always to efficiently move vehicles to a proper parking space, provide a smooth exit from the facility, and to allow for safe movement of pedestrians in the facility or lot. No facility is ever 100 percent shielded from danger; however, proper planning can mitigate the risk immensely. 


If a parking garage or parking lot is thought or perceived to be unsafe, the owner can have all the bells and whistles of a modern operation, but the operation could fail. All operators and/or managers should physically walk through their facility during the day and at night with an eye focused on safety and security. Listed below are specific areas that leadership should focus on to improve the safety and security of their operation.


Appearance: Is the garage or parking lot inviting, clean, attractive, and bright? If not, this may be a good place to start the upgrading of the facility or lot. Other questions to raise on the walk through include: Is the facility or lot free of trash and absent of graffiti? What does the outside of the facility look like? Are there things that are broken of cracked in or outside the facility? If there is fencing around a lot, is it clear of debris? What does it look and feel like in the elevators? 


The perception of some facilities may be improved through the use of new bright paint. However, be aware that once you paint the concrete, you are committing to repaint over time. Nothing looks worse than a painted garage that is dirty with trash and chipping paint. 


Lighting: Lighting can be the most critical aspect of the perception of a safe facility. Are there shadows, dark spots and areas that can hide danger? If the answer to that question is “yes,” start with a obtaining a professional lighting survey of all facilities or parking lots. It is amazing how an update in lighting can help a facility be perceived as safe and secure. If done right, there will be an increase in the perception of a safer facility. The upgrading to newer modern lighting fixtures can often pay for itself in a relatively short time.


Signage: While checking for cleanliness and lighting, look at the signs and the wayfinding system used to guide customers throughout the facility or lot. Is the signage in the facility clean and informative to customers? Are the signs in use easily understood? We all have experienced being in a facility that is complicated and confusing to maneuver through. Signage should simplify the pathway for driving lanes and the route to exit the facility. Are there clearly marked pedestrian routes to the elevators? 


Is the facility fully compliant with OSHA or local Fire Marshal regulations for exit doors, exit routes, and evacuation planning? Are panic buttons or help buttons clearly marked? Are there written procedures for the staff to respond to “calls for assistance”? Is the process to exit the facility easy to understand? A simple reminder at the elevators to “take your ticket with you” may ease frustration and backups at the exits. 


Landscaping: While continuing the critical garage and/or lot “walk-through”, look outside the facility or the along the perimeter of the parking lot. Does the landscaping outside the facility promote safety? Trees and bushes can add to the attractiveness but can also form hiding places or dark spots that frighten customers. Sidewalks and approaches to the facility must be clean, serviceable and clearly marked.


CCTV: What is the facility position on the use of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV)? CCTV can be of great use for facility management. CCTV cameras are also useful in any post event analysis. But the location and use of the CCTV cameras should be reviewed periodically. Look at the use of cameras in and around the facility. There should be cameras at all entrances, exits, stairways, and elevators for the facility. 


 Additionally, cameras focused on the outside of the facility help with security. A decision needs to be made on the storage and retrieval of camera information. CCTV cameras are not monitored 24/7. Patrons see cameras and assume that someone is watching at all times. Make certain that lawyer signs off on wording that is posted in the facilities. That language should inform everyone that all cameras are for management purposes and not monitored 24/7. 


Communications: There may be a need to evacuate the facility because of an emergency. Several aspects of communications are important for safe and secure operation of a parking facility. Is there a system that gives the parking office the ability to address the facility through a public address (PA) system? 


For example, many newer facilities may have PA systems built into the Fire Panel. If so, management staff needs to be trained in the use and provided with 3X5 cards with very specific messages for use. Communications with customers during an emergency should be prepared and the staff trained on their use well before an emergency happens. What messages should be posted on the facility web site during an emergency? If customer text numbers and emails address are available then prepared messages should be developed. 


Staff Training: As we have discussed, safety and security in a parking facility is often based on a perception. But true safety and security should be based on the physical environment of the facility and the reality of a well-trained staff. Many parking operations seek to reduce expenses by reducing on-site staff or to have a staff-less facility. In these situations, the perceptions and reality of a safe and secure facility is critical. Leadership should ensure that all staff is trained in emergency events such as an active shooter situation, fire emergency and bomb threats. Actions by staff can be developed or honed through the use of a table-top training event. 


All training should drive to answer three basic questions. What do we want staff to do? What do we want the customer to do? How does the staff communicate with the customers? Reliance on the “RUN, HIDE, FIGHT” technique is a good start. Leadership can do a web search for the terms “RUN, HIDE, FIGHT”. There is an abundance of materials available for use to train the parking staff. There are also several programs available for training the staff on CPR and to “Stop the Bleeding”. Effective training will give the staff confidence to act in an emergency situation. 


Staff must be aware that, over the years, parking garages have been used for distraught individuals to commit suicide by jumping from upper floors. Signage with a number for help and assistance for such individuals can be displayed. Staff should be trained on how to approach or handle these individuals. 


Safety and security are an underlying factor in the success of a parking operation. If you have staff in your facility, pay attention to their training. Teach staff to have an eye on safety and security. As they do their daily walk-through of the facility, require them to inspect cleanliness and safety/security. One incident can destroy the reputation of a facility and drive customers away. While focused on customer satisfaction, ease of operation, and financial accountability are critical to management, never cut corners on safety and security.


Bob Harkins is CEO of Harkins Consulting LLC. He can be reached at bharkins6@utexas.edu


 



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