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Unsafe Parking Facilities Pay a High Price

February 27, 2020

Bob Harkins

Owning, operating, or managing a parking business was a once “run out of a cigar box” kind of endeavor, but it is now a series of complex operations and is gaining in complexity. Present-day parking operations are grounded in ever-changing technology that provides efficient and effective processes and services. Certainly, there is much time and attention spent on website presence and creating apps for mobile devices. 


A facility may have bells and whistles at all levels, but the facility may fail if it is perceived as unsafe.


Additionally, the parking staff are focused on monthly permit management operations and/or complicated daily revenue and ticket processes. While these processes require constant attention and supervision, there is no doubt, the customer is the life’s blood for all parking operations. Therefore, the parking staff, managers, and leaders must not lose their focus on customer service and satisfaction. A critical part of customer satisfaction is the customer’s feeling of safety. The work of daily operations is all consuming, so we must constantly ask the question: “Is my parking facility safe?”


Owners and/or operators might feel that facility safety is someone else’s problem. However, the reality is that parking facility safety must be incorporated into all levels of parking management. Safety adds another level of complexity to parking management, and yet to overlook any aspect of safety can have dire consequences. If a parking facility is perceived to be unsafe, a great price can be paid. 


A facility may have bells and whistles at all levels, but the facility may fail if it is perceived as unsafe. All of the parking staff and leadership must ensure that safety is incorporated into all processes and decisions. Operators, managers, and staff should physically walk through the facility often, during the day and at night, with a critical eye focused on safety. This article will be first in a series of articles to examine parking facility safety for leaders and staff. Based on their roles, leaders must provide the perception and reality of safety to customers. 


 


Is the facility inviting and clean? A clean facility gives the sense of comfort and creates the feeling that managers and staff care. 


• Is there a system for checking cleanliness? For example: Is there a daily schedule for cleaning and checking all corners of the parking facility? 


• Are elevators clean and attractive? 


• Are stairways clean and free of graffiti? 


• Are staff members assigned the responsibility to walk the facility periodically throughout the day and night hours to check for cleanliness?


• Is there a system in place to report uncleanliness?


 


Is the facility brightly lit? It is amazing what an update of the lighting can do to make a facility be perceived as safer. 


• Is the facility adequately lighted?


• Is there a plan to repair and/or replace nonworking bulbs or fixtures?


• Are there shadows, dark spots and areas that can hide danger in the garage or facility?


• Is the lighting system cost effective, energy efficient, and less harmful to the environment?


• Will changing to newer modern lighting fixtures pay for itself in a relatively short time through energy savings?


• Is it time to investigate LED lighting for brightness and cost savings?


• Has the facility undergone a professional lighting survey? If the answer to these questions is No or Unknown, leaders must take action. Start by having a lighting survey done by a lighting professional. 


 


Paint: A fresh coat of paint may upgrade the perception of facility safety 


• Would a fresh coat of paint or a scrubbing improve the appearance of the parking facility? 


• Are there areas where the paint has chipped, is pealing, or dirty?


• Is the need for paint cost effective over time? Clean new paint brightens facilities. However, be aware that once you paint the concrete, you are committing to repaint over time.


 


Way Finding System: Does the signage or wayfinding system complement the facility? 


• Frustration results from a wayfinding system that is complicated and confusing. 


• Are all the signs clear and logical to follow?


• Is the system bright, fresh, and easy to understand? 


• Can the pathways to the elevators, driving lanes, exits, and the description of the process to exit the facility be simplified? 


• Has a simple reminder been placed at the elevators or stairways to remind customers to “take your ticket with you”? This may ease frustration at the exits. 


 


Exterior Landscape: The critical walk-through should not be confined to the interior of the facility; look outside the facility or the perimeter of the parking lot. Groomed shrubbery may give a perception of safety.


• Does the landscaping outside the facility promote safety? 


• Do trees, bushes, and shrubs form hiding places or dark spots that frighten customers?


• Are trees, brushes, and shrubs well maintained and attractive?


 


Suicide: One of the dangers owners and operators must confront is that their parking facility could become a platform for a distraught individual to commit suicide.  Removing options can have a great impact to dissuade potential jumpers. 


• Are there potential “jump spots” in the facility? 


• Are possible “impact zones” concrete, such as the entrance or exit lanes? Is it possible to break a fall by installing canopies over the concrete lanes? 


• Can subtle screening of potential “jump spots” help deter a jumper? 


• Are there trees and shrubbery that could break a fall? That can be a subtle way to help discourage potential jumpers.


• Are emergency contact numbers for individuals in need of mental health help posted near potential jump spots? Have you contacted a local suicide “hotline” agency for assistance in posted sign language and contact phone numbers? Perhaps a mental health professional could help parking leadership to evaluate the facility and signage.


This article is a beginning for our safety review of parking garages or lots. In future walks, we will look at the use of exterior landscape, cameras, staff training, and reaction to an emergency situation. This is a critical area of leadership responsibilities that needs full attention. One incident can destroy the reputation of a parking facility and drive customers away. While focus on customer satisfaction, ease of operation, and financial accountability are critical to management, customer safety is paramount. Safety is the responsibility of all parking leaders and staff. Never cut corners on safety of parking facilities.


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


 



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