Security Hot Spots: Parking Lots
Jan 1, 2004 2:42 PM
Most of us have been there at one time or another ? in a dimly lit parking lot, late at night, alone, exposed to the inherent vulnerabilities. There is ample reason to feel unsafe in parking lots or garages because, by their nature, they are an ideal place to commit a crime. Have recent advancements in security technology helped to make them more secure? Sure. Could they be even safer? Without a doubt.
This article will discuss how the right mix of security and best practices can protect various types of parking facilities.
Layout & Location: Building Blocks of Safety
Parking lots come in all shapes and sizes ? from the giant high-rise structure or subsurface garage to the flat lots of retail centers. Just as there is no one standard for parking lots, there is no single approach to securing them. Each comes with its own risks and concerns.
Large high-rise structures, for example, with walls, pillars and multi-levels, often have poor visibility ? making them vulnerable to crime. Subsurface structures (underground parking lots), which are usually part of the main foundation of a building, are also vulnerable and in recent years have been a target for terrorism. Large flat parking lots make it difficult to control who has access to them. In particular, they are ideal for car thieves because they offer great escape routes.
Time of day and location can also impact the safety of these facilities ? positively or negatively. For instance, a daytime-only parking lot in an upscale neighborhood is likely to be safer than a parking garage in a rough area of town at 3 in the morning.
Although parking lot crime is a reality Americans have to contend with daily, using advanced security technology can go a long way in helping to protect people and property.
Lighting. Outside of layout and location, lighting is the most important factor in keeping parking facilities safe and secure. Proper lighting not only helps people feel safer, but it can also deter crime dramatically. When developing a lighting plan or implementing a lighting system, considerations should include energy consumption, maintenance and, of course, expense. The Illuminating Engineering Society of America, an organization committed to improving ?the lighted environment to the benefit of society," also has a say in how to use lighting in a parking facility. Due to the heavy drains on power grids, the IES recommends that foot-candles ? a standard unit that is used when measuring quantity of light ? are kept to a minimum. Although there are many solutions to reduce power consumption, such as multi-level lighting and energy management systems, it?s important to use a minimum of two-foot candles in a standard parking lot facility and five or higher in high-risk areas.
CCTV. CCTV is an absolute necessity for parking areas. While CCTV surveillance plays an important role in helping to reduce crime, it is only truly effective when situations are being monitored proactively in real time ? after all, it's impossible to respond to an emergency situation on recorded video. Advances in digital video surveillance have enabled security professionals to collect and analyze key information and respond to events quickly and efficiently. When choosing a CCTV system for parking lot surveillance needs, use of color cameras sed instead of traditional black-and-white cameras makes it easier to identify specific vehicles and individuals.
Access Control. Access control is a powerful technology that can enhance the overall effectiveness of a security solution. Convenient and easy to use, the technology is gaining widespread popularity in the security industry and is increasingly used in parking lots across North America. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best ways to control who enters and exists a given parking facility. The real benefit of the technology, however, lies in the ability to integrate it with other systems, such as time and attendance, billing, surveillance and building automation.
Communications. A well-placed, well-designed emergency communications station can bring tremendous value to a parking lot security solution, especially in cases where security guards are not on site. Call boxes are the most common communications system used for security purposes. These devices, when activated by the push of a button, immediately call emergency responders, such as security personnel or police. They are often mounted on free-standing pedestals equipped with strobes or lights to attract attention to the specific area, making them easy to locate in an emergency situation. Many facilities integrate these communication devices with video surveillance equipment so that when the call box is activated, a camera provides an instant view of the event. In some advanced applications, when the call box is activated, gates can be locked down and an announcement can be made over a public address system.
Integration Hard at Work Implementing technology in parking lot facilities can go a long way to keeping people and their assets safe and secure. Let?s look at designing a security program for a brand new parking garage and the types of integrated solutions to choose from. The first obvious thing to consider is safeguarding all entry and exit points to the facility. A good way to secure the open-wall design of the parking structure is with wrought-iron fencing on the first and second levels of the garage. For maximum security, an electronic door with delayed emergency exit devices for emergency lockdown can be installed, along with electronic roll-down gates and barrier posts for auto egress.
The panic button call boxes should be integrated with the video surveillance system, allowing a camera to be activated when a call box button is pushed, providing on- or off-site security personnel with an instant view of the emergency situation. To create a lockdown environment each time the call box is activated, the communications system could be tied into the access control system. By implementing a public address system in the facility, security personnel could alert all parties that they are being monitored and that help is on the way.
To maximize the effectiveness of the video surveillance system, it should be integrated with the access control system. This integration allows license plate numbers to be entered into an access control log when vehicles enter or exit the facility. By integrating media management systems with video surveillance equipment, officials can monitor events, create dependencies and set alerts when certain conditions are met. For example, youngsters loitering at the entrance of a parking garage can be monitored and create an alert if they don?t move for a pre-determined amount of time (the ?condition?). When security personnel receive notification of this alert, they can then access the public address system and announce to the loiterers that security will be dispatched if they don?t leave the property immediately. This technology can also be used for ?non-security" related events. If, for example, someone has a heart attack and collapses in the stairwell of a garage, security personnel will be notified of the incident because the victim has not moved for a pre-determined amount of time. The ability to set the size of a target is also beneficial because it allows them to determine, for example, how long a particular vehicle has been parked in one parking spot. This is a great way to prevent vehicles from being inappropriately stored in parking garages.
These are only a few examples of ways to use integrated security technology for maximum benefit and effectiveness. It is important to remember that each facility is different, so a security strategy should be tailored to the facility?s specific needs and requirements.