Parking Lot & Garage Security
for office, retail or apartment building owners
Parking lot security can be a difficult problem for office-retail-apartment property owners to handle. A large percentage of problems & liabilities usually occur in the parking lots; yet, illegal activities there are hard to monitor & control. Property damage or assaults, particularly sexual assaults involving females as the victims, will have a very serious affect on tenant relations.
The purpose of this article is to provide property managers with substantial background information for understanding and dealing with parking facility risks. The assistance of a qualified security professional is also advised to help insure no serious holes exist nor practical options are missed in a particular situation.
Reasons for Parking Lot Problems
- Parking lots provide a focal point of potential victims carrying valuables.
- Large populations of females drive alone, especially those working or shopping late at night.
They are frequently the only users of parking areas during the
- Most parking facilities are open to the public.
- Parking facilities comprise a large volume of space with relatively low levels of activity.
- Parked cars provide hiding places and impede the distribution of lighting.
- An attacker’s car is not likely to be noted as strange or memorable in a public parking facility.
- Parking facilities often lack security features because many property owners and architects
are not familiar with the basic principles of design concepts for crime prevention.
- If security measures are not incorporated in design and construction stages, then it is often difficult and expensive to upgrade security at a later date.
- Zoning ordinances and building codes sometimes hinder effective use of security principles.
General Security Concepts
- One of the most important security features is proper illumination. Lighting specifications should
meet the standards set by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).
- Elevator lobbies and stairs in open parking garages should provide natural surveillance by
being open to the parking areas, except at roof levels where glass enclosures may be provided for weather protection.
- Elevators and stairs should be located on the perimeter to permit natural surveillance from
exterior public areas via glass-back elevators and glass at stairs and elevator lobbies.
- Access control and perimeter security should be considered in the initial design stage. Even
if the potential site for the parking facility is currently low risk, that risk level could change in the future.
- Emergency communications such as panic buttons and closed circuit television can enhance crime
prevention in high-risk facilities. Facilities should be designed (pre-wired) so that such enhancements can be easily installed
Specific Crime Prevention Design Concepts
The following sections describe specific design concepts for parking facilities in the areas of lighting, natural surveillance,
stair towers and elevators, access control, signs & graphics, and security personnel.
Lighting is considered the most important security feature in a parking facility. Good lighting deters crime and produces a more secure atmosphere. It is one of the few facility features that has been documented to reduce crime in parking facilities.
The top three and most critical mistakes in lighting design are (1) inadequate vertical illuminance, and (2) poor lighting uniformity, and (3) poor understanding of IESNA industry standards.
- Lighting Illuminance – Illuminance is the intensity of light falling on a surface, measured in footcandles (English units) or lux (metric units). Illumination levels are different not only on horizontal planes, which are at different distances from the light source, but also at various angles. If you hold a light meter horizontally at any point, it usually gives a different reading than if you hold it vertically. Horizontal illuminance (i.e., illuminance of the horizontal plane) does little to aid in the visibility of vertical objects such as signs and keyholes. Therefore, vertical illuminance is a particularly important consideration in parking facility lighting.
- Lighting Uniformity – Passing from light to dark areas creates problems for drivers because of the eye’s inability to adjust rapidly. It is also imperative to get light into the edges of parking stalls rather than just the driving aisles. Maintaining an appropriate uniformity ratio helps to avoid such problems. The uniformity ratio is expressed as either the maximum or average illuminance divided by the minimum illuminance. For example, if the average to minimum ratio is 3:1 and an average illuminance of 6 footcandles is desired, the minimum illuminance at any one point must be 2 footcandles.
- Lighting Glare – Glare reduces the contrast of an object against its background making it difficult for the eye to perceive depth accurately. Glare is a potential hazard for all drivers but is particularly dangerous for senior citizens or individuals with weak or impaired vision. There is a fundamental conflict between obtaining vertical illuminance and eliminating glare. However, glare can be minimized by the careful selection and positioning of fixtures. For example,
lights can be positioned over parked vehicles rather than in the center of drive aisles. Many light fixtures now include built-in shields that reduce glare while providing some up-light for vertical illuminance.
- Lighting Standards – Security in most parking facilities could be measurably enhanced if the lighting levels of service met Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) standards; however, higher risk facilities should meet even higher lighting standards. According to IESNA standards, “These lighting levels are the lowest acceptable levels, consistent with the seeing task involved and the need to deter vandalism while at the same time meeting energy constraints.”
Natural surveillance is the ability to observe one’s surroundings. It is the next most critical security design issue after lighting. Natural surveillance is easier to achieve in surface parking lots; however, relatively minor design changes can significantly improve natural surveillance in other types of parking lots and garages as well.
Openness enhances natural surveillance. Long-span construction and high ceilings create openness and aid in lighting the facility. Building codes currently require a minimum amount of openness on the exterior facade of parking facilities to provide natural ventilation. The openness of the facade should be maximized for crime prevention. For example, a code may only require openness on two sides; however, openness on four sides is preferable. Obviously, an underground structure cannot be open.
Pedestrian walkways should be planned to concentrate egress. Bringing all pedestrians through one portal rather than allowing them to disperse through numerous exits improves the ability to see and be seen by others. Likewise, concentrating vehicular entrance and egress to a minimum number of locations is beneficial. Attendant booths, parking offices, and security stations should be located where attendants can directly monitor activity.
For openness, shrubbery should be planted away from the facility and kept trimmed to eliminate criminal concealment. The facility must be kept well maintained. Trash and graffiti leaves an impression the facility is not secure.
Stair Towers & Elevators
Stairs, lobbies, and elevator cabs have been high risk areas for personal attack incidents. The main reasons is that small enclosed spaces tend to provide opportunity for persons with criminal intent. One of the basic rules of crime prevention is to design stair towers and elevator lobbies to be as open as building codes permit. Potential hiding places below stairs should be closed off.
Other design elements include glass backs for elevator cabs and well-lighted elevator lobbies that are visible both to patrons of the parking areas and to the public out on the street. When enclosure is required, as in underground parking garages, an automatic fire door, or for a larger opening, a rolling fire shutter with an access door, can be installed so that the area is wide open during normal use. Either the door or shutter would
be closed by smoke detector when needed.
High risk facilities often require access control. Access control and perimeter security are best considered in the initial design stage. Even if a potential parking facility site is in a low-risk area, the risk level may change in the future.
Ground level pedestrian exits that open into nonsecure areas should be emergency exits only and fitted with panic bar hardware. Local alarms that activate if a ground level door is opened can be useful when an exit is intended for emergency use only.
Controlling vehicular access to a parking facility, even a public one, is extremely beneficial to security. Merely requiring the driver to take a ticket on entry (often observed by a security camera) and interact with a booth attendant at exit will make a facility less attractive to criminals than one that is wide open and unattended.
Signs and Graphics
Careful placement of signs and graphics helps orient patrons and allows them to move quickly in and out of the parking facility, making them less vulnerable to attack. Color coding and/or unique memory aids also help patrons quickly relocate their parked vehicle when they return to the facility. Signs and graphics can also assure patrons that their safety is being monitored. Likewise, potential perpetrators may be deterred by a notice that they are under surveillance.
Active Security Systems
Such active tools as panic buttons, intercoms, sound surveillance, and CCTV can be practical enhancements to crime prevention in a high-risk facility.
- Panic Buttons & Emergency Phones – Panic buttons are often located in elevators, lobbies, stairs, and occasionally in parking areas. Their value, however, is dependent on the victim reaching the button and sounding the alarm. A drawback of panic buttons is that they seem to be irresistible to pranksters. These devices should be covered by CCTV surveillance.
- Intercoms – Two way intercoms make it possible to communicate to the victim that help is on the way and possibly deter the criminal. In recent years, a constant blue light that changes to strobe when a panic button is depressed has become a common accessory to panic/intercom systems. The strobe light may attract the attention of more distant parking patrons and cause the criminal to flee.
- Sound Surveillance – Sound activated systems continue to be problematic. Standard voice activated systems are generally not practical in parking areas due to background noise. Scream alarms filter out general background noise but identify screams and breaking glass. A drawback of these systems is that security personnel tend to tire of their irritating, routine sounds and turn off the sound activation.
- Closed Circuit Television – CCTV can provide surveillance; however, it is important to recognize its limitations. CCTV must be integrated with other systems and be effectively monitored and managed. The system must be monitored by trained security officers and maintained by skilled technicians.
- CCTV can be used to detect criminal activity in enclosed areas (such as Stair towers) that are at highest risk. The knowledge that camera images can be recorded to a VCR, increasing the likelihood of identification and conviction, may deter the criminal. Parking areas may also be monitored by CCTV; however, parked vehicles, sloping floors, and shadows make it difficult to position cameras to fully cover all areas.
Restrooms are another high risk area. Generally restrooms are not recommended in unsupervised parking lots. If necessary, they should be inside and under direct observation of security personnel who control the access after hours.
The visible presence of uniformed officers is one of the best crime prevention methods and should be considered in high-risk facilities. Unscheduled patrols who vary their routes throughout the shift appear to be most effective. In very high-risk situations, check-in stations at key locations should monitor and record the frequency of patrols.
Selecting Appropriate Security Features
The selection of appropriate security features depends on the vulnerability to crime of various locations within the facility. The neighborhood in which a facility is located will usually have the greatest effect on this factor, i.e., the higher the general level of crime in a neighborhood, the greater the vulnerability of a particular facility.
Before security features are selected, a security assessment should be conducted. The survey involves developing an incident history and profile for a neighborhood by contacting the local police and the managers of nearby facilities. The assessment includes: risks, threat, vulnerability, exposure, probability of harm, security concept, program, and design. Using this information, facilities are classified as low risk, moderate risk, high risk. A professional security assessment will properly identify risks and indicate the most risk-effective and cost-effective security features for a particular situation.
SecurityNet has extensive experience in assessing parking lot and garage security for office-retail-industrial-apartment complexes. We would be happy to answer general questions by building owners and property managers at no charge and to discuss options for obtaining expert solutions to specific security challenges.
Please feel free to call us at (415) 392-1810 or email [email protected].