Parking Lots and Garages: Security Factors
Good parking lot design keeps employees, customers and guests safe. Here are the key principles for secure parking lots and garages at your business.
By Michael Fitzgerald
March 08, 2010 — CSO —
When the Ryder van blew up just after noon on Feb. 26, 1993, it rocked the World Trade Center, killing six people, wounding more than a thousand and leaving a hole more than 100 feet wide in the ground. Though we now know it mainly as a failed first attempt at destroying the World Trade Center buildings, the incident remains the worst event involving a parking garage to occur in the United States.
That event caused a significant rethinking of how buildings manage their parking, particularly what kind of vehicles are allowed to enter underground parking facilities. Coupled with the massive truck bomb that blew up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995, it's little wonder that high-profile buildings now have stringent rules about who can park near them.
Thankfully, parking bombs are rare. If you type variations on "worst parking garage disasters" into search engines, you'll get photos of embarrassingly bad parking jobs or a video of a driver gunning the engine instead of hitting the brake and accidentally playing monster truck.
Instead, parking plagues CSOs in smaller ways, and close to a thousand times every day. That's how many muggings, car break-ins and other crimes occur in parking facilities across the United States every 24 hours. Parking security incidents rarely involve deaths, instead having a kind of drip effect that can wear down corporate security officers. (Photo credit: Bruce Ramm, Security Design Concepts, Inc.)
Customers who have incidents, or hear about them, look askance at where they are shopping. Employees wonder about their employers. It's CSOs' job to respond. Their most effective tools? "Visibility and surveillance are the two greatest deterrents to crime," says Paul Dubois, executive director of Tomasi-Dubois and Associates, a parking security adviser in Los Gatos, Calif.
E-Trade found this out firsthand when a rash of "car clouts"—thieves smashing car windows and taking things like stereos and loose items—occurred at complexes where it had offices in Alpharetta, Ga., and Sacramento.
"We had nobody physically attacked and no incidents of robberies," recalls Bob Luca, E-Trade's head of physical security from 1999 to mid-2007. "Just car clouts. But people were very upset about that. Employees want to feel safe when they go to work." Luca, now a candidate for sheriff in California's El Dorado County, says that E-Trade organized a multifaceted response. He was able to get local law enforcement to come take reports on the incidents, which Luca says can be difficult in larger jurisdictions and would be even harder to arrange now, given economic conditions.
As E-Trade expanded in Sacramento from one building to five, it ran into other parking lot issues. The lots, which were shared, were run by the company that managed the building, so there were limits to what E-Trade could do. (See related story Security in Multitenant Facilities: Good Neighbors Make Good Fences.) It could not put cameras on light poles, for privacy reasons. It could not erect fencing. It could and did put cameras on buildings so it could monitor the parking lot near its entrances. It also made sure that lighting met the standards specified by the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), a methodology that develops wide-ranging guidelines for implementing design features intended to deter criminals.
The company also developed and began regularly posting items about better parking security on its intranets. These postings were largely commonsense tips such as, Don't leave packages or, heaven forbid, notebook computers sitting in plain sight in a car. At Christmastime, it sent out regular reminders that employees should not leave wrapped presents or shopping bags in their vehicles anywhere they could be seen.
Luca also sent his security personnel out to regularly walk the parking lots and look for unusual activity. He made sure there were two security personnel on duty at night, and employees were encouraged to ask for escorts to their cars. He worked to build strong relationships with local law enforcement so that they might be more likely to respond to incidents. After a gang was seen near remote parts of the lot, he was able to get local police to send cruisers by a couple of times a day. Although security's workload was increased, Luca was able to restore a sense of safety about parking to E-Trade employees.
Luca could have faced far worse. People have been kidnapped and even murdered in huge public parking lots at malls and casinos.
Parking KarmaParking lots represent just one of the kinds of parking a company may have, along with underground and aboveground parking structures. Each create their own security challenges.
All CSOs must look at parking in context of operations. Basic questions include: