Meeting the challenging security needs of parking facilities
- By John Mosebar
- Sep 01, 2015
Parking facilities—both outdoor lots
and structures—represent a significant
security challenge. Most facilities
are easily accessible to the public.
Many are open 24/7. And, they all
share one thing in common: they attract large numbers
of patrons and their vehicles—creating a highly
tempting scenario for criminals.
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports
that more than 7 percent of violent victimizations in
the United States occur in parking lots or garages—
commercial, noncommercial or apartment/townhome
facilities. More than 11 percent of property crimes occur
in these same lots.
While there is a strong movement within parking
industry to cut costs, often through creating automated,
unmanned facilities, nearly all operators still
feel a very real responsibility to protect the people and
property that use their lots and garages.
There is no one-size-fits-all security package as
parking facilities range from small outdoor lots to
high-rise structures accommodating 10,000 vehicles
to sporting venues with more than 20,000 spaces.
Yet there are best security practices that add value
to parking facilities of any size and in any location.
For a parking operator, the process begins by working
with a security integrator with experience securing
All-hazards assessment. Before beginning a security
plan, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the facility.
Check out the surrounding neighborhood and
traffic patterns. Monitor the daily routines of patrons.
Identify danger zones in remote areas of lots and in
garage stairwells and elevators.
After the assessment, look at the many security
tools available to protect parking patrons.
Audio intercoms. Build audio intercoms into entry
(and exit) gates to provide instant two-way communication
with a security guard or facility operator.
Emergency stations. Although most parking patrons
carry their own mobile phones, those devices
can’t be counted on to work in many subterranean
or concrete structures or even outdoors during severe
weather. Mobile phones are also often the first target
Emergency towers, wall-mount boxes or flush
mounted stations are effective when placed throughout
garages and larger lots. These units offer immediate audio
assistance to visitors and help operators to assess
an emergency situation. They can also integrate with
an existing video surveillance system. Some emergency
boxes and towers come equipped with built-in cameras
to provide additional information for security personnel.
These stations should be installed at frequent intervals
and brightly lit to make them easy to locate and
also act as a criminal deterrent.
These units can broadcast emergency announcements
from parking facility operators or security personnel,
as well as remotely unlock emergency doors
for ingress of operator employees or first responders.
Keep all exit doors locked to anyone else attempting
to enter from outside of a garage.
Here’s the experience of one parking structure
that added emergency communication stations. The
operators of the unmanned, eight-level, downtown
1,700-space garage wanted the ability to receive and
respond to simultaneous assistance calls, As with
most parking lots and structures, this facility had no
The security integrator guided the operator to a
hardwired system (using Cat 6 cable) that ran from
each call station to the main control room. The challenge
for the integrator was running cable in a 40-yearold
structure lacking pre-existing conduits. Also, the
garage was open 24/7 and the installation couldn’t impact
operations. The job took tight coordination with
parking management, but the result was a higher level
of patron security.
Access control. Access cards can provide monthly
parkers the ability to open special lane gates at entries
and exits. An access system also allows operators to
know which vehicles of monthly patrons are present
during an emergency. Limit pedestrian entries to the
entry/exit gates and one other entry. Lock all other access
points to the outside and install a keypad or card reader. That will save the cost of rekeying
whenever keys are lost or stolen.
Video surveillance. Security cameras
placed throughout a lot or garage
can provide live, real-time video
to assist security personnel in spotting
potential or real problems and take action
before they escalate. But realistically,
few parking operators can afford
a dedicated monitoring staff. Recorded
video can be used to help resolve
assaults, thefts, accident reports and
other events after the fact.
It may make sense to record continuously
during the day when the
facility is busy. At night or at other
quiet times recording may be triggered
by motion detectors or analytics built
into the cameras.
Work with the integrator to choose
cameras capable of providing clear video
under varying light conditions, especially
in outdoor lots. And make sure to
have enough cameras, properly placed,
to avoid blind spots.
One more tip on cameras. Make
sure they are easy to spot. Paint them
a bright color; have a monitor showing
a live feed at all entries and use signage
to announce the facility is under video
surveillance 24/7. Cameras can be one
of the biggest deterrents to criminals.
Video analytics. Many parking facility
operators are adding analytics to
their camera/recording systems. One of
the most common is license plate recognition
software. LPR is being used
to detect vehicles and count them as
they enter and exit. By linking a credit
card to a license plate number, monthly
parkers could eliminate the need for a
physical credential. Even pedestrian
safety could be improved by not allowing
gates to lower when a person is
standing in its path.
Analytics can notify operators of
cars that have been on the lot longer
than expected and may be abandoned
or those improperly parked or moving
in the wrong direction. Other analytics
would allow large-lot operators to get
real-time data on vehicle counts, traffic
patterns or other specific issues by using
Once in place, all security equipment
should be tested monthly to ensure it is
Design and Maintenance
Crime prevention through environmental
design. CPTED offers relatively
inexpensive ways to improve not only
security, but also overall operations.
Many of these steps will be identified
during the all-hazards assessment.
Lighting is essential for both parking
lots and structures. Dark areas
conceal criminals. Properly lit areas deter
them. But be careful not to go too
bright as excess lumens may cause inverse
blindness and traffic issues when
people drive into or leave the facility
at nighttime. The best approach is a
uniform level of lighting across the lot
or in the structure. Also have standby
power ready to maintain lighting (and
gate operation) during a power outage.
Make sure all soft- and hardscape
(trees, bushes, fencing, gates, and bollards) are used to help restrict or channel
access into or out of a lot and/or
structure. At the same time, make sure
these elements don’t block views of the
facility from the street or provide a hiding
place for criminals.
Lost or confused drivers and pedestrians
become an easier target for
criminals. Signage helps patrons locate
additional parking, exits, elevators and
emergency call stations. Make sure
signs have clear and consistent messaging.
Use colors, characters or other
designs to help patrons locate their
vehicles faster. The goal is to limit the
time a patron is in the facility.
Create ways to completely close a
structure to both vehicles and pedestrians
when the facility is closed. And
be sure to close off all hiding places beneath
Some parking facilities are experimenting
with sections reserved for
women. These special areas are typically
near exits or elevators so that women
patrons can leave the facility faster and
return to their vehicles more quickly.
Also, a well maintained facility
sends a message that an operator is serious
about the experience and safety
of patrons. That means immediately
removing graffiti, replacing burned out
lights and repairing any damage from
accidents. Criminals see a clean, wellmaintained
facility as a sign that security
is also likely a high priority.
In unmanned facilities install pay
stations in open, well-lit areas. Also restricting
machines to credit cards only
can speed the payment process and lessen
the need for cash—another temptation
Dressing all facility personnel in
uniforms will help patrons quickly
identify them as a person to turn to in
case of an emergency.
Safe and Secure
The sign, “Park at Your Own Risk,”
found in many facilities has long been
a fair warning to patrons. And while
there are still intrinsic dangers built
into a parking lot or garage, many operators
have taken important steps to
protect lives and property.
A parking facility designed to be
safe and secure can become a selffulfilling
prophecy. Criminals come to
know those lots and garages that have
emergency alarms, surveillance cameras,
video analytics, and access control
and provide a quick response to incidents.
Those lots are avoided.
The public recognizes those facilities
for creating a safer environment. As
honest patrons fill the facility, criminals
feel less comfortable.
Through proper design and the use
of electronic security solutions, it is possible
to minimize crime while promoting
a welcoming environment for patrons of
parking lots and structures.
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Security Today.