Parking facilities by their very nature are challenging to make into a secure environment. They are land-use with a single purpose, and they do not easily allow for mixed uses that might encourage territoriality. They contain large walls, structural columns and multi-levels, which create poor visibility and make them vulnerable to crime. Subsurface or underground parking facilities are often part of a foundation of a building, have little to no outside exposure for visibility and can be an easy target for terrorism (World Trade Center 1993, Madrid Airport parking lot 12/30/06). Large open parking lots are difficult to control access. Open parking lots make an inviting environment for car thieves and purse snatching and car burglary. Parking structures, whether they are surface lots, above or below ground, are perceived as dark, isolated and dangerous environments.
The primary goal of designing safe garages and parking facilities is to create an atmosphere that makes potential criminals feel that they will be observed, and improve the chances they will be challenged. The eventual goal is for the criminal to realize that the gain is not worth the effort.
In order to accomplish these goals, it is necessary to careful application of the principles and practices of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).
Standard of Care
Parking facilities have many factors that create opportunities for high-risk criminal behavior. The reasons for this high risk is because there is generally a low level of activity in parking facilities, with lots of hiding places and areas of shade and dark shadows. Parking facilities usually have multiple means of entry and thus provide many easy means of escape after a crime.
For some time, the national standard of care for safe parking facilities was based on the position that parking facilities should conduct a security assessment for considerations including: criminal history of the site; landscaping issues; lighting issues; attendant facilities for revenue collection and supervision; restroom access; stairwells and elevators for vertical access; signage and graphics; surveillance capabilities; access control equipment; and policies and procedures for the operation and staffing of the parking facility.
The first point to consider in planning of a safe and secure parking area is the layout. Good design will allow for smooth traffic ingress and egress. Location of entrances and exits is a design factor that can assist in blocking or creating opportunities for outsiders to gain access to the parking area.
Access control and territoriality principles translate into good perimeter control. Perimeter definition and access control deters unwanted pedestrian-level access to the lot or garage. Perimeter control can be fencing, level changes, ground floor protection and other architectural and environmental barriers that channel people to designated entry points onto the property and into the lot or garage, and discourage persons from hiding outside and inside the property or buildings. Fencing around the perimeter of the parking lot or garage will discourage trespassing and unauthorized access and deter a criminal looking for an opportunity. Fencing can be symbolic barriers and be 3-4 feet picket fencing, or in remote areas it could be as high as 7-8 feet (depending on what building and zoning codes will allow in your area).
Ground-level protection on a garage should be designed to resist unauthorized access on the ground floor, but also not be designed in a way that serves as a ladder to climb up to a second floor. Screening that reaches from floor to ceiling is preferred to solid walls, as the screening allows natural surveillance and the ability to call out for assistance and be heard. The screening provides visibility into the structure from the street and that can serve as a deterrent to criminal activity.
Landscaping and Access Points
Landscaping decisions can impact access to the site and building. Low shrubs using CPTED criteria are important to deflect persons from the edge of the building. Trees and bushes should be properly maintained so as to provide a proper field of vision. Open parking areas will often have landscaping that can provide hiding places and block visibility. Landscaping under CPTED criteria should be intermittent in size and texture.
If the parking lots or garages have persons collecting tickets or monies, there is a need for careful placement of the parking attendant. The goal is for a well-defined vehicular entrance as well as providing good lines of sight. Vehicular access points and toll takers can be a very effective security measure. They advertise to potential criminals or terrorists that they probably will be observed by some form of guardian or other patrons, and/or recorded.
One of the greatest security challenges with parking lots and garages is the number of entrances and exits. The traffic engineers will often encourage multiple access points to increase the circulation patterns and time of entry or leaving. However, from a security and control perspective, the more entrances there are, the less ability to enforce a level of security on the grounds. The CPTED perspective and recommended method is to have one means of entry and exit for vehicles. If the volume of traffic is so great as to demand or require more, then at each subsequent access point place an attendant booth, access gate arms, roll down shutters for after hours closure and ground floor protection, along with CCTV and good lighting.
CCTV and Surveillance
The cashier booths are a high-risk target for robbery, especially with the use of vehicles for an easy escape. If a parking attendant were going to be collecting cash, the built-in feature of a drop safe would reduce the availability to the cash. Signage must be clearly stated that cash is drop safe deposited and that the cashier does not have access to it. The cashier should also have duress or silent alarms to notify security or police of a robbery. If there is CCTV coverage of the garage, a camera should be focused on the attendant booth. The camera coverage should be recorded so that law enforcement can respond to accurate information. Cashier booths should be designed to allow 360 degree visibility. Drop-down gates and barrier arms can be designed to allow for the orderly entry and exit by the attendant booth and deter piggybacking behind another car.
Cash collection in parking structures is an important security design consideration. Cash can be handled manually at kiosks or automatic systems. The cashier, however, can provide an important link in providing surveillance during operation hours. Automatic systems should be located where they are visible to other employees in order to reduce the opportunity for vandalism or burglary.
Cameras should be strategically placed in areas that would be provided with constant light (by daylight or by luminaries) to provide proper illumination for the lens. Low-light cameras can be used, but they are more expensive and acknowledge that lighting conditions might be poor. Camera placement in garages should be chosen where there is the highest percentage of unhindered view. Most cameras allow pan/tilt/zoom for maximum flexibility.
Camera placement on surface parking lots should be prioritized with good lines of sight and cover as much ground as possible. The cameras should be protected within polycarbonate domes to resist vandalism, and usually dark domes to prevent people from seeing where the cameras are watching. Camera systems need to be monitored in real time and digitally recorded for playback and enhancement. Cameras should be color rather than black-and-white to make it easier to identify specific vehicles and persons.
Panic button call boxes should be integrated with the video surveillance system, allowing a camera to be activated when a call box is pushed so that security can receive a call for assistance instantly. CCTV systems can also be integrated into the access control system so that license plate numbers can be entered into a log when vehicles enter or exit the parking facility.
Stairwells and elevators should be located centrally, where they are visible from the attendant’s position. If stairwells are located in blind spots, have them monitored with cameras, panic alarms and door position switches to alert the attendant that someone is in the stairwell. Stairwells can be constructed of clear glazing materials to allow visibility from the street.
If public restrooms are in a parking garage they should be located near the attendant booth for casual supervision and located in open, well-traveled areas for maximum surveillance opportunities. The doors may be locked during operating hours and the attendant may be able to give a key or remotely lock and unlock a door.
Communications equipment in the form of radios is necessary for attendants, patrol rovers or security staff. Communications is also important for patrons. Panic or assistance alarms are desired in stairwells, mid-floor locations, by elevator lobbies, in elevators, and even walkway paths leading to the parking area. The alarm call systems must also be designed with American With Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility compliance in mind that would address persons with hearing and visibility disabilities. Vision impaired persons will not be driving, but it is possible that they will meet someone for a ride and can be vulnerable to attack.
If security guards are going to be used in the garage or open lots, it makes good sense and planning to design a guard tour system that accounts for the guard making patrol stops and punching in. The guard tour system creates a paper trail and accountability that the security guard is not sleeping or slacking on the job and documents the patrol patterns. Having a guard tour system requires electrical conduits and systems planning and should be considered in the initial design stages so that the asphalt or concrete does not have to be damaged to place conduit for the devices.
Lighting in parking garages and open surface lots is a critical design feature that can support all of the other security features. Without good lighting, CCTV systems become relatively useless, and natural surveillance is impaired. To accomplish the goal of uniform levels of lighting, illumination standards are written with average to minimum lighting levels.
Lighting in garages is addressed in detail in the IESNA G-1-03 Guidelines for Security Lighting publication. It recommends lighting levels of 5-6 footcandles in gathering areas such as stairs, elevators and ramps. Walkways around garages should have a 5 footcandle range. Open parking lots should have a minimum of 3 footcandles, as would open parking lots in retail shopping areas, and parking lots for hotels and motels and apartment buildings. Entrances should have 10 footcandles of lighting or twice the level of lighting in the surrounding area to make it stand out and increase visibility. Perimeter fencing should have at least a half footcandle of average horizontal illumination on both sides of the fencing to reduce hiding spots.
Ideally, an open parking lot should have a combination of high and low lighting to provide maximum coverage, and maximum visibility with minimum shadows and hiding opportunities.
The interior of parking garages should be painted in light colors to increase reflectiveness of the lighting luminaries. Luminaries should use polycarbonate lenses for vandal and break resistance. Maintenance protocol should be established that repairs and replaces damaged lights or burned out bulbs in a timely manor, and replaces existing bulbs based on their known life expectancy.
Guard houses and cashier stations must have adequate levels of security lighting, and considerations of lighting placement to support CCTV coverage and dimmable to allow a guard to see outside. The paths to garages must be illuminated to provide clear and unobstructed mobility paths.
Mixed and Multiple Use
New trends in parking include making parking part of a mixed-use development. By having legitimate users in and around the parking facility, it increases the number of users and casual walk-by “eyes on the street.” The increased pedestrian activity acts as a way of increasing the number of potential witnesses of criminal or inappropriate activity. Many garages are adding retail storefronts such as Kinko’s or Starbucks, pizza places or car washing to have complementary safe activities that draw people to their business.
Another trend is to have multiple uses for parking, as compared to mixed use. Multiple use might have the loading to a restaurant on the edge of a garage take place in the garage, or having car washing vendors, coffee or snack food vendors, or having reserved parking during the day for businesses, but at night a flat fee parking for the nightclub and restaurant district. Whether the uses are mixed, or multiple, the goal is to attract as much legitimate activity and increased natural surveillance.
These suggestions are aimed at the design of parking facilities. However, they should not be separate from sound security management practices. Security management principles can vary. For example, if you use security guards in the garage or open lots, it makes good sense to plan a guard tour system that accounts for the guard making patrol at regular and irregular intervals. By documenting the patrol patterns, the guard tour system creates a paper trail and accountability that the security guard is not negligent on the job.
Security management can also play an important role in the upkeep and maintenance of parking lots and garages is a because of their consideration for security and safety concerns. A building may be designed to operate very efficiently and look good; however, if the building is not given the necessary maintenance, it will deteriorate quickly.
Security management practices should be carefully considered in the initial design, or redesign, of parking facilities. For example, having a guard tour system requires electrical conduits and systems planning so that the asphalt or concrete does not have to be damaged to place the conduit.
Randall Atlas, CPP is an internationally recognized trainer and speaker in CPTED and infrastructure security; and Designing Safe Schools, the National Crime Prevention Institute and Florida Atlantic University, College of Architecture. He is vice-president of Atlas Safety & Security Design Inc. His recently published book, “21st Century Security and CPTED: Designing for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Crime Prevention,” is available through CRC Press (www.crcpress.com). For more information or to contact Mr. Atlas, visit www.cpted-security.com.