Halifax parking structure security equals customer service

Aug. 3, 2016
Emergency call stations provide 24-hour security and customer peace of mind

Security is all about customer service, according to the operators of Scotia Square Parkade.

That may seem to fly in the face of the parking industry’s current money-saving trend toward automated, unmanned facilities. At the same time, many parking garages and lots already have a reputation as being targets for crime.

While the operators of Scotia Square in Halifax, Nova Scotia have followed the trend by removing their manned entry and exit stations – they haven’t forgotten the need for security.

The six-story, 1,700-space facility – open 24/7 – has a host of security features. But due to the low violent crime rate in Halifax, the equipment is far more likely to help customers safely reunite with their misplaced vehicles.

The parking structure is located in the heart of downtown Halifax. Its five covered and one uncovered levels are part of a high-rise office, hotel and retail complex owned by Crombie REIT, which operates more than two million square feet of office space — about one-quarter of the city’s entire inventory.

If something is happening in downtown Halifax, there’s a good chance it begins in the Scotia Square Parkade. The structure is linked, via elevator and/or covered pedestrian walkways, to six office buildings, two hotels, a casino, a convention center and the Scotia Bank Centre, host to professional hockey and basketball teams, concerts, and other events.

“This is like a small town with 5,000 people working here Monday through Friday,” said Paul Graham, manager, client security for Crombie’s Scotia Square. “The parkade often operates at or very near capacity with office workers, hotel guests and many evening events nearby.”

Graham, a former career police officer from South Africa, said Halifax residents are very protective of their city.

“It’s hard to be anonymous here,” he said. “People who are where they’re not supposed to be stand out. That helps keep crime in check.”

The parkade’s latest security tools – six emergency call stations – have made the parkade more secure while helping the security department increase its customer service prowess.  The units are located mostly near vehicle entries and feature bright blue lights, making them easy for patrons to spot. Each station has a built-in video intercom with both “emergency” and “information” buttons to directly contact security in the ground-level office – referred to as the Client Services Centre on the company website.

According to Graham, it’s several years after the stations were installed and his department still has not had an “emergency”. Most calls are from customers needing help locating their vehicles. But others need directions to one of the adjacent hotels or assistance in finding a tenant in one of the office buildings.

“Using the emergency station, we’re able to directly see and talk with people,” he said. “That allows us to help them remotely and not have to send an officer to their location. We save time and it’s a real value-add for both the monthly parkers and occasional visitors.”

This customer service aspect also helps patrons move more quickly through the parkade, further reducing their already low chance of becoming crime victims, said Graham.

The emergency stations were the idea of Graham’s predecessor, who frequently attended parking industry trade shows with a special eye on security technology, said Roger Miller, president of Northeastern Protection Services, Scotia Square’s long-time security integrator.

Miller said the management team was aware of U.S. statistics showing seven percent of the nation’s violent victimizations and more than 11 percent of property crimes occur in parking facilities.

“They were determined that wouldn’t happen in their parkade,” Miller said. “If they learned of an issue that hadn’t been addressed, they would take immediate, proactive steps to add equipment – just in case it was ever required.”

Crombie already had “dozens” of surveillance cameras installed to monitor the parking structure’s three main vehicle entries/exits and two pay-on-foot stations. Built-in intercoms in the ticket dispensing machines and exit payment stations allow drivers to directly communicate with the security department in case of problems. Monthly parkers use standard HID access cards to enter and exit the parkade. The structure is kept well-lit with eco-friendly LED lighting to eliminate dark spots where criminals can hide.

Miller said the security director saw emergency stations at a trade show and saw an unmet need in his facility. He asked Miller while attending the ISC West show in Las Vegas to recommend the best option. But he first provided several caveats on the search:

  • He wanted a system capable of handling simultaneous calls from different stations. He didn’t want anyone to be put on hold to answer another call.
  •  The 40-year-old parking structure lacked wired phone lines. The director didn’t want a system requiring POTS service along with its monthly bills.
  •  Operating the system had to be simple to encourage customers to use the stations. And they couldn’t have complicated software requiring extensive or repeated training sessions for his staff.
  •  The technology had to be proven, ideally from a well-known manufacturer.

Miller found that the IS Series and emergency towers from Aiphone met his criteria. As it turned out that was the easy part of his job.

Back in Halifax, each of the six stations had to be wired – using Cat 6 cable – to the security office’s central control unit. The concrete parkade had no existing conduits, presenting a challenge. Miller’s Northeastern crew worked closely with Crombie staff to determine the best places to drill.

“The job required drilling through concrete floors and ceilings to be able to install rigid conduits,” Miller said. “The potential for falling concrete required us to take extra safety precautions. Also, since we couldn’t interrupt parkade operations, we often worked during non-peak hours. But we got it done and done right.”

He said the emergency stations have experienced no downtime since installation. Yet his officers still test the stations on a regular basis.

“When customers call for assistance, they know they will get immediate help,” Miller said. “It’s a great way to reassure them the parkade has the leading-edge technology to keep them safe.”

With their built-in video cameras, the emergency stations also provide six additional sources of live video, further enhancing security. The Scotia Square security team can access individual stations using a security office master station. Miller said the stations are always there and always on. And without the need of a network connection, the stations are unaffected by Internet outages.

The Northeastern team customized station names so the location of calls could be immediately pinpointed.

The Scotia Square security office is located in the parking structure’s lower level. Security director Graham oversees a department of 30 officers protecting not only the parking facility but also the adjacent office buildings. Typically, two officers are assigned to the parkade at any one time. They patrol the facility in an electric golf cart helping customers as needed.

Another example of Scotia Square’s customer service is digital signs – one at each Parkade entry – providing customers with the current count of available spaces in the structure and on what level.

One other challenge Graham and his team face is the growth of vans and pickup trucks since the parkade was designed and built. Low-hanging beams are a concern on some levels. His department has hung signage warning of height limitations. Motion sensors and strobe lights also warn drivers of impending impacts.

“But a few drivers still don’t pay attention and damage their vehicles,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest problem we face on a regular basis.”

However, should there be a security concern, Graham and his team are well prepared.

About the Author: Bruce Czerwinski serves as U.S. general sales manager for Aiphone Corp. He is a 12-year veteran of the company, a leading manufacturer of security video intercoms. For more information about Aiphone, please visit the website at www.Aiphone.com/home.