Securing your parking lot: Tips and tricks you should know

Feb. 27, 2014
Parking facilities are more likely to be a setting for crime than most other types of location

When companies look to ensure the security and safety of their employees, often their first thoughts are about the place where employees spend the most time – their offices or main building. Crucial to any comprehensive security plan, however, is making sure that the area where employees are perhaps most vulnerable is also properly protected – the parking lot or parking garage.

Whether an expansive surface lot or multi-story garage, parking facilities are more likely to be the setting of a crime than any other type of location, outside of a residence. These facilities are open, accessible areas where controlling access is nearly impossible - and most certainly not economically feasible. So how can you make sure that security and safety measures are up to date in your parking facility? Here are some key points to consider.

Landscaping: In a surface lot, shrubbery and trees might be attractive additions to your facility, but all landscaping elements should remain low to the ground, minimizing the ability for someone to use them as a hiding place after dark. Keep in mind that all landscaping must be continually maintained and pruned – even a small bush can become a large one given enough time.

Lighting: This is perhaps the most important deterrent to crime in a parking facility.  Because improperly placed lighting can affect a driver’s ability to see properly at night, lighting should be placed at uniform distances and where possible over rows of parked cars, instead of directly over drive paths. Ideally, lighting fixtures should be vandal proof, reliable and easy to maintain.

In some cases the walls or other areas of a concrete parking garage can be whitewashed or painted a light color to reflect natural light and increase overall illumination within the facility.

Video surveillance: Installing cameras can be both a highly effective visible deterrent as well as an important tool in identifying, apprehending and prosecuting a perpetrator. Cameras should also be mounted as high as possible to be out of reach from vandals and to be able to see over sport utility vehicles and other obstacles. Consider a mix of pan, tilt, zoom cameras that can be used to see many different areas of your facility as well as a fixed or IP megapixel camera that continually monitors entrances and exits to identify vehicles as well as specific license plates for identification purposes.

Emergency mass notification: These systems are particularly useful in areas where severe weather events, such as tornados, are common. If an employee or patron is entering a parking lot during such an event, the emergency notification device can direct them to a specific area of the parking area for shelter. These systems also can broadcast pre-recorded or live messages in the event of an emergency situation inside the adjoining building, alerting the individual that it is not safe to enter.

Emergency call boxes: These devices should be placed in well-lit areas such as near an exit stairwell in a parking structure or centrally located in a surface lot. Typically, the call boxes will be recognizable to employees and visitors because of the blue light, signifying help in an emergency. Cameras in your facility should be set to automatically view and record the blue light box any time it is activated.

Even small steps can enhance the security of your facility. Well-placed signage can help direct employees and visitors in and out of the facility more quickly, making them less vulnerable targets. If applicable, consider adding signage that indicates the area is under video surveillance as an added deterrent. Also, ensuring that the surroundings are free of litter and graffiti can elevate the perception that your facility is well maintained and secure.

Your security consultant can advise you on any applicable local building codes that might restrict certain elements of parking lot design, such as light pole heights or landscaping requirements.

About the Author:

Tom Asp is the President and CEO of VTI Security. He joined the company in 1986 and works in its corporate office located in Burnsville, Minn. He is also a member of Security-Net, Inc., a global network of independent systems integrators. He can be reached by email at [email protected].