Parking Focus: Video Adds Value to Parking Security

Oct. 2, 2013
Surveillance and proper lighting can make a deserted parking area much less intimidating

Some everyday locations seem to generate a disproportionate number of premonitions that one is entering an area where safety may be in jeopardy. Parking garages often fit into this category. It may be Hollywood conditioning us by exploiting our fears, our “internal safety officer” alerting us to something based on actual statistics or even just common sense but, whatever the source, parking garages and lots seem like a necessary evil that we use and then exit as quickly as is practical.

But parking garages do not have to be an area where people feel uneasy or fearful. Following the basic steps outlined here when installing parking lot surveillance will help produce a safer environment, regardless of the type of parking facility.

The best practices for operating a safe parking garage include the design, use of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) guidelines, proper security lighting, layout of call boxes, guard patrols, physical access control and leveraging surveillance technology and other electronic security devices. Like any situation faced by the security integrator, a proper security survey should be conducted to determine the correct measures to mitigate risk.

Lighting and Surveillance

Security lighting and video surveillance are commonly deployed across most parking garages in North America. The most effective deterrent to criminal activity is a well-lit area, because not only does it increase the ability for natural surveillance, it also improves the quality of recorded images from security cameras. The cameras themselves act as a deterrent to crime, and also serve to mitigate liability risks of lawsuits.

A thorough security survey is needed to determine which tools and measures are needed in a specific situation, but video surveillance, lighting and even mobile technologies can all act as force multipliers for security professionals. Remember, many of these integrators and installers are working with garages built long before criminologist C. Ray Jeffery even coined the term CPTED.

It is also important to note that security lighting acts as a psychological deterrent to criminals, because it increases the chance a crime will be witnessed. And if a crime does occur, it can be assessed after the fact through recorded video. Ask any camera manufacturer and you will get the same answer: higher illumination at the scene produces better results.

However, as security integrators know, not all light is created equal when viewed through a camera or when calculating strike time — which is the time it takes for a light to properly illuminate a scene once it powers up. The Color Rendition Index (CRI) also has to be considered — a measure of the ability of a light source to accurately reproduce color. In this context, accuracy is considered in relation to natural light, and is measured in a range from zero to 100, the value for daylight.

For security, Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights are the best option for parking garages across a number of factors, including CRI ratings, long life and actual price. Another important consideration is the even distribution of illumination: ideally, the light across a scene should maintain light-to-dark ratios of 4:1 for security applications.

Innovative Video Technologies

Current video surveillance products provide integrators with a wider breadth of form factors and installation options, as well as a host of technological advances that enable new methods of mitigating risks in a parking garage/lot environment. For example, vandal-resistant cameras that have an Ingress Protection rating of IP66 are dust- and water-tight out of the box and have become the norm, as they significantly decrease installation complexity and time. They also increase the life of the product, keeping out both people and environmental impacts.

From an image usability perspective, cameras become more sensitive in low-light environments. Today, there are cameras that deliver color images with little to no noise down to 0.05 lux – which could be minimal streetlights illuminating the scene or even a full moon on a clear night.

They can also handle situations that require high wide dynamic range (WDR), such as scenes with both dark and intensely bright areas. Consider, for example, the entrance to a parking garage on a bright sunny day. Another aspect of WDR capabilities that is often overlooked is license plate capture during the evening, with headlights often washing out images on regular cameras.

A common but underutilized feature of network cameras is the ability to deliver bi-directional audio. Parking cameras could be outfitted with omni-directional microphones and speakers which, when appropriate, give guards the ability to have a two-way conversation with occupants of the garage. This approach should not be considered as a replacement for emergency call boxes and there are potential legal ramifications when audio is recorded without consent, but when handled correctly, this can be a valuable tool.

Analytics Add Value

The most interesting aspect of network cameras is the potential to turn video into a proactive tool to mitigate risks in real time, as opposed to reactive uses such as assessing a crime after it has occurred. Loitering is often considered a pre-cursor to crime, and this can be detected through video analytics and reported to security personnel. People loitering can be escorted off the premises before they find a suitable target.

Also, some analytics can be repurposed to cover operational aspects of managing a garage in conjunction with security functions. Detecting a car that is stopped in an area it should not be, such as in front of a service room, could trigger an alert. That same analytic process could be used to detect abnormal delays in cars being processed into the garage, pointing to an operational issue. Even basic analytics such as video motion detection (VMD) and Tamper Alarm — an alert when the camera is obstructed, moved or covered by some object — can improve overall safety of people and property.

James Marcella ([email protected]) has been a technologist in the security and IT industries for more than 18 years. He is currently the Director of Technical Services for Axis Communications. Request more information about axis by visiting