A Parking Garage: The Scariest Place in the World


A Parking Garage: The Scariest Place in the World

The headline sums up the way many people feel about a parking garage. Our mission is to change or lessen the fear or anxiety of our customers. Safety and security in parking garages need to be a top-level priority for all parking administrators. The perception of a parking garage as an unsafe facility can destroy that facility and drive away customers. 

The question is, how does a leader attack this issue? Start with a walk through of the entire parking garage. Walk the entire facility and have a critical eye. Leaders should recognize that the parking facility can be a different place at night. How would you feel in that garage at night all alone? Examine these areas as a minimum:

Lighting: This is perhaps the most critical area. Lighting must be bright and eliminate shadows or dark spots. The areas around elevator doors and the elevator’s inside should be especially well lit. Do not forget the stairways. Check from top to bottom. Contract for a lighting expert to map and calculate the required levels needed in the facility. It is important to note that a new lighting system may result in lower operating costs and pay for itself. But the purpose of a lighting review, from a safety and security perspective, is that the lighting system must be bright and inviting to our customers.

Maintenance: Are there repairs to the facility that need to be completed? Think of the broken window theory used in law enforcement. That theory centers on how broken windows or obvious visible repairs that need to be made signal a soft target to a criminal. These repairs can be a red flag. Fresh, well-maintained facilities give a perception of safety. There must be a maintenance budget to correct deficiencies quickly. 

Cleanliness: Is the facility clean and free of graffiti? Look at stairways, elevators and the entrance for trash. Look inside the elevators. Are there outdated signs? Place trash cans at places where customers gather. Have a plan to empty trash several times a day. If there is graffiti, how do you quickly remove it? The person who does the graffiti wants his or her tag to stay as long as possible. The facility manager has to get it removed fast. Local law enforcement can often identify the “artist” who is doing the tagging. 

Outside landscaping: Landscape can add to the appearance of the garage, but it can also detract and adversely affect safety and security. Trees and bushes that are overgrown can provide a hiding place for a criminal. If there is a fence around the garage, keep it clear of trash and weeds. Like the garage itself, ensure any fencing is in good repair.

Signage: What is being communicated with the signage system used in the facility? Signs must be clean, clear and informative. The system should quickly provide helpful information to the customer. The system should quickly direct customers to their vehicles, elevators, and exits. The primary consideration should focus on designated pathways for the parker to move customers to and from their vehicles. 

Communication System: All parking garages should have a loud speaker system to enable the parking garage management to broadcast information throughout the facility in emergencies. Many newer garages have a loud speaker system within the fire alarm system that can be accessed. There should be “3X5 cards” created with prepared messages to broadcast to the facility. The attendant or manager can alert the facility of any problems with clear guidance and instructions. Many facilities have emergency call boxes to notify emergency personnel of a problem. These call boxes must be well lit, and in an observable location.

Staff Training: All agree that the parking staff must have training on the technical equipment in the facility. Facility staff are responsible for solving equipment problems. All agree that the facility staff must have customer service training. Often overlooked is a need for emergency situation training. The leadership and management of the parking garage must train the staff on what to do in an emergency situation. What needs to be communicated in an emergency weather situation? Prepared instruction should be developed and instructions provided to the staff to provide information to the customers in the facility. 

Perhaps the most needed training and preparation is what to do in an active shooter situation. Many use the “Five Outs”:
Get Out: If possible, evacuate the facility and seek cover in another facility.

Call Out: As soon as possible notify 911 of the situation and your location.

Hide Out: If you cannot evacuate the facility, find a place to hide and avoid the shooter.

Keep Out: Barricade yourself in the best position you can.

Take Out: Help is usually on the way very soon. You have to survive the first 5 to 7 minutes. As a last resort, be prepared to assault the shooter. Use anything to distract the shooter.

Invite police presence in the garage if possible. Police patrol offers an impression of a safe and secure facility. 

Suicide Prevention: Unfortunately, parking garages can become an attractive facility to the person contemplating suicide. Post signs with a telephone number of a crisis line for individuals who need help. When an individual wants to commit suicide, they want to kill themselves. They do not want a soft landing that will break their mission. Look at areas that are possible jump sites and plant plants and trees to cushion the fall. Place awnings over entrances and other concrete areas to break a fall.

Be a Leader: Facility managers and all leaders must take the lead in the drive for excellent safety and security in parking garages. They should be the ones to take the initiative to ensure garage safety and security. All leaders must listen to customer comments and employees’ suggestions or concerns. Our goal must be to make parking garages safe and secure.

Bob Harkins retired U.S. Army Colonel with 27 years of service. Established the Depart of Parking and Transportation at the University of Pittsburgh. Awarded his Doctorate Degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Retired as the Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security at the University of Texas in Austin, TX. bharkins6@utexas.edu

Article contributed by:
Bob Harkins
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