I’m responsible for telling people where they should go to park when they come to Western Kentucky University. Many times, they don’t like what they hear and so, in return, they tell me where they think I should go… This is beside the point, but I thought I’d throw it out there.
Another responsibility I have on my campus is to provide safe and secure parking options. It’s one piece in the much larger function of keeping a vibrant college community safe. We work with our campus police department, housing & residence life, emergency management services, facilities management to review and discuss security issues that could potentially affect our students, faculty, staff, and guests.
The issues are vastly broad, ranging from basic safety measures to emergency management responses. Effectively implementing, communicating, and training these strategies on a college campus requires unwavering vigilance. Security doesn’t just happen. You must be intentional in your goals and create a mindset that includes paying attention to safety.
Maintain Parking Assets
So, how does the parking operation contribute to this goal? It begins with properly maintaining parking assets. Garage or surface lot, if it’s run down and dirty it doesn’t feel safe and probably isn’t. It doesn’t have to be shiny and new, but it does have to be clean and bright. When I see graffiti, I don’t immediately think of a funky, hip urban artist expressing him or herself. I think of a delinquent vandalizing someone else’s property, and that’s not where I want to park. (It’s not where I want to send my kids to college either, so keep that in mind.) Keep the graffiti cleaned up. Keep the ramps, elevators, and stairwells swept, the lights working, etc. Have a plan in place for the garage to be inspected daily and a maintenance log with a list that can be checked off.
The same goes for your surface lots. Look for trip hazards. Are the wheel-stops properly bolted down? Is the asphalt in good shape? Can you see the stripes clearly? Is there grass growing where it shouldn’t be? Clean, well-maintained parking facilities promote security and safety. Generally speaking, criminals don’t like to hang out in places that obviously get a lot of attention.
Give the landscaping a second thought, too. At WKU we have an awesome team maintaining our beautiful grounds. That doesn’t mean they look at the landscaping through the same lens we do as parking professionals. Night or day, it has the potential to provide a hiding place for a would-be predator. Make sure that sightlines in driving lanes and intersections are clear. Can a bush or tree be trimmed, or does it need to be removed? Nobody likes to see trees removed, but having a pedestrian pop out and step in front of your car from seemingly nowhere is far worse; especially if you’re the pedestrian.
Do not overlook the importance of knowing what your campus looks and feels like at night. Inspecting the lights is part of on-going maintenance, but there’s more to it than that. Walking from the back side of a huge surface lot late at night, especially if you’re alone, can be terrifying. Strategically placed emergency call boxes are reassuring all the time, but especially in this circumstance.
I understand students have phones and those phones are usually in hand, but I also know that if I were to get spooked, I may unintentionally launch that phone across the parking lot. At that point, if I am genuinely afraid, knowing that I can quickly reach a call box for help eases my mind. This improves security, but it also contributes to the culture of safety you want to build in your campus community.
Speaking of walking alone, does your campus have services in place so that late night walkers can call for a walking escort or a ride? At WKU, the police department offers an escort service provided by their cadets. It may be to or from a parking lot, or it may be from building to building. The Escort Service (for lack of a better name) is available from dusk to dawn.
In addition to the Escort Service provided by the police department, parking and transportation provides an on-demand ride service. Designed to fill gaps left when the full transit service has stopped for the day, a ride is requested through an app for curb-to-curb service on campus. Students are always encouraged to travel in groups, but that can’t always happen. For those instances, alternatives are available that significantly enhance the culture of safety.
This topic, Safety and Security Issues in Higher Ed Parking, is huge, and I understand that what I’ve discussed so far is a small part of a giant conversation. I haven’t even mentioned security surveillance, motorist assist programs for battery jumps, lockouts, etc. All these things enhance security and safety on their own, but also serve the goal of creating a culture of safety.
I am going to wrap up with a word about our toughest obstacle, COMMUNICATION. If we want to build a culture of safety and effectively implement safety strategies, we must effectively communicate with our campus community.
Again, focusing on parking, how do we communicate with our various classifications of permit holders? The most basic form is signage. Every detail from language to placement should be taken into consideration. I recently realized that several parking zone signs positioned down a one-way stretch of campus were parallel to the roadway. I was having customers complain that the spaces weren’t properly marked while I knew perfectly well that they were.
Finally, questioning what I thought I knew, I drove this section, as I have many times, but with an eye for the signs. Sure enough, they were there, but a driver would never notice them without intentionally looking for them, as I was doing. And really, when you think about it, it’s much safer for the driver to be concentrating on the road and have a sign positioned in such a way that you can’t help but see it.
You also need to keep watch for removed signs. I always want to blame students, which may or may not be fair, but signs do occasionally disappear if they send an unpopular message. We also utilize email to blanket campus or send targeted messages to specific groups. This can be an effective tool, but you should be concise. The last thing you need is your notices being intentionally directed to a junk folder because it’s “just another message from PTS.”
Lastly, keep your staff informed and well trained regarding the broader scope of university emergency management strategies. You want them to know what to do to help themselves, but your employees in the field especially may be put in a position to assist people around them, and their quick and efficient reactions could save lives. From a severe weather warning to an active shooter, have them prepared to immediately shift into the specific emergency plan. It takes practice, dedication, and commitment to create a culture of safety.
Ginny Griffin is Director of Parking & Transportation Services at Western Kentucky University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.