Creating an Emergency Plan for Your Parking Facility
The safety of people is No. 1.
Every parking facility is unique, and every emergency is different. Fortunately, being prepared is a standard procedure.
After the Oct. 1 shootings at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, parking providers faced a daunting scenario: abandoned cars, parking structures locked down by police, and hundreds of people in need of transportation. Also, recent hurricanes in the South created other serious challenges for parking operators.
Because the industry has such a broad reach and wide spectrum of services, fine-tuning emergency procedures falls to owners and managers at each location. When emergencies occur, parking providers are responsible for more than just the vehicles – they have to look out for people, too.
Plan for disaster, plan for recovery.
Ron Anderson owns Florida Disaster Consulting, a company he started in 2008 after 28 years with the State of Florida in the Departments of Transportation and Emergency Management. He was involved in the administration of the FEMA and FHWA disaster programs for more than 25 federally declared events, per his website.
Anderson said he has experienced most every type of natural disaster in person, except a volcanic eruption. Every parking facility needs a disaster preparedness plan and a continuity of operations plan, he said.
An emergency and its aftermath are two separate events. A disaster preparedness plan covers how to respond to the immediate emergency, whether that requires customers and staff to evacuate or shelter in place.
“If there’s a hurricane coming, there’s time to prepare and issue orders; whereas, in an earthquake situation or a shooting, that’s an immediate thing,” Anderson said. “The safety of people is No. 1.”
For disasters that arrive after prolonged warning or strike without notice, staff at every level should know in advance what will be expected of them. Anderson suggested that parking operators simulate disaster situations. The staff needs to know what to do in the event of an evacuation, whether they are evacuating just people or people and vehicles. They also need to know what to do if preventing access to the facility is necessary.
“Some thought has to go into it. You don’t want your lowest-level worker trying to collect parking fees during an evacuation.”
When the danger has passed is when it’s time to apply a continuity of operations plan. Part of such a plan is a designated spokesperson for media requests and an information chain that relays details and decisions from management to staff and customers, he said.
Parking facilities can consider any event that interrupts their service a “disaster.”
“A disaster for a business could be that the owner has a heart attack and dies. Who takes on his responsibilities? What about everyone below that person? Otherwise, operations are affected, revenue is lost and people could be injured,” Anderson said. “There needs to be a plan for how to continue operations during recovery from the disaster — whatever the disaster may be. How do you continue doing business?”
Though preparation will help staff stay calm and keep focused, a good response requires flexibility, said Las Vegas Parking Services Manager Brandy Stanley.
‘The more often people practice their drills, the more likely they are to survive a disaster.’
Stanley said the shootings on the Las Vegas Strip were too close to home, but did not affect her directly. She said that handling parking in emergency situations requires responsiveness. When a disaster occurs, whether natural or manmade, the preparation must be adjusted to fit the situation.
“When we’re doing emergency planning, we think about — regardless of the cause — what are possible disruptions to your business? It could be a gas leak; it could be like something that happened on Oct. 1. Is the disruption going to be a few hours, a few days, weeks, months?”
Keeping people safe is paramount. Saving cars and structures are lesser responsibilities in catastrophic situations. Stanley also said that worrying about costs during emergencies will compromise the response.
“You have to react to the situation. You have to identify what the need is. Figure out what is the right thing to do and do it.”
Emergency response is
Rafael Lemaitre, Chief Communications Officer for the global security consulting firm IEM, said emergency management is crucial for any government entity, business, school and family.
IEM works with government agencies and private organizations to protect lives and infrastructure and to help states, regions and communities recover from disasters. (Lemaitre was a public affairs officer for FEMA during the Obama administration.)
“There is a growing understanding that the responsibility for preparedness falls on all of us, and not just on state and local governments,” he said. “Emergency managers now ask folks to be ready to survive for days on their own.”
Lemaitre said that first responders are more likely to be the people on-site when the disaster or emergency occurs. In any school, hotel, private corporation or home, people need to be part of a culture that promotes preparation for any type of emergency.
In a parking setting, all employees from minimum wage to higher management should train and rehearse emergency procedures, he said. Staff members need to know CPR and how to apply pressure to stop blood loss.
“The most important thing to do is to recognize that you don’t have to think about every single scenario. Preparedness is designed to help you respond and recover from all
hazards — from a prolonged power outage or a storm to an active shooter situation,” Lemaitre said. “And the more often people practice their drills, the more likely they are to survive
Emergency management experts recommend running preparedness drills. They should cover a variety of scenarios, including peak traffic hours and interruptions in communication.
The timing and severity of a disaster can’t be predicted, but no parking operator wants to realize that an emergency preparedness plan is necessary after a disaster occurs.
“This is an area where, unfortunately, too many people wait until it’s too late,” Lemaitre said. “What we’ve learned in the field of emergency management is that one of the most important things you can do is to survive any type of emergency is to prepare.”
For more information, FEMA offers disaster preparedness tips on its website (www.fema.gov), and many consulting firms specialize in emergency management.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is a columnist, staff writer and proofreader at Parking Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.