Upgrading Garages to be Resistant to Viruses
The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light how our everyday interactions contribute to the spread of viruses. Many experts say this may not be a “hundred-year storm”, but rather that there is a possibility that this is one of many novel viruses that could jump from animals to humans and then spread uncontrollably due to our interconnected “global economy.” But rather than focus on the negative things that this pandemic has caused, it is better to focus on the opportunities that we have to fundamentally change the way we interact with our environment to mitigate current and future spread of viruses. Parking garages represent a prime example of a building type that can be readily retrofitted to minimize the spreads of viruses.
The entrances to the garage should be crafted to demonstrate the viral resistant features to bring awareness to potential patrons.
The implementation of touchless technology to minimize high contact areas would be an effective way to minimize the spread of viruses. For example, touchless or contactless elevator control panels/buttons could be developed and installed to minimize cross-infection of patrons. This technology is already prevalent in areas such as hand sanitizing stations. Alternatively, voice-activated controls could minimize the number of people who touch controls. Similarly, touchless technology could be adapted to Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems (PARCS) systems to minimize the spread of viruses by contact with contaminated surfaces as discussed later in this document.
Automated Parking Guidance Systems
The implementation of social distancing using Automated Parking Guidance Systems (APGS) represents an excellent opportunity to minimize interactions between garage patrons and to maximize the distance between them. For example, the system software could be developed to direct consecutive cars to different floors or to parking spaces that are serviced by different exits/entrances to the garage.
Elevator software could be reconfigured to minimize the number of people getting on the elevator at any one point in time. For example, elevators could be configured to first stop on the floors where buttons are pressed from the inside of the elevator. This would prevent additional patrons from getting on an occupied elevator which would minimize the number of patrons in an elevator at any given time.
The use of certain spectrums of ultraviolet (UV) light to kill viruses is another way that elevators, elevator lobbies, and stairs could be made more resistant to viral spread. Bulbs that produce germicidal UV light, also known as Ultraviolet C (UVC) is an established technology for killing germs and bacteria that can be used in common fixtures, both new and existing. For example, ultraviolet lamps could be installed in elevators which use motion detection to turn on when no-one is present to disinfect the space. Recent advances in the use of ‘far-UVC’ could have additional applications throughout a garage as preliminary studies show that these are not harmful to human tissues. The New York transit agency recently launched a UV light program for disinfecting their public transit systems.
Providing social distance markings on the floor in front of elevators and in the elevators themselves could also help people social distance more effectively. A queuing plan could be developed to lay out how patrons will be separated from one another. The first step would be to install signs and floor markings asking persons waiting in the lobby to stay behind a line while allowing passengers to get off the elevator and clear the area around the elevator. For higher volumes, placing markings at 6 feet intervals for a queue would comply with the current social distance requirements recommended by the CDC.
Installing touchless hand sanitizing dispenser stations in common areas such as at elevators and entrances/exits could also provide an opportunity to mitigate cross-infection of patrons.
Material and Coating Selection
Recent studies have found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, survives on certain surfaces longer than others. The study found that no viable virus was measured after 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper. Unfortunately, stainless steel is a common material for handrails in facilities which could easily lead to cross-infection. Changing the material used for these handrails could significantly reduce the ability of viruses to survive on commonly touched surfaces. Additionally, anti-viral coatings are being researched and some have already been developed to mitigate the spread of viruses.
Disinfecting High-Risk Portions of the Garage Regularly
Cleaning procedures can be updated to more frequently disinfect areas of common use. Disinfecting procedures and disinfectant guidance has been published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regular disinfecting, especially during times of high use, can help to mitigate the spread of viruses.
Dedicated Entrances/Exits and Floors at Hospitals
At hospitals and other medical offices, where contagious people could be coming in for treatment, certain entrances/exits and even floors could be dedicated to those types of patrons to minimize cross-infection with visitors, employees, and other non-contagious people. Consideration of egress code requirements would need to be given if this system were implemented.
Where HVAC systems are used in elevator lobbies or other places in garages, High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) filters could be installed and regularly changed to mitigate airborne viral transmission. Additionally, systems could be installed on elevators to quickly filter and exchange the air to minimize airborne spread of a virus.
Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems (PARCS)
PARCS systems represent a high risk for the spread of viruses as it is considered a high-contact area. Where attendants are utilized to collect payments, proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) could be utilized such as face shields, masks, gloves, etcetera. An immediate step that could be taken is prohibiting cash payments and relying on credit card payments, with a credit card device extended on a shelf to the payer. Pay by phone options can also be added to many existing systems.
Proximity Cards or Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) Tags are already regularly used for contract customers, and some PARCS manufacturers have recently released touchless ticket issuance devices. With the wave of your hand in front of the reader, the ticket will be dispensed. Pay stations within parking structures could also be reconfigured to minimize shared contact of surfaces. Payment stations could be reconfigured to use touchless keypads and contactless credit card readers to further minimize exposure.
An immediate step would be to eliminate cash payment of parking fees to a cashier, which involve passing and counting coins and bills.
Ticketless parking using License Plate Recognition (LPR) is being adopted in some facilities, however, this requires patrons to enter their plate number in a system which may not be any safer than inserting a ticket in a slot on a machine. Encouraging pre-paid parking reservations is also a viable means of reducing contact points for parkers. The use of LPR and/or Quick Response (QR)/barcode technology combined with advance-reservations at a garage could provide contactless parking to non-contract parking customers.
And, again, perhaps the easiest immediate step is to install touchless hand sanitizing dispenser stations near payment stations.
Having signage to educate and remind people to practice social distancing and to wear proper PPE could be a cost-effective way to mitigate the spread of viruses. We are all used to seeing the “employees must wash hands before returning to work” signs in the restrooms of restaurants. Signage could be installed in areas where people are likely to congregate such as at pay stations, elevators, and stairs.
The continued profitability of a pay garage may depend on implementing these or similar features. If a patron has a choice between a garage that has been designed or retrofitted to minimize the spread of viruses and a traditional garage, it is likely that they will choose the one they perceive to be, and may actually be, safer. A premium could even be charged for parking in such garages to help offset the additional costs of reconfiguration. The entrances to the garage should be crafted to demonstrate the viral resistant features to bring awareness to potential patrons.
Many strategies have been discussed herein which could help with retrofitting existing garages and designing new garages to mitigate viral transmission. Mitigating viral transmission can save lives and money. Further, the implementation of these ideas could be a differentiator for garages in crowded markets. Lastly, this current slowdown in usage of parking structures due to the pandemic represents an excellent opportunity to implement these types of solutions while minimizing impact to the operations of the garage.
Charles Hammond PE, SE, is Senior Consultant - Building Envelope, Forensics & Restoration Walker Consultants. He can be reached at CHammond@walkerconsultants.com