Ralph Witherspoon, CPP, CSC
Witherspoon Security Consulting
22021 Brookpark Road, Suite 100
Cleveland, Ohio 44126-3100

Security professionals have long known that locations where people and their valuables are together ó such as in parking lots and garages ó are favorite targets of criminals.

That fact has recently been confirmed by a study conducted by Liability Consultants, Inc. of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The study of more than 1,000 premises liability lawsuits between 1992 and 2001 revealed that in almost one-third of all the cases reviewed the basis of the suit was a murder, rape, robbery or assault that occurred in a parking lot or garage. Those lots and garages included those such as might be found at an office building, plant, retail establishment, and also pay-for-park lots and garages open to the public. The study also found that jury awards to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, or pre-trial settlements averaged between approximately $1 million for assaults and $2.75 million for homicides.

So, can owners provide reasonable parking lot and garage security for their customers and employees against these type crimes? In a word, Yes!

In many garages, access to the garage can be controlled or closely monitored. A parking attendant can view the occupants of cars entering and leaving, and a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera can record license numbers and drivers' faces Ö both major deterrents to criminals.

To limit access to garages, ground-level doors away from any parking attendant must not be accessible from the exterior of the building, nor should there be any openings in the building walls within 15 feet of the ground through which a person could enter. Where possible, vehicle entry and exit should be limited to a single entry, or adjacent entry points.

The threat to persons and property in covered/enclosed parking garages can be very high. Isolated floors and locations often make effective garage security, surveillance or monitoring difficult; however, live and recorded CCTV monitoring can reduce the risk (Note: If the CCTV cameras are not monitored live and instead only recorded for later review and prosecution, prominent signage should state this so that customers do not rely, to their detriment, on cameras which they think are being monitored and will produce immediate help). Adequate lighting not only helps people recognize and avoid dangers, but also in many cases it deters criminals by creating in them the fear of detection, identification and apprehension.

When CCTV is used, good-quality color cameras that can operate in low light, along with high-resolution color monitoring/recording systems, are essential. Black-and-white monitors offer poor detail definition, a critical issue when attempting to identify suspects or potential problems. A penny saved here may equal many dollars lost later!

Interior garage security lighting should be a minimum of six foot-candles (measured both vertically and horizontally) throughout the garage, 24 hours per day. Sunlight seldom enters garage interiors, and cannot be relied upon for lighting. However, as a garage security expert, I recommend a maintained level of at least 10 foot-candles in the parking areas (over cars), and 20 to 30 foot-candles at entry/exit points, over drive lanes, stairs and elevator lobbies. If the facility has a significant history of crime or a recent history of violent crime, a higher level of illumination may be needed. Energy-efficient metal-halide lighting provides reasonable color rendition for CCTV and direct viewing. Interior walls and ceilings should be painted with a glossy or semi-glossy white paint to increase light reflection. This also increases the ability of parkers to observe movement and potential threats. Pillars and ramp corners should be painted in contrasting colors for driving safety.

Interior and exterior stairwells should be visible, either through the use of no walls on the stairwells, or glass or "see-through" type walls. This "open" approach deprives criminals of a place to hide and assault their victims, while providing customers early warning of potential danger. In either case, the stairwells should also be well lit.

Emergency call boxes, "panic alarms" and intercom systems often have large, red mushroom-shaped buttons. When pushed, the buttons activate an intercom connected to a security office or the parking garage attendant, who can provide directions or summon aid. When a CCTV camera also monitors the alarm box or station, the parking attendant or security officer can view the scene to assess the situation and more accurately respond. Boxes should be mounted five feet above surface to ensure visibility. High visibility signage or lights at a six or seven foot level also increases their visibility.

Uniformed security officers on continuous patrol of all the levels of a garage, while costly, can also be a significant deterrent to criminals, and a reassurance to customers and employees. A patrol tour tracking system should be used to ensure that all patrolling officers are, in fact, patrolling as required.

Surface Lots 
Similar approaches can be used with surface lots. If the lot can be surrounded by a fence, that is ideal. If not, lesser demarcation of the lot boundaries with partial fencing, hedges, planters or shrubs, etc. can provide a psychological barrier to criminals, and a clear indication of where the "private" property begins.

Where appropriate, the use of a parking lot attendant can also serve as a deterrent if the attendant is able to view the lot. With no CCTV for remote viewing on large lots, and with the attendant's booth facing out toward the street and with his head stuck in a book or portable TV, some attendants canít see much of anything, and donít provide much, if any, security.

A key element of security in many surface parking lots is visibility, for employees, customers, and passers-by. Within the lot, trees and shrubs should not obstruct viewing. Tree branches and leaves should be not lower than 10 feet above the lot surface, and interior shrubs and bushes should not be higher than 18 inches above ground or curb so as not to obstruct vision, or provide concealment for a robber or rapist.

A significant part of visibility is lighting. Lighting should enable parkers and employees to note individuals at night at a distance of 75 feet or more, and to identify a human face at about 30 feet, a distance that will allow them, if necessary, to take defensive action or avoidance while still at a safe distance. I recommend a minimum maintained illumination throughout open parking lots of not less than three foot-candles (measured vertically and horizontally). This will also provide adequate illumination for driving purposes. Lighting at the entry/exit points should be at least 20 to 30 foot-candles for safety and security, and for adequate direct observation by employees or CCTV monitoring. Energy-efficient metal-halide lighting offers good color recognition.

Many of the other measures recommended here for garages might, depending on their specific configuration and needs, be used on surface parking lots. When making changes, especially in garages, owners and operators should ensure that they are in compliance with ADA requirements and any local fire and life-safety codes.

This brief article cannot hope to answer all questions on garages and parking lots with thousands of different configurations and operating requirements. It does, however, provide an introduction to those security measures and approaches that will help owners and operators provide a reasonable level of security at their property.

If in doubt about these issues, it is recommended that operators or owners consult with a professional independent parking lot and garage security expert, and/or their attorney.

This article is based on generally accepted security principles, and on data gathered from what are believed to be reliable sources. This article is written for general information purposes only and is not intended to be, and should not be used as. a primary source for making security decisions. Each situation is or can be unique. The author is not an attorney, is not engaged in the practice of law, and is not rendering legal advice. Readers requiring advice about specific security problems or concerns should consult directly with a security professional. The author of this article shall have no liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss, liability, or damage alleged to have been caused by the use or application of any information in this article, nor information contained on this or any linked or related web site.

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