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Parking Lot Safety Can Be Increased with Proper Security Measures

Whether deserved or not, parking lots have a reputation for being unsafe places.  Besides traffic control issues, other problems frequently arise, including the presence of criminal activity.  This can include the sale of illicit drugs, prostitution, and direct assaults on pedestrians going to or from their vehicles.  Due to these risks, parking lot safety is a primary concern for traffic and infrastructure professionals.

A study conducted by Liability Consultants, Inc. of Sudbury, MA revealed that garage and parking lot owners are frequently the targets of liability lawsuits after a crime has taken place on their property.  Usually the offense was violent in nature, such as a robbery, rape, or even murder.

The types of locations where these incidents occurred vary widely.  Parking areas of office buildings, manufacturing facilities, shopping centers, public garages, and even apartment complexes have been targeted by lawbreakers.  Where the owner or management is found liable, judgments or pre-trial settlements average in excess of $1 million, with some juries awarding multiple millions of dollars to families of homicide victims.

Security and law enforcement specialists have conducted numerous studies of this issue, and have issued general guidelines for making parking lot safety a priority for all who use them.  Some of their recommendations include:

• Use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras throughout the area.  The fact that these are present should be prominently displayed on conspicuous signage at multiple locations.  Digital color cameras are far preferable to black and white and/or analog displays.  They provide far greater detail and image resolution.

• Lighting – the brighter the better.  For interior garages, a minimum of six foot-candles (60 lux) at pavement level should be employed.  The average uniformity ratio should be no higher than 4.1.  To ensure this is the case, luminosity tests should be conducted several times during a 24-hour period.  Natural light usually does little to make the interior of garages brighter, as their construction blocks most of the sun’s rays.  The light levels should be higher where entry/exits doors are located, as well as at elevator lobbies, driving lanes, and stairwells; experts recommend a minimum of 10 foot-candles (100 lux) at these points.  To aid visibility, walls should be painted white, in glossy or semi-glossy shades.  Measures like these will not only deter crime, but they will help to prevent vehicle/vehicle or vehicle/pedestrian accidents, since both drivers and those on foot will be able to see well.

• Walls on stairwells should be either avoided or constructed of plexi-glass or other transparent materials.  This will give customers a heads-up if there is trouble in the area, as well as discourage predatory criminals from lurking about.

• Cameras can be paired with emergency call boxes or panic alarms, colored bright red to make them highly visible.  When someone uses one of these devices, a recording will be made of everything that occurs around them.  This will both discourage assaults and provide evidence later for law enforcement to use in its investigation of the incident.

• For open lots, access control is paramount.  A high chain link fence is ideal but not always achievable.  In those cases, lower fences, a row or dense shrubbery, or simply the presence of NO TRESPASSING signs helps to mark the property as private and provide a psychological deterrent effect. 

• The lot’s interior should be free of high shrubs or trees that can limit a person’s ability to see what is around them.  Lighting should be sufficient as to allow parkers to see nighttime movement at a minimum distance of 75 feet and to recognize facial features at 30 feet away or further.  Overall lumination should be at a minimum of three foot-candles (30 lux) at all times.

• Lot attendants should be expected to patrol the area at regular intervals, rather than simply stay in their booths.  This is especially important after dark.  If armed security officers can be employed for this task, so much the better.

By adopting the measures discussed in this article for parking lot safety, traffic and public safety professionals can help to make the areas they are responsible for safer and more secure for all who use them.