For security and visitor assistance, Robert Leahy installed emergency phone systems in parking facilities at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. The system integrates with security video, too.

We all know business people with a dominant characteristic that defines them. Say hello to Practical Pauline, Risky Ryan, Budget Bob, Quality Quentin, Spend It Suzy and Do It Right Don. All have different business strategies to protect parking lots and garages.

The vast majority of enterprises have some form of parking.

Risky Ryan has a lot in common with some of his customers. You see them perpetually wandering around parking lots. They are not lost; they simply do not remember where they parked. They also often leave their valuables in plain sight in their cars. Budget Bob never thought about the ultimate outcome when he saved his company money by reducing the number of signs and lights in the parking area. Their actions increase vulnerability and liability risks.

Practical Pauline and Do It Right Don both work for a national parking company. They have managed all kinds of parking facilities for retail, hotels, hospitals, museums, restaurants, banks, entertainment venues and office buildings. After handling many parking complaints, Pauline approached Don with a new concept: an awareness plan. She wanted to reduce the number of vehicles stolen; windows smashed; wheel covers removed; cars keyed; and, a little too often, theft of contents. Don was delighted to hear about a fresh approach.


Vehicle blockers can stop unauthorized access. Pictured is New York-based Automatic Control Systems’ blocker that’s at the Palm Springs, Calif., airport.

Liability issues

He was involved in personal injury and negligent security lawsuits.

Pauline sought to concentrate on service improvements with Quality Quentin. She designed the plan to benchmark security/safety of a facility. A plan always starts with a facility inspection. After the audit, make a list of things to do, prioritize each and estimate costs for budgeting purposes.

The awareness plan was then prepared in greater detail to highlight consideration for all potential safety and security concerns.


Slip, trips and falls

Many accidents are avoidable. Simple, less expensive preventions are often overlooked or executed incorrectly.

Pauline remembered the time it was decided to paint all curbing yellow to highlight changing grade levels. This was a great idea, but someone in the maintenance crew used high gloss enamel instead of rubber-based paint that met highway specifications. The highlighted yellow curbing that usually reduces liability, in this case, helped a plaintiff’s attorney make a stronger case of negligence in a slip and fall.

Another easily preventable incident was when a woman banged her head on concrete after slipping on oil residue dripped from previously parked vehicles. The security staff patrolling the garage usually dropped oil absorbent materials on these parking areas daily; however, due to recent cut backs; the crew was unable to do this task as often.


Vandalism and petty theft

Vandalism and petty theft claims represent the bulk of reported security incidents in parking lots and garages.

Unfortunately, parking lots and garages are often the unsuspecting host of serious criminal activities. On some occasions, warnings are posted for customers to park at their own risk and other disclaimers are placed at entrances.

The more common assaults occurring in parking lots are typically motivated by robbery. For example, an older woman was confused on what level she parked her car in a hospital garage. The criminal came close, offering his help, before he grabbed her purse and made his getaway. In another incident, a young lady was abducted from a hotel parking lot.

These crimes may not have been prevented but security solutions exist.


Barrier gate operators such as this Model BL27 from Automatic Control Systems, New York, typically handle lighter traffic volumes with wide lane requirements in harsh weather environments and operating conditions. This unit is at a Long Island financial institution.

LAYERS OF SECURITY – Perimeter fencing, landscaping, walls, gates, doors, access card readers and turnstiles are physical barriers that can provide a property multiple layers of security. Electronics involving security video, emergency call phones and alarms, digital cameras and recorders can also be used. Security officers, unarmed or commissioned, can deter criminal activity. Their job is more to observe and report, so if a property is in a higher crime area, contracting with off duty police officers might be considered.

LIGHTING – Metal halogen, fluorescent, low or high sodium vapor are types of lighting most often used in parking lots and garages. Depending on the type of business and the location within the parking structure, a certain number of foot-candles should be targeted.

SIGNS AND GRAPHICS – Reflective lettering really helps when the light shines on them. Light poles and elevator landings are perfect places to use identification markers. Spend It Suzy also likes the idea of assistance stations with warning signals and intercoms installed in larger lots and garages.

PEOPLE MOVEMENT – Many people get hurt in stairwells and elevator areas. Even though Practical Pauline knew stairwells in an office building were used as fire escapes, she wondered why so many parking garage stairwells were built entirely enclosed. Architects need to be using more open concepts to decrease the number of hiding places. Elevator areas should have mirrors or cameras. Inspect areas for loose rails, burned out light bulbs and deterioration of concrete on steps. Shuttle buses, golf carts, trams and other courtesy vehicles are now regularly used to transport people.

SURFACES – It costs a lot to maintain a property; the alternative is not acceptable. High-heeled shoes always seem to find their way to open grates, wider cracks or potholes.

Safety is no accident; good security does deter crime.


Side bar: Parking Security with Emergency Phones

Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital operates four parking garages from within its main campus to accommodate over a million ambulatory and emergency visitors each year. When the Hospital’s police and security department decided to extend the security operation’s reach, Talk-A-Phone (Chicago) Emergency Phone units were picked and integrated with security video to gain full audio and visual capability from within the security command center.

Managing its campuses and parking facilities requires a security force of approximately 150 licensed officers patrolling 24/7 by a combination of motor vehicle, foot and bike patrols. The department also has a dozen members responsible for the security technology.

Robert Leahy, systems and technology manager, observed, “We began installing Talk-A-Phone products back in 1999.” Overall, approximately 55 emergency phone systems have been installed. One is a 9.5-foot emergency tower at the entrance of one of the garages, and the others are wall-mounted units mounted throughout the garage decks. The systems immediately connect distress users, with the touch of a button, to the hospital’s security force while automatically transmitting the location to the dispatcher. When activated, a constantly lit blue light/strobe on top of the units immediately starts flashing, alerting officials and others to the area in which assistance is need.

To Leahy, the emergency phones provide critical support to the security force. “They allow us to respond if [an officer] doesn’t happen to be in the garage at a particular time…We have it set up so that, if a Talk-A-Phone is activated, the camera will zoom in on the call box itself, and we’ll be able to manipulate the camera to see what’s going on. Once activated, we maintain constant communication with the person requesting the assistance, whatever that may be, and we’re able to respond and to give that assurance that somebody is present, somebody is there, since the communication goes both ways.”

For numerous offsite parking lots where obtaining power and communication lines prevented installations in the past, Leahy is considering Talk-A-Phone’s solar-powered emergency towers and cellular interface.