Ramping Up Garage Design

By Richard C.Rich

Access Control
Parking structures should be designed to minimize miscellaneous entry points at ground floor levels. The only entry points should be automobile entrances and pedestrian access to elevators and stairs. Today, many garages use decorative metal screens, enclosing the ground floor to provide a barrier that prevents unauthorized entry. Additionally, many modern parking structures that lead to office buildings have card access doors in elevator lobbies to restrict after-hours access.

Often it is necessary to have multiple auto entry points for peak-time traffic. In these cases, rolling shutters can be used to close off extra access points once the peak-time traffic has subsided.

Recent technological advancements have led to the development of quick-access roll-ups and quick-access bifold doors, which have dramatically reduced the time it takes for the doors to open and close. With these systems, an access card is inserted and the door opens within seven seconds, then immediately closes. This system is a vast improvement over traditional roll-up doors that take anywhere from 20 to 25 seconds to come back down again, allowing time for unauthorized individuals to follow cars into the building on foot.

Among the most common—and useful—active security tools are CCTV and sound-monitoring technologies that permit security personnel to constantly keep an eye—and ear—on activity throughout a parking facility. However, if these technologies are installed, it is essential that they be monitored at all times. Otherwise, in the case of an attack on a patron, the structure’s owner would be at greater risk for legal liability.

Cameras. Generally, when the parking floor is only 200 to 250 feet long, only one camera needs to be used at the end of each aisle. For floors over 250 to 400 feet long, a second camera can be placed midway down the aisle so that the cameras don’t have to be manipulated for telephoto or tilt zoom. Cameras should also be positioned to capture activity in and around elevator lobbies and in stairwells.

The best option is to use fixed cameras, with fixed lenses, and a few cameras with tilt-zoom capability. Coverage should include cross-aisle cameras that can capture footage from a variety of angles. Cameras should, however, be positioned to avoid direct bright sunlight over the course of the day, generally facing north or east.

Sound. Audio systems consist of combined speakers and microphones, which should be placed strategically throughout the garage and connected to a panel board in the security office. If someone shouts or screams, security personnel can identify the exact location of the incident and communicate with the person who is involved to evaluate the situation.

These systems are also useful for communicating with people who are observed walking through the garage without an identifiable destination. Security personnel can ask if they are lost or if they need some other type of assistance. This type of polite inquiry can serve to warn questionable individuals that they are being observed.

Putting It Together
To show how all of these elements can come together, let’s look at the new parking structure at the Chicago Veterans Affairs Hospital, which my company both designed and manages. It is a 1,600-car facility open 24 hours a day.

Because the parking garage is located in an area where crime is an ongoing problem, security was a key design consideration. The structure features glass lobbies and elevator towers, as well as four stairwells with glass exteriors, all of which provide visibility from outside of the structure. 

Additionally, the ground floor has a decorative steel grille that seals off openings, and all entries and exits are controlled by rolling steel shutters. The cashier booths serving these lanes are monitored with CCTV. The only exception is a single entry/exit area for monthly cardholders, which is controlled with quick acting bifolds.

To cover the parking areas, 84 cameras were used, and sound-monitoring devices were placed every 60 feet. This monitoring system ensures that all the areas can be seen and communicated with at all times.

Because the facility is open to both transient and permit parkers, separate entrances were designated for each. From 11:00 p.m. until 5:30 a.m., permit parkers use their access card to open a bifold door. Transient parkers must go through a 24-hour cashier station to obtain a ticket before their entry door will be opened.

The cashier station is between the transient exit and entry lane. Four cameras are focused on drivers, and two more are focused on inbound and outbound traffic lanes, providing security for the station. One camera is set up for higher vehicles and one for normal vehicles, and they are trained on drivers so that their faces can be seen and stored in the security station, which is located in the structure’s management office.

The cashier also has a silent alarm under the counter. Anyone entering the structure has to show a picture ID, and the driver’s name and ID are recorded before a ticket is dispensed and the rolling shutter is raised to allow entry into the garage. All permit vehicles are monitored with a fifth camera, which also records each driver’s face.

Particular concern is given to the safety of the cashier. All four cameras are visible to drivers, and signs warning that “all transactions are being recorded on videotape” are mounted in clear view.

All 84 cameras, plus the ones at the cashier station, are digitally recorded. Images are stored for approximately 50 days.

These security measures proved their value last October when a thief struck the hospital and tried to escape through the parking facility.  Parking security staff were able to use the cameras to follow the thief’s movement throughout the garage, then direct police to a vehicle on the third floor under which he was hiding.

An additional benefit of this system is that security officers can also monitor erratic walking or driving, which is common for patients who receive heavy doses of medication while in the hospital.  This way, anyone who might not be able to drive safely can be approached before they leave the garage.

The importance of security cannot be overstated. Just one accident or attack inside a parking structure can have a devastating impact not only on the victim but also on the owners. 

Unfortunately, security and safety problems are common because many structures weren’t designed with security in mind. Today there is no reason for any parking structure to be unsafe. While it’s true that a secure environment can be costly, the cost of inaction can be infinitely greater.



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