Skip to content

Parking Aligns With Protection

Emanuella Moise finished her work at the office and returned to the garage where she regularly parked her car. Up to that point, it had been a day like any other. But then, when she opened her car door, Moise was attacked from behind. Her assailant, a 20-year-old drug addict, slapped tape over her mouth, bound her hands behind her back, and tried to push her into the car and sexually assault her. She was able to escape, but not before the man got away with her purse. She suffered head and neck injuries in the process.

Moise was traumatized by the attack. As a result, she found it difficult to continue to return to the office, which was located next door to the garage. She soon quit her job.

The attacker was eventually caught, convicted, and sentenced to twelve years in prison. In a statement to the court, the man admitted that he had been lurking in a garage stairwell the whole day, stoned on PCP, and looking for a victim.

In August 2006, Moise filed suit against the city of Stamford, Connecticut (which owned the garage), the company that employed the garage’s attendants, and the attacker. The suit, still pending at press time, alleges negligence due to an insufficient number of security officers, a lack of patrols, and the absence of common security measures such as CCTV and threat assessments.

Whether the city is found liable or not, it will have had to bear the expense of the litigation and the negative publicity. The case shows the importance of attending to parking security before an incident occurs. And that’s not to mention the harm to Moise that could perhaps have been avoided.

Such incidents are, unfortunately, common occurrences because dimly lit and poorly designed parking garages have always been a hotspot for criminal activity. In fact, many victims fare much worse than Moise. To cite just one telling number, the Virginia Youth Violence Project has reported that nearly 10 percent of aggravated assault incidents that result in arrest are committed in a parking facility.

The biggest problem is that many parking structures aren’t initially designed with security in mind. They lack proper structural design, lighting, surveillance, and other elements that would help prevent crime at the site. However, proper planning, design, equipment, and staffing can minimize the risks. While some security methods and technology can be costly, the protection for the company as well as its workers and patrons is priceless.


Whether a company is designing a new facility or renovating an existing garage, it is important to fully evaluate the property and surrounding area to determine the necessary security requirements. Project planners should look at area crime statistics, as well as the present and projected use of adjacent or nearby properties.

This initial stage should also address who will be using the parking facility so as to effectively design the structure and layout. At this stage, consideration must be given both to general needs and to safety and security.

The primary use of any facility results in different security requirements. For instance, a garage for a business or a group of businesses may not need to be open to the public. It may have an access control card system instead. By contrast, a shopping mall facility needs to have open access and to accommodate quick and easy exits; it may also need a mechanism by which users can pay by the hour. All facilities need to have an effective ingress and egress strategy, such as a pedestrian bridge, for filtering patrons safely out to their destination without impeding those trying to drive and park.


The main design issues to consider are line of sight, pedestrian safety, and traffic flow. Components that will affect those issues include exit and entryways, elevators and stairwells, and lighting.

Line of sight. Parking areas should be designed to preserve a clear line of sight. One way to do this is by placing parking spaces perpendicular to driveways. Angular parking spaces limit drivers’ ability to see into parking spaces.

Designers should avoid installing walls surrounding parking stalls or placing parking spaces between deep, quasiwall columns. These arrangements create dark spots that can serve as hiding spaces for criminals; they also make it more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians.

When walls are necessary, openings should be included to increase visibility and surveillance. Columns should be well spaced if possible.

Security advisors should also encourage designers to avoid “split-scissor” garages—those with two sets of separate ramps. The way the ramps are staggered makes parallel ramps look like an open pair of scissors. These setups are often favored because they maximize space, but they also curtail line of sight, endangering pedestrians.

Pedestrian flow. Designers should consider how drivers will get from their cars to their destinations. When possible, the facility’s floor plan should be designed so that visitors must drive past the elevators and stairwell access points before parking. In this way, the driver becomes familiar with the layout of pedestrian routes even before leaving his or her vehicle. He or she, therefore, can quickly and easily locate an exit.

Walkways. Designating a pedestrian walkway through parts of the parking area—specifically, near stairs, elevators, and entry/exit doors—can further enhance pedestrian flow by minimizing the need for people to walk between cars. This also helps to make pedestrians more visible to drivers.

These walkways can be created inexpensively by lining floors with reflective paint or reflective tape. Garage owners seeking a more aesthetic or pronounced touch might use rows of decorative planters or bollards to create pedestrian paths. In addition, speed bumps and posted speed limit signs can reduce traffic speed near pedestrian exits.

Signs and markers. Strategically placed signage can further assist visitors in locating exits, as well as help facilitate a smooth flow of traffic. “No Trespassing” and “Authorized Parking Only” signs can keep vehicles from blocking key areas; other signs can consist of directional markers for elevators and exits. They should be placed in every corner of the facility and even along the ceiling in locations visible from many angles. This can help to keep pedestrians and drivers from becoming disoriented in the garage.

In addition to signage, designers can use color-coding or memorable names to help patrons remember the garage level on which they parked. Keeping patrons from becoming lost or losing their cars is important not only from a customer satisfaction perspective but also because someone meandering through a garage looking for his or her car becomes more vulnerable to crime.

Numbering individual parking spaces is also advisable. The numbers help patrons locate their cars when they return, and they can help in an incident, such as a vehicle theft or break-in, to provide a more accurate report of the exact location of the crime.

All signage and systems for coding and numbering should be easy for patrons to understand. For example, if each floor is divided into various sections designated by letters of the alphabet, the letters should be consistent from floor to floor. Also, if distinctive names are used for parking areas, they should be different enough so as not to cause confusion. For example, a parking facility that names its sections after countries would be well advised to avoid using both Austria and Australia.

If the parking facility will use color schemes to distinguish floors or areas, another consideration arises. Generally, the brighter the garage, the better. Painting columns dark colors to designate the area or floor degrades the lighting. So garages might want to choose lighter colors or paint only a color bar around columns and walls—providing just enough of a color indicator to cue patrons but not so much that the color measurably cuts down on light.

Entrances and exits. Designers should limit entrance and exit points to no more than two; that approach allows garage attendants to better monitor traffic. Entrances should be designed so that they can be securely closed during nonuse hours.

Pedestrian exits should be adjacent to vehicle entrances to allow attendants to observe foot traffic as well. Any ground-level doors not in view of an attendant should be locked from the outside and must be outfitted with control measures to prevent them from being propped open. CCTV cameras should be posted at all of these access points, when feasible.

Tamperproof locking mechanisms should be used and doorknobs should be a minimum of 40 inches from adjacent windows so that intruders can’t break a window reach through, and open the door. (Some doors have small windows so patrons can see what’s on the other side.)

Where a private parking facility serves an office building, visitors who have parked there should only be able to enter the building through the main lobby where their presence can be easily monitored and where they can be asked to log in if building managers want to have that type of tracking in place.

Stairwells and elevators. Another crucial consideration in the structural design of a parking facility is safe stairwells. The undersides of stairways should be filled in with concrete or another solid substance to eliminate hiding places for intruders.

Designers can use glass walls in stairwells—where protecting patrons from wind or inclement weather is a concern—or an open design in moderate climes to minimize dark corners and maximize witness potential while providing an aesthetically pleasing, well-lit environment.

Buildings with high-volume traffic should install extra-wide stairs or escalators to accommodate a quick and smooth flow to the exits and to prevent injury. This is especially important in office or business environments, where traffic is concentrated at rush hours. In Southern California, where workers more often opt for the stairs as a form of exercise, many office garages use extra-wide stairs to accommodate the high volume. Wide stairwells aren’t as important in mall parking facilities, where traffic is spread out throughout the day.

Elevators should be located near the main entrance whenever possible so that patrons are maximally visible to onlookers. The full interior of the elevator car, or as much of it as possible, should be visible when the doors are open, lest intruders lurk in a corner.

The elevator’s emergency-stop button must do more than stop the elevator car and set off a shrieking siren inside the car. Any alarm must be clearly audible outside the elevator car. Better yet, the alarm should also be audible in the security or control office, and a stopped car should show up as an alarm condition in the security office.

Enclosed elevator lobbies are a potential trap and should be avoided. Where they are unavoidable, transparent materials for walls and doors such as glass or plastic should be used to provide better visibility.

Lighting. A key safety feature of any parking facility is adequate lighting throughout the building. Many facilities make poor use of both artificial and natural light. One way to maximize light in the design stage is to allow for relatively high ceilings (seven-feet high is good; unfortunately, most garages have ceilings a few inches lower) and light sources between each column.

This approach creates an open environment that enhances daylight throughout the interior space. Creating open space always creates more light. Having lots of openings in walls, which is not uncommon in above-ground garages, is also helpful.

Metal-halide or white-light sources provide reliable color recognition, which increases the ability of witnesses to identify attackers, as well as improving the clarity of CCTV images. These lights are a better option than fluorescent light, which not only provides unreliable color recognition but also diminishes in efficiency in cold climates.

Light fixtures should be made of tamperproof materials and installed above the area where vehicles will be parked in such a manner that they sufficiently light vehicle locks and their interiors. In addition, using whitewashed or brightly painted walls can maximize illumination by reflecting both natural and artificial light.

Outside lighting is also important. Bright exterior lighting can discourage criminals and help pedestrians feel safer. At facilities in downtown areas, we often place lights on the outside of garages, which has helped to keep away loiterers such as homeless people. Outside lighting can be a hard sell to owners wishing to mitigate costs, however.


For existing facilities that lack the recommended structural design, there are a number of physical security technologies that can be installed to increase the safety and security of a parking facility. For example, vandal-resistant convex mirrors throughout a parking garage can aid people in seeing around blind corners and into hidden spaces.

Technologies such as video surveillance, emergency call boxes, and voice-activated two-way speakerphones can offer additional safety. When strategically placed, these security measures can help security personnel catch criminals in the act, and even discourage predators from instigating trouble.

CCTV. CCTV use in parking garages carries many unique considerations and concerns. It’s crucial to note that if CCTV cameras are mounted, they must be monitored. Otherwise, an injured patron who believes help is coming because he is in view of a camera could have a legal claim against the garage.

Effective locations for video surveillance cameras include entrances and exits, stairwells, and elevator vestibules. Color, digital cameras should be used because they are vastly superior to black-and-white and analog cameras for quality of images.

Transmission of images in garages typically occurs via coax cable. Wireless transmission is impaired by concrete walls, so it’s not feasible.

Some garages make the mistake of leaving their CCTV wiring exposed, making it vulnerable to tampering. Protective tubing should be used to hide the cable. If possible, when the facility is being constructed, the plan should call for workers to leave sleeves in slabs and beams for later placement of conduit. Montgomery County, Maryland, even includes this provision in its garage-design requirements.

Vehicle access control. To prevent piggybacking, vehicle entrances should be equipped with a sensor and control system that triggers the gate to close after one vehicle enters or that sounds an alarm if two cars try to enter the facility simultaneously.

For residential and other limited-access parking facilities, users should be given a key card to gain access to the lot. Key cards are a stronger option for access control than remote controls and numerical keypads, because they are difficult to counterfeit and their use can be recorded.

Other, more high-tech options are available. For example, some high-security restricted lots, such as those designated for corporate executives, use a video-capture system with license-plate recognition, so that entry gates open only when an authorized tag is recognized by the system.


A garage also must have an adequate number of facility staff, including attendants, security guards, and maintenance personnel. In their standard role, security guards provide a source of constant surveillance. This surveillance is most effective when officers perform roaming patrols, scheduled randomly at a minimum of once every hour.

Patrols by security officers should cover not only parking areas but also pedestrian-only areas such as stairwells, walkways, and elevators. Furthermore, security guards can add value by offering patrons additional services, including escorts to vehicles and directions to exits, elevators, and offices.

Housekeeping and maintenance staff should perform regular maintenance to preserve a safe and secure building. Tasks should include sweeping, trash pickup, and graffiti removal. Window and lightfixture cleaning and repair can maximize the building’s lighting, while sign maintenance ensures that customers can read the directional markers.

A well-maintained facility signals to criminals that facility management and personnel are on the ball. In addition, a cleaner facility tends to make patrons feel more secure.

Preventive maintenance can also avert a building’s deterioration. Maintenance duties should include servicing the pay-for-parking machines and the parking equipment, as well as regular painting. The building’s masonry, sealants, guardrail bolts, and roofing materials should be repaired and replaced as needed.

In one episode of the classic TV comedy Seinfeld, the characters became marooned in a garage, unable to find their car. It was an apt spoof of the travails of the garage parker, and we could all laugh in recognition of a common problem. But parking facility security is no laughing matter. By incorporating the type of security elements discussed, garages can put the brakes on potential crime and avoid costly liability.

Steve Jones is chief operating officer of Universal Protection Service in Santa Ana, California. He has helped design and implement security at hundreds of parking facilities.