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Electronic Security Options for Parking Lots

While fundamental strategies such as adequate lighting and good visibility underlie safe parking lots, security electronics also play an important role in facility operation.

Parking lot operators must safeguard all entry and exit points. Wireless access control, automatic vehicle identification (AVI), vehicle barriers and barricades are different components of access control that provide different levels of protection.

Often parking lots are located in remote areas so access control systems need to bridge long distances between parking gates and main buildings. One benefit of wireless access control is the ability to span wide areas. With installation of optional antennas and repeaters, coverage area of wireless access control products can reach up to 8,000 feet.

Pulling wire is one of the most labor-intensive activities of a security system installation. Wireless access control system, in contrast, helps parking lot owners save that expense. Installation time is significantly reduced, and it is less disruptive to the structure, grounds and roadways. "If you cut a hole in the roadway, then drivers have to detour," said Lester LaPierre, Marketing Manager, Schlage Electronic Security, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies.

Wireless can also be advantageous when retrofitting existing buildings where wiring may be difficult, such as in concrete block buildings. "In many multi-level parking lots with thick, concrete structures, we use 900-MHz frequency (ranging from 902 to 928 MHz) to allow us to transmit through thicker concrete walls as opposed to 2.4-GHz transmission," said LaPierre.

The real benefit of wireless is ability to integrate with other online systems such as time and attendance, billing, surveillance and building automation. "Online access control systems are often the ones that have more robust video capability; they enable operators to tie into network video and digital CCTV systems, allowing security administrators to observe video associated with specific access control events," added LaPierre.

Other peripheral devices, such as fire systems, smoke detectors and fire sensors can also be integrated with both online and wireless access control systems. "When a fire sensor detects smoke and an alarm goes off, all doors can be unlocked or locked, depending on whether they are programmed in fail safe or fail secured mode," said LaPierre.

Automatic Vehicle Identification

AVI provides perimeter security with RFID readers and tags that are mounted inside vehicles. When vehicles approach readers, identity can be verified and access controlled. The advantage lies in convenience for seasonal parkers. "You do not have to stop the car and roll down the window when you approach the reader; the reader automatically validates the car tag and the system either grants or denies access," said Mary Smith, Vice President of Walker Parking Consultants.

The two types of AVI are vehiclebased and driver-based. The former are mounted either to the windshield or vehicle exterior for identification over a long range without need to stop. The driver-based solution, on the other hand, maximizes security by not only identifying approaching vehicles, but also drivers inside. The access control system works only if correct drivers are matched to correct vehicles.

"The booster mounted inside the vehicle identifies the access control card possessed by the driver," explained Marc Chia, Head of Business Development Asia, Nedap. "Once the booster confirms driver identity, it sends an RFID signal to the reader, and the reader verifies vehicle identity."

AVI Applications

In Europe and North America, AVI is more commonly adopted for fleet management, such as checking if trucks entering restricted premises are authorized, while in Asia, it is more for pure access control. "AVI is coming to parking in North America because it is a convenient hands-free system that enhances security. The driver's door is not open as long so the driver is not exposed to potential risk as long," said Smith.

Almost all residential parking lots use vehicle-based AVI systems; commercial parking lots generally use a mixture of both. Bank parking lots can use driver-based and vehicle-basedboth of which are supported by AVI readers. "Bank CEOs can use the driver-based system, which can be linked to building automation. Even the building's air conditioner could be switched on when he comes to work. All other bank employees would use the vehicle-based system," commented Chia.

According to Chia, driver-based AVI is still fairly new. Most people are used to vehicle-based systems because driver-based transponders can be two or three times more expensive. "Driverbased is still a niche market, mostly for high-security applications like mints. It will take a few years to push this concept, especially in Asia," said Chia.

Most commercial buildings have underground parking lots located next to the main building support pillars. "Someone can steal a car belonging to an office employee, load it with explosives, move the vehicle into the building with an unauthorized driver, set the bomb off and bring down the building," said Chia. Driver-based AVI provides an extra layer of security because while the tag is mounted inside the vehicle and the entire vehicle may be stolen, the driver's personal ID stays with the authorized user and, thus, the vehicle is still denied access even if stolen.

Multiple La yers of Access Control

Access Control and Integration

Access control can be integrated with other systems, such as fire alarm panels, so that parking barriers rise in the event of a fire, thus permitting access to emergency vehicles, said Brad Chisling, Sales Manager at Canadian Parking Equipment. "An access control system could also be integrated to work with a CCTV system so that each vehicle license plate is recorded before the barrier permits entry and exit."

Other examples include use of hands-free, transponder-type access control readers to provide quick access to parking lots. "Typically, this involves the building access control integrator extending the system into the parking lot by providing outdoor readers and panels, which tie into our barriers," said Chisling. This allows parkers to use the same access card to enter the parking lot as they use to enter the building.

In high-risk buildings, such as courthouses and embassies, if someone forces the driver to enter the building parking lot, the driver could push a panic button so the authority would know that something was wrong. "The person who is holding a gun would not know that the driver is pressing a panic button to alert the authority," commented Smith.

Blue Phones

Another effective tool is emergency blue phones, which provide parkers with direct access to security personnel just by picking up handsets or pressing duress 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. An alarm can also sound immediately, and security personnel be directed to the location where the emergency is taking place. A surveillance camera can also monitor the blue phone area so the parking attendant or security officer can view the scene to evaluate the situation and more accurately respond.

Barriers, bollards and ba rricades

The vast majority of discussions involving security and parking areas focus on protecting people and property from vandalism, theft or violent crime. Yet parking lots and garages are particularly vulnerable to vehicle-based terrorist attacks, particularly in critical buildings such as foreign embassies and federal courthouses. Parking barriers, bollards and barricades provide the safety for these parking lots.

"When in service, barricade systems remain upright, providing a barrier to any vehicle. Upon authorization, the barricade, bollard or barrier lowers to let the vehicle pass. In certification testing, the barrier stopped a 65,000-pound vehicle going 50 miles per hour dead in its tracks," pointed out David Dickinson, Senior Vice President at Delta Scientific Corporation.


In contrast to ordinary building access control, typically parking lot access control focuses on preventing revenue loss or security breaches. "Many people who consider breaking into a building as a crime, do not view the unpaid parking as a crime," said Chisling. The challenge of paid parking, therefore, lies in maintaining a fine balance between security, loss prevention and customer accessibility.

"Misuse of an access control card may simply be logged and flagged as an exception to be dealt with later," said Chisling, "as opposed to stopping a vehicle in the lane and inconveniencing a line of legitimate paying customers."

"Balancing liability and risk with freedom of access and cost is one main challenge for all parking lot operators as customers and the surrounding community change all the time," said Smith.

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