Speed Boosts Security At Parking Garage Entryways

Installing high-speed doors at these entry points prevents piggy-backing and unauthorized pedestrians from entering a parking facility.

By Michael Watkins

Over the past several decades, the once dreary parking structure has become a major design consideration for architects. Though many facilities are freestanding, a large number of parking garages are attached to buildings, in both urban and suburban or exurban areas, so architects must give more attention to their appearance and whether they are consistent with the overall design of the complex. Yet while their modern design can add panache to multi-use and high-rise buildings, facility management still has to keep the parking garages secure.

parking garage
Photo: Rytec Corp.

Generally, a multi-level attached parking garage on a commercial building is a welcome feature. The enclosed facility puts patrons out of the weather and within steps of the building. It is an amenity that attracts new tenants to take space in the building.

But the very fact that the parking garage is enclosed presents a security problem. For office buildings, a secure workplace extends out to the parking garage.

Consider the typical parking garage environment. There are stairwells, blind corners, sightline obstructions, and poor lighting. The cars themselves present places for criminals to hide. On top of that, at any one time, there may be very few people in the garage itself; people park their cars and head off to their destination in the building.

If a building is in a high-crime area, the owner may want to add an enclosed parking garage with limited access. The problem is, based on studies of criminal activity, there is a high probability of crime occurring in the parking structure itself, erasing the hoped-for security benefit and creating an almost indelible negative image that can drive away customers and clients, making it difficult to attract top employees.

Creating A Barrier To Entry

High-speed traffic doors offer a solution to this problem. These doors effectively prevent unauthorized access to the parking garage.

Trespassers are always looking for a window of opportunity. In the case of parking garages, that chance is what security experts call “piggy-backing,” in which intruders tail behind authorized vehicles and enter through doorways using doors that can take a long time to close.

The first rule of parking structure security is to prevent access to those you don’t want in the structure and make criminals feel like they may be trapped. But the slow operating doors that many parking garages use on the vehicle entrances don’t provide that deterrent. They enable not only access for the people you want in the building, but people you don’t want.

parking garage
Photo: Rytec Corp.

As a crime-stopping measure, parking garages are installing high-speed traffic doors on their doorways. Rapid roll-up doors give criminals no chance to enter the parking garage behind the vehicles that belong in the building. Operating at speeds up to 100 inches per second, they can close in only seconds and provide no time for trailing vehicles to make their move.

According to Jim Zemski, Principal with the architectural firm ZCA Residential, “Our firm recommends high-speed overhead doors on all of our urban/residential multi-family garages. This dictates that a high level of security is provided, which is solved by the rapid speed that prevents piggy-backing and unauthorized pedestrians from entering the secure garage.”

The Mosaic on Hermann Park in Houston’s Museum District is a high-end mixed-use complex that addressed the security problem in its four-level parking garage by installing high-speed doors. According to Don Johnson, General Manager for The Mosaic, their old style garage doors leading in and out of the parking garage meant “we had cars and motorcycles stolen.”

Residents and tenants at the Mosaic have a RFID chip in their vehicle’s visor, which automatically opens the door as the vehicle approaches. As the old door crept open, an intruder could piggy-back his way into the building behind the resident’s vehicle.

“After we put in the high-speed doors,” says Johnson, “all of that ceased.”

The best part is that residents do not think about the kind of protection the door speed provides, which is just the way the property wants it. Of course, the negative buzz about any vehicle theft would spread through the building and the doors keep the focus on the positive.

As Johnson puts it, “with the high-speed doors you are talking zoom up and zoom down, which has given us a better sense of security here at the property.”

Maintenance also is a big plus. Slow moving doors can get hit when opening or closing, resulting in damage to the door and to the vehicle that collided with the door. But high-speed doors are totally out of the way of passing traffic. Additionally, these high-speed doors use electronic controls to replace many mechanical parts, ensuring the doors are maximally operating.

Adding safety to security, these doors also can help dissipate vehicle fumes in the parking structure. High-speed doors can have perforated slats that enable buildings to achieve 75% airflow. Alternatively, for facilities with solid-panel high-speed doors, controllers can be connected to the parking structure’s carbon monoxide detection system. When high levels of CO are detected, the system will command the controller to open the door, while at the same time alerting facility maintenance personnel.

High-Speed Doors For New Construction Or Facility Retrofit

Many of the design recommendations for safer parking garages, such as maximizing interior visibility, using open stairwells, having high ceilings and avoiding blind alcoves, are only possible for new construction. High-speed doors can be a part of that mission, but they also are an easy retrofit for older construction.

These doors require little space around the door perimeter, taking less than a day per doorway to install. In addition, the doors have other features that justify their installation on top of security.

Very few people give much thought to the doors as they enter a parking facility until something goes wrong, either a security incident or poor door performance. According to one developer of high-end multi-unit complexes, “Doors on the parking facility are one of the many items that tenants and owners don’t necessarily think about, but they can be part of the overall positive experience.”

Watkins is Vice President with Rytec Corporation, a Jackson, WI-based manufacturer of high-speed, high-performance doors.