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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Keven Moore on Insurance: Parking lots, garages can be dangerous; know the risks

After a recent theft in our building, I decided to search a local crime website to see what kind of criminal activity had been occurring outside my office doors. I was surprised to learn that a number of crimes have occurred in parking lots within a 1,000-foot radius of our building. So, in conjunction with a client request to provide personal safety loss control insight after incidents in an employee parking lot, I decided to research the matter a bit further.
 

(Photo provided)

As it turns out, about one in 10 property crimes occurred in parking lots or garages. If you look at the statistics, roughly 80 percent of the criminal acts at shopping centers, strip malls and business offices occur in the parking lot. Attorneys make a good living off liability cases based on a lack of adequate security measures or not taking “reasonable care” in the protection of employees and customers against criminal threats in parking lots. These lawsuits often revolve around lack of sufficient lighting, surveillance and response.
 

Once criminal activity takes a foothold, it is difficult to break the trend. But there are several things businesses can do that can improve security, deter crime, reduce potential liability and make employees and customers feel safer. Where parking lot security has been implemented, use actually increases because customers feel safer. Increased customers translates into increased profit, which can be used to justify the increased cost related to any security improvements.
 

But businesses aren’t the only ones that need to be aware of the risk. So, too, do the people who use parking lots and garages.
 

Many assaults and other crimes are committed while people are getting in or out of their vehicles and walking to and from their destination. For bad guys, parking lots, parking garages and dark lonely streets are known to be good sources to commit their deeds. There is a trace of vulnerability when getting in and out of a vehicle, especially if you are reaching or placing objects in the back seat or trunk of your car. Juggling objects, locating your keys and trying to open the door all while avoiding striking the person’s car door next to us is quite distracting. Those who want to do you harm know this and will try to take advantage of your situation.
 

As always, having a good game plan and maintaining situational awareness at all times can minimize our risk in these types of situations.
 

To avoid becoming a victim, you must think like a bad guy so you can predict and defeat the criminalistic opportunity.  When walking to your vehicle make a point to scan ahead for the likely areas where someone could be hiding.  This may provide you with enough of a reaction time to key in on an attacker’s plan to spoil it.
 

As you walk, make an effort to scan the area utilizing all the available MacGyver- like tools at your disposal, such as nearby reflections in windows to see if you are being followed or even to see if someone is behind an object. Keep your head up and focused as bad guys would much prefer to ambush someone who is watching his or her feet while walking.
 

Always remember to have your keys out and ready, carrying them in your nondominant hand, in case you need to get to a concealed weapon, pepper spray or any other form of a self-defensive weapon you may carry. As you make it to your vehicle, walk around it so that you can see if anyone is crouched next to your vehicle and make sure you give a quick check of the back seat. 
 

Once inside the vehicle, lock the doors and start your car immediately. Continue to look around for threats before ever putting on your seat belt and securing your items for safe travel. This allows you the opportunity to engage the gear shift and flee immediately if necessary.
 

Additional tips:
 

• When parking in unfamiliar territory, drive through and scan the area before parking. Sometimes it best to wait for a closer spot.
 

• Consider valet parking if available, but remember to leave only the ignition key with a parking attendant. Don’t leave anything attached to it with your name and address or your house key.
 

• Always park in highly visible, well-lit areas next to the parking garage elevator or stairs. Try to park in high-pedestrian traffic areas with a good clear site of vision so that others can possibly see or hear you if you need to cry for help.
 

• Back into the space so that when you return you can make a fast getaway if necessary.
 

• In a parking garage always take the elevator, unless there are other people riding that make you feel comfortable. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, go in the other direction even to a different stairwell to avoid the possibility of ambush on a lower level.
 

• While riding in an elevator in a parking garage stand close to the panic button and have your cell phone ready to call 911.
 

• While walking to and from your vehicle, avoid being distracted by talking and texting on a cell phone. Some people will insist on talking on a phone with someone else as a lifeline for help, which is fine, but it’s still important to remain vigilant and observant while walking.
 

• Remember there is always safety in numbers so plan out your trips in advance, especially into areas that may make you feel uncomfortable. If possible, carpool, walk in groups, ask a co-worker to accompany or escort you to your car, or ask a building security guard for assistance.
 

• If a co-worker or business colleague parked closer and in a safer location, ask him or her to drop you off at your car.
 

• While walking always, scan the area for suspicious people or activities. If you think you are being followed, walk quickly to the most public place within eyesight, stopping in a place of business, restaurant or even a residence if someone appears to be home.
 

• Walk confidently and with a purpose. Assertive body language can help prevent an attack.
 

• If you are approached by a stranger maintain constant eye contact. This gives an appearance of strength and confidence and can be a deterrent. Remember bad guys want to prey on the weak and those who will give them the least resistance.
 

• If you see one or more people standing around on your walk to or from your car that you perceive to be a threat, switch to a different side of the street. If they are around your vehicle stop at a safe distance and wait for them to leave.
 

• Many bad guys work in pairs or in groups and will sometimes use a distraction to get you to let your guard down. Pay attention and be aware that such actions could be a ploy.
 

• Never trust a stranger because many bad guys will begin their assault with asking a simple question or for directions in an effort to get close to you. Find a way to keep your distance between you and them with some form of a barrier until you can reach a safe place. Remember, better rude than dead in those settings.
 

• If at night include a small flashlight on your key ring since most garages are poorly lit. Most smart phones today also have flashlight apps as well.
 

• Women should change from heels to flats or even sneakers when walking to their destination or leaving work, in case they need to run.
 

• Always have your vehicle key ready, unlocking only the door you are entering. Be familiar with your keyless remote so that you don’t unnecessarily unlock all your doors.
 

• Be prepared to utilize your vehicle alarm system by hitting the panic button to attract others to attention to the undesired situation. If you don’t have a keyless alarm, invest in a whistle.
 

• Consider carrying pepper spray or some other defensive weapon. Remember, even car keys can be a makeshift weapon if necessary.
 

• If you are carrying a shopping bags, work portfolio, samples or products to your car, remember mobility is the key; utilize a rollcart to keep a free hand. The objective is to get in your car and lock the door. Load your car quickly and drive off to a safer location and then pull over to safely secure the items if necessary.
 

• Always remember where you parked the car to avoid any unnecessary wandering around a parking lot. If need be, wait until you get to a safe and public place and text or write yourself a reminder of where you parked or what floor if it a parking garage.
 

• If there is a large truck or van parked next to you that makes you uncomfortable, you can enter your car from the passenger side.
 

• Always lock your vehicle and keep windows rolled up with valuables out of sight.
 

• Remember to look around your car before getting in and make sure no one is lurking around or hiding in the back seat.
 

• When you arrive at your car do not sit in the car doing other things. Leave immediately.
 

• Always go with your gut and trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
 

Be safe, my friends.
 

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.
 

Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.

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