A landmark on the rebound
A landmark on the rebound

Jan 1, 2001 12:00 PM

Parking garage in St. Louis - near the center of action - is facing up to its security needs.

The Mansion House Parking Garage was built back in the early 1960s, along with three 29-story apartment towers spanning a three-block area overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis.

Today, two of the towers still serve as luxury apartments for business travelers and downtown residents, while the third building is now home to the Radisson Hotel and Suites Downtown St. Louis.

Located across the street from the Gateway Arch on the east, two blocks from Busch Stadium on the south and one block north from Trans World Dome, home of the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams, the garage enjoys almost 100 percent occupancy during the week from monthly parkers. There is even more activity on weekends from sports fans. During election season, the garage accommodated Vice President Al Gore on two occasions when he stayed overnight at the Radisson following campaign events in the city.

Over the years, the garage has seen its share of notoriety. According to Barbara Miksicek, librarian for the St. Louis Police Department, the four-level, 1,800-space garage became infamous on Oct. 16, 1981, when it was the site of a well-publicized gangland car bombing. George "Sonny" M. Faheen, supervisor of clerks for the St. Louis Circuit Court, was killed in the garage, shortly after testifying before a grand jury investigating a series of bombings.

"The device was really simple," says Det. Sgt. Stephen Sorocko, commander of the St. Louis City Bomb Squad, and lead investigator on the case. "It was several sticks of dynamite and an electric blasting cap placed on top of the gas tank, and connected to the electrical system of a Volkswagen Beetle." In addition to the death, several vehicles parked in the garage were damaged by the blast and the fire.

At that time, security and access control in the garage were sparse. "There were no cameras that were of any help to us, and foot traffic is not monitored. In this particular case, a subject took the explosives into the garage in a vehicle, and the people who placed the device in the car were on foot. It's possible cameras could have identified someone, but in this case, I doubt they would have stopped anything," says Sorocko.

Sorocko says there were also contract guards on duty at the time, but they offered little help.

Could similar incidents happen today?

While fixed cameras are currently positioned to videotape views of five ingress and egress points, garage manager David Ray says they were installed primarily to monitor cashier activity.

Throughout the '80s and '90s, the garage operation remained low-tech with cash handling performed manually. "The equipment was old, and it was constantly needing to be serviced," says Jeff Becker, vice president, Accutime Corp. in St. Louis. But in January 1998, the garage completed the first phase of its upgrade to electronic access control by installing a new system by Amano Cincinnati, which included nine AGP 1710 gates, AGP 2010 ticket dispensers, card readers, and a 15200 fee computer. "All we did on the initial phase was swap equipment out: take a gate out, put a gate in; take a ticket dispenser out, put a ticket dispenser in... so it wasn't a big deal," says Ray.

The next step: "We may make a change in our monthly contract parking access, and the access cards and readers that are used," says Ray. "But nothing has been decided."

Accutime is proposing a new access control system featuring Prox 120 proximity readers, which will be tied into Minneapolis-based McGann access control software. The advantage, says Becker, "is there is no maintenance on a proximity head, while the magnetic reader will get dirty. And not only will it eliminate passbacks, but everything is reported online, so it gives you full reporting capability and ties people to time zones, dates, etc."

The system will also help streamline the management of other facilities throughout the city. "We're getting ready to do several other locations for St. Louis Parking, and we'll be able to tie them all in together with the McGann software. We'll have a T-1 line that will run between facilities, and back to the corporate office at One Mercantile Center in St. Louis."

Other problems Parking officials have also had to contend with gate diversion stemming from gates at the rear entrance only spanning three-fourths of the driving lane. "But we can put bollard poles up," suggests Ray. In the meantime, a swinging chain-link gate is closed at off-peak times to obstruct cheaters.

While the parking company focuses on revenue control issues, security measures fail to keep pace.

"We've had one or two (vehicle break-ins) in a year's time, but that's about it," says Joe Ruggeri, general manager, Radisson Hotel and Suites St. Louis Downtown. Uniform Crime Reporting statistics from the St. Louis Police Department suggest a broader problem, however.

Between Dec. 1999 and Nov. 2000, the three-block area the garage inhabits has seen 38 larcenies from vehicles, 10 larcenies from buildings, 10 burglaries, two robberies, and an aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon.

Ruggeri says improvements seem to be on the horizon. "It's okay... could it be better? Anything could be better. But they've been making changes and improving the garage since I've been down here. I've been in worse garages, and I've been in better garages. But it's a good management company, which is receptive to the changes we've recommended," says Ruggeri.

To contend with a rash of vehicle break-ins that plagued the garage throughout the summer, the company hired an additional contract security officer for the evening shift, bringing the total staff to two. Ray also recently installed an additional fixed camera aimed at the cashier booth, which houses the fee computer.

Located across the street from the Gateway Arch, the garage enjoys almost 100 percent occupancy during the week from monthly parkers.

The parking industry takes very seriously the legal and business challenges raised by liability for criminal and non-criminal activities on the premises, as well as by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Articles and studies have appeared with some regularity analyzing the nature of these issues.

A review of the law on this matter is "Major Developments in Premises Security Liability II (1999) by Norman D. Bates, J.D., and Jon D. Groussman, J.D., of Liability Consultants Inc., Sudbury, Mass. A follow-up to their earlier study covering the period 1983-1992, it carefully analyzes where crimes on property are leading to lawsuits and what factors appear to contribute to verdicts of liability as well as non-liability.

The study contains several very significant findings for the parking industry.

* Parking lots are now the leading locations where crimes committed on a property lead to a lawsuit.

* The majority of verdicts reported in the latest study were defense verdicts and the distribution of awards has decreased when compared to the first study.

* One of the reasons that a majority of the verdicts were for the defense may well be that property owners and managers are being more proactive in their crime prevention efforts. The study notes that "the ability to articulate the elements of a `reasonable' security program is certainly more defensible in the event of a premises security lawsuit."

Emergency phones are one of the "proactive measures" which the industry is increasingly using as a component of a "reasonable security program."

Parking facilities always have their own challenges, and larger facilities such as medical centers, college campuses and shopping malls add some of their own as well. The main challenges in a parking facility are to address two somewhat different situations.

First, there is the "emergency" issue, in which a strict security problem or a medical emergency is taking place within the parking facility. How does the person in the garage quickly obtain outside help, (which may well be off-site) and can they generate a local, visual signal so that anyone else in the facility will know that assistance is needed? The added benefit of the visual signal is that if the problem is a robbery or assault, the perpetrator may well run away, thus ending the attack because attention is being drawn to the location.

The second problem is less of an emergency than one of service to someone with a problem. And the resource to be called may well be other than parking security. For example, someone parking in the facility may return to their car to find a dead battery, flat tire or other problem. In addition, a visitor to the facility may find that although they were certain they knew where they put their car that morning, they can no longer find it that night in the multi-story, double helix deck. That visitor is in need of, and might well be appreciative of, some friendly assistance.

Emergency phones can provide the communication link to give the patron both a sense of enhanced security as well as an important capability in the event of a true emergency.

Economics plays an important role in the decision to deploy an emergency phone system. Hopefully the system will enhance effectiveness of existing personnel, rather than expand personnel requirements. Once a system is installed, it is important to know that the system is operational and that emergency personnel can quickly and efficiently respond to requests for help. While tours through the parking decks and lots by guards to check the facility are still important, automatic computer verification of line integrity can inexpensively enhance system integrity as well as demonstrate a commitment to patron well-being.

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