physical security

Preventing “road rage” in your parking lot

It was an unusually busy day at a crowded New Jersey mall when a woman spotted an open parking space after circling the lot for the better part of a half-hour. As she stepped out of her car, another woman assaulted her, accusing the first woman of stealing her space. In the ensuing melee, the second woman nearly bit through the first woman’s finger.

We may chuckle at outrageous stories like this and laugh at social media videos that capture what happens when parking lot disputes escalate into battles. But is it funny when those things take place in one of your parking lots?

Have you ever stood near the exit of a church parking lot as a packed Sunday service lets out? The attendees may have been bathed with goodwill minutes earlier, but in the scramble to get to lunch, soccer practice, or in front of the TV before kickoff, they transform into combatants in a winner-takes-all contest to be the first out of the lot. The same people who were wishing each other peace moments ago snarl, snap, and yell.

 The same thing happens in workplaces when everyone leaves, and in the parent pick-up lanes at schools. Beyond the impact of escalating tempers, there’s also the potential for vehicle accidents, damage to the lot itself, and worst of all, pedestrians who are injured when they go unnoticed by drivers focused on making an escape. It’s also a problem when everyone competes for prime parking spaces at the start of the day or at crowded events.

 Psychologists who have studied parking lot road rage liken it to territorial disputes that are compounded by the anonymity many people feel while they’re behind the wheel. They’re centered on achieving an objective -- whether that’s finding a space or getting out quickly -- and when another driver interferes or delays them, they respond as though they’ve been threatened. If they misbehave, nobody will hold them accountable.

 Studies suggest those territorial disputes result in power struggles. Ever feel pressured to get out of a parking space so an impatient driver can move in? Penn State researchers discovered that when someone else was waiting for their space, drivers actually took more time to leave the space -- eleven seconds more, on average. And if the impatient driver honked? The departing drivers took even longer to leave. It’s a kind of “I’ll show you” mentality that often leads to yelling, obscene gestures, scratched paint and other vandalism, and the occasional bitten finger.

 Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the level of anger in your parking lots. It begins with how your lot is designed and marked. Creating clear paths for entering, exiting, and moving around the lot can help. Placing highly visible signs, such as Stop, Yield, and One Way signs, can minimize the potential for simple misunderstandings that all too easily escalate into pitched battles. If your facility is located on a busy street and drivers waiting to make left turns create delays, you may even want to reconfigure the exits so drivers can only turn right.

 It’s also important to protect pedestrian traffic in your lot, because the more vehicles and pedestrians interact, the greater the potential for injury. Clearly marked walkways and crossways with signage giving pedestrians the right of way can help, as can strategically placed refuge areas or islands where pedestrians can wait safely for a break in the traffic flow.

 You can also designate employees or volunteers to stand in key locations and direct traffic to ensure everyone has a fair shot at heading out as quickly as reasonably possible. Be sure to give them reflective safety vests, and encourage them to smile and be friendly, because their attitude can create an example for the drivers and defuse short tempers caused by impatience. A little bit of extra attention to your parking lots can go a long way to ensuring the safety of those who visit your facilities … and might just make them be a little nicer to one another.

How a Warrior Views Your Facility

I’m a former big-city violent crimes detective and my wife is also a retired police officer. When we go out to a restaurant, we enter into a little competition that’s so instinctive neither of us notices it’s happening. We both try to grab the seat with the best view of the entire restaurant and its doors, and the loser of that little battle remains just a little uneasy throughout the meal.

If you’ve ever been dining in the neighborhood coffee shop and several uniformed cops come in to grab lunch or dinner, you’ll notice that most walk right past the “prime” tables and take those in the far corner of the room. I’ve conducted many training sessions for law enforcement, and invariably, the first to arrive instinctively take seats in the back corners of the room.

All that behavior is related to what some call a “warrior mentality.” Training and experience combine to heighten awareness of place, environment, and activity. At meals when my wife gets the better seat, I might notice her attention shift for a moment, which tells me that something out of the ordinary has caught her eye. Maybe a couple at another table is in the early stages of what appears to be an argument. Maybe someone who seems out of place has walked in the door and is looking around suspiciously. No matter the reason, her senses have shifted to a higher level of awareness, so she’ll be quicker to react if something happens.

Once that warrior mentality becomes ingrained, you can’t shut it off. Even when I’m sitting in church, I always know where I am in relation to the emergency exit that’s closest to the kids’ area. If something were to happen, I’d be through that door and next to my kids in a heartbeat. When most people go to the mall, they’re looking at displays of merchandise. I’m watching the people around me, looking for anything that just doesn’t seem right.

Some might think that’s a paranoid approach, but it’s not based on imaginary threats. I’ve seen and experienced enough to know that there are real threats out there, and it’s been my sworn responsibility to protect the community from those threats. It was that way when I carried a badge and it’s at the heart of why our company exists.

Adopting a warrior mentality can help you in two different ways. First, it will improve your own protection. If you practice enhancing your awareness of everyday situations, it becomes a habit. You may never encounter a situation in which your personal safety is threatened, but if something does happen, you’ll have more time to prepare and react. People who lack that kind of awareness often freeze in an emergency because their minds are focused on processing what they’re seeing. They think “what should I do?” when the warriors among them think “what needs to be done?” and then do it.

The second way a warrior mentality helps is that it will give you a framework through which you can evaluate the security of your facilities. Whether you’re responsible for an office, a warehouse, a middle school, or a suburban church, spend some time walking through the building and thinking about how a threat may present itself. Then ask yourself how you or anyone else would behave if that threat were to happen. How would they get out, and where would they congregate once outside?

Next, look at the building the way someone who wanted to carry out that threat might do. If a shooter wanted to target a large group, which door would he enter? If someone wanted to steal from your employees, how easy would it be to do that? If an estranged husband wanted to reach his wife who worked or worshipped in your facility, what’s there to deter him?

Once you start looking at facilities through those warrior eyes, you’ll begin to rethink how you do things. For example, your church may want to present a welcoming image to attendees and visitors, but do you really need to leave six exterior doors wide open all Sunday morning? Would it be better to funnel traffic through a couple of entryways and have a “greeter” or two stationed at each who’s eyeing the folks who walk in? A simple deterrent like that may make someone who plans to cause trouble think twice.

You can invest in all sorts of security systems, but one of the most powerful and effective is one you were born with: your eyes. Train them to see like a warrior, and those for whom you’re responsible will be much safer.

Contact Us for more information