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Are We Prepared?

Dave Feehan

A survey in the Washington Business Journal asked readers if they were canceling planned trips to Baltimore as a result of recent demonstrations and riots. More than 60 percent said they would and another 20 percent said that while they would not cancel a planned trip, they would be more cautious. Baltimore isn’t the only city that has seen demonstrations and unrest. In fact, any city or suburb that experiences an incident of questionable police behavior this summer is almost certain to see some form of demonstration or protest.

Combine these human-related incidents with other factors—for example, the nearly unbelievable increase in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, prospects of increasingly severe weather, and an apparent increase in sinkholes—and suddenly, parking managers and operators need to ask themselves a few questions: Do we have an emergency preparedness plan, how good is it, when was it updated, and are we financially prepared for what could happen?  The IPI Safety & Security committee is developing Emergency Preparedness Guidelines just for this purpose.  This new resource will be invaluable to your operation, and available for download this summer.

I worked with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in downtown Washington D.C., a few years ago. I thought I had seen good emergency preparedness plans in other cities where I’ve worked, but this one was on a whole different plateau. Of course, the southern edge of this district has a unique architectural feature called the White House, so the Golden Triangle BID has to think about all kinds of terrorist threats as well. But anyone who thinks terrorism can’t strike in their town isn’t paying attention. Remember the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City?

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, I called a hasty joint meeting with International Downtown Association members and members of BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association. We arranged a conference call with members in perhaps a dozen cities, and several people on the call expressed fears for their downtown skyscrapers. Not Minneapolis. The BOMA representative in Minneapolis said his greatest fear was an attack on the Mall of America, bookended by massive parking garages. A truck bomb in either one or both would be devastating.

Now would be a good time to review (or create) a robust emergency preparedness plan for your parking system. You may find that one possible danger isn’t physical, like a bomb, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado. It may simply be a major loss of revenue occurring when customers, out of fear, don’t show up.

Did You Hire Them or Create Them?

Mark D Napier

I have had the opportunity during my career to teach courses on management and leadership. Without exception, every time I teach a course, there will be one or more students who lament about the poor quality of his/her subordinates. The subordinates are generally long-term employees but occasionally are recent hires. The student wants to know how to “fix” the subordinates. Will training work? What about progressive discipline? Should I reassign him/her?

It is clear that when we find an employee who is not performing acceptably, we need to act to correct performance. After all, that is what some of us were hired to do. When I dig a little deeper, I find this is not an isolated incident of a few rogue employees, but an almost circular occurrence of one employee after another. This takes significant time from the supervisor and drains positive energy from a significant segment of the workforce. The supervisor may tell me success stories in which he/she was able to terminate or retrain a substandard employee. Affirmative action to correct performance is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we do not examine the most important issue: Did you hire a substandard employee or did you create one? Let me be clear, those are absolutely the only two possibilities. Failing to examine this reality is dooming the organization to perpetually revisiting the address of underperforming employees. We all want to believe that our hiring processes are sufficiently discriminating. If that is true (big if), we hired a person capable of acceptable performance. How then did we end up with this poor performing employee?

We must examine the culture of the organization, the effectiveness of supervision, and the merit of our evaluative processes to determine where they failed. If we did not create this substandard employee, then we hired him/her. We must examine the hiring processes and the pool of potential employees we draw from to determine how it failed to yield an acceptable employee.

When the fire department responds to a fire, they promptly put it out. Next, they try to determine what caused the fire so future events might be avoided. Your underperforming employee is analogous to the fire and you have to respond to it. Now, determine what caused the fire!

Rare Compliments

Kim_Fernandez_March2015

About a year ago, I sent a complimentary email about someone to his boss, thinking she should know about the great job he was doing. Several hours later, she wrote back, “Thank you for your note. We don’t often hear from people with good things to say.”

Tell me that doesn’t break your heart just a little bit. Maybe you’re nodding in agreement with her. We’re (the editorial “we,” of course, not you and me specifically) very quick to file complaints, verbally or in writing, when someone slips up on the job, but those nice notes? They seem to get lost in our mental shuffles. So much to do; so little time.

A friend told me a few weeks ago, “We live on compliments,” and I think it’s pretty spot-on, especially in an industry such as parking where the complaints and insults can fly a lot more frequently than the niceties. We all like hearing we’re doing a good job and most people don’t hear it often enough.

It’s Friday, and where I am, the sun is shining and the day feels full of potential. I’m issuing myself a challenge and I hope you’ll challenge yourself and your colleagues with me: For every complaint (maybe every two or three; we’ll be reasonable), give someone a compliment. Say something nice. Tell someone they’re doing a great job, in our out of your department. Tell someone who works for you, the barista who foams up your latte, the guy or girl who rings up your next cart of groceries, or even your spouse, significant other, kid, or neighbor. And then give yourself a pat on the back, because you just did a great thing yourself.

Famous, Fast, and Furious

Frank L. Giles

Who has two thumbs and operates a parking deck featured in the new “The Fast and the Furious” movie? This guy, that’s who! That’s right, I’m famous. Well, I run a famous parking deck, anyway.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen it yet, the new “Furious 7” ends with the complete and utter destruction of a large urban parking deck. Not to worry—we have everything put back together now. Filming started before Paul Walker died and for a while there we didn’t know if the movie would make it to theaters at all, but it did. We were honored to be a part of it and a part of such a tribute to Mr. Walker.

The studio was able to do some amazing things with that parking deck, including put it in a totally different city and level it! Not that I’m biased, but I recommend this movie. Parking got one more day in Hollywood. Now, I’m not saying that I should receive an Oscar because one of my facilities was featured in one of the greatest action movie series of all time … it’s enough just to be nominated.

What is Your Vision for Parking Enforcement?

Mark D Napier

When considering the title question, I fear some of us (assuming a measure of honesty) are thinking, “To write more citations than last year to ensure an increase in revenue.” Really? If this is our enforcement vision, clearly stated or only inferred, how does this translate into a serious examination of our parking management success in terms of organizational goals and enforcement officer performance? Will this enforcement vision generate public support?

I introduce these questions to stimulate thought. Consider that in reality a continued increase in the number of citations we write is an indication of failure. If we can agree the purpose of enforcement is to change behavior and that enforcement should have an educational nexus, we then have to face the fact that increasing noncompliance is an indication that we are failing to deter and/or failing to educate. Another possibility is that our parking programs are so woefully inadequate or so poorly marketed as to nearly invite noncompliance. This, too, is not indicative of any parking management success.

Enforcement personnel who are primarily evaluated on the volume of citations they write will find violations. However, these may not be the violations we really should be pursuing and may be motivated by a need to produce some magic number of citations each day without respect to the merit of the presenting violation. The possibility for unethical behavior on the part of enforcement officers is a concern and, stated or not, this could be considered a quota. Finally, any vision of enforcement that is evenly subtlety predicated on a number of citations as a goal effectively feeds into the very stereotypes of our industry we seek to dispel.

Whether a campus or municipality, we must consider what our vision for parking enforcement is. We have to determine if that vision is in harmony with our larger organizational goals, if the vision provides positive guidance to enforcement personnel, and if that vision could stand the test of the light of day.

5:E NORDISKA PARKERINGSKONFERENSEN

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

jonesblog3In Swedish, 5:E NORDISKA PARKERINGSKONFERENSEN translates to the 5th Nordic Parking Conference. This gathering of just fewer than 500 attendees and 50 exhibitors from 17 different countries took place last week in beautiful Stockholm, Sweden, presented by the Swedish Parking Association, SvePark. Though the many languages spoken there are unique to our own, the topics and interest in continuing to make progress in our industry is universal. The theme of this conference is innovation and I delivered a presentation on the future of parking.

In looking to the future and what it will hold for our industry, I start with a look back. It’s important that we recognize while we’ve made progress, our parking public may not yet have forgotten about our old ways of doing things. It’s not been that long ago that the technology we offered was no more sophisticated than a metal box with slots cut in it for inserting cash, and we often built parking garages that were inhospitable to the patron and degraded external surroundings with poor design. Our singular focus seemed to be about parking cars, less so on serving the people and businesses relaying on access to our parking facilities, and seldom, if ever, did we acknowledge our part in protecting the environment and engaging the communities we serve. Thankfully things have changed.

Our future is indeed bright because: 1) we now view our role as a service industry; 2) we embrace and advance technology to improve customer service, operational efficiency, and revenue control; 3) we are active in contributing to economic, environmental, and social sustainability; and 4) we’ve broadened our focus to include all modes of travel, not just single-occupancy vehicles.

Jonesblog1It’s a good thing we’re open to new ways of thinking. In my talk I included four converging factors that our industry must be mindful of if we’re to continue making positive strides in the years to come. These include: 1) the continued urbanization of the world; 2) changing attitudes toward owning and driving private vehicles; 3) the decreasing cost of smartphone computing; and 4) the emergence of big data and increasingly sophisticated transportation algorithms that will help us facilitate more efficient use of transportation infrastructure, including parking resources.

jonesblog2After my talk, I realized that I’d forgotten one major key to our continued success: strengthening our global parking community. By sharing our experiences, both good and bad, we are able to learn, innovate, and celebrate our successes. This promotes the collaboration necessary for a vibrant, expanding, and critical industry in which to grow and succeed.

Tack (Swedish for thanks).

Rudeness: The New Normal

campbell crop Capture

If you’ve been reading or watching the news over the last few days, you’ve undoubtedly heard about a female ESPN reporter’s comments and bad behavior directed at a towing company’s employee. In a nutshell, the car was reportedly towed for being left overnight in a restaurant parking lot. In an edited video of the interaction, we see the agitated reporter apparently berate and demean a female tow company employee, even after being advised that she is being videotaped.

Here’s my assessment of the incident: Nothing new or surprising to see here.

In all segments of the parking industry, this sort of belligerent acting out happens hundreds—if not thousands—of times each day. The difference here is that the “bad actor” happens to be a minor celebrity so it’s become buzzworthy. There is significant debate taking place regarding the fact that the video has obviously been edited and we have no idea what was really said by the tow company employee. If we set all of the “who-said-what-first” debate aside, it comes down to the greater issues of widespread intolerance, entitlement, and disrespect. Unabashed rudeness is the new norm.

During the last decade, I have had the privilege of providing training for frontline parking and transportation staff across North America.  Without exception, stories similar to the ESPN reporter’s behavior—and far worse—are shared by participants in each and every course. I’m always amazed by these stories detailing the utter lack of personal responsibility and human decency, but frankly, I’m also no longer surprised by it. A perfect example of this everyday lack of civility can be viewed by reading any of the online comments (on both sides of the issue) posted in relation to the ESPN reporter’s behavior. Many are equally as disrespectful as the reporter’s videoed comments, laced with assumptions, accusations, and intolerance.

As parking professionals, it’s critical for all of us to see past the bad behaviors we encounter. Being able to rise above condescending attitudes is a learned behavior, as this does not come naturally for most of us. We should strive to never let the bad behavior and statements of others keep us from doing and saying the right things. This can be a tall order when a customer wants to take issue with who they perceive you are or what your skill set or motivations might be.

The details surrounding the ESPN reporter’s towing incident have been broadcast globally. The situation offers each of us a timely opportunity to sit down with staff to discuss methods and techniques to successfully and professionally handle these inevitable difficult customer interactions.

Who’s There? What the Frack?

Kathleen

I live in Pennsylvania, where 64 percent of the state lies above shale. As a resident of West Chester, Pa., the home of QVC and, unfortunately, the MTV hit movie and show Jackass, I never expected to intimately learn about natural gas fracking by a knock on the door.

Daniel Foster/Flickr

Daniel Foster/Flickr

You see, my community is being rocked by fracking. So I tried to figure out how I can tie together fracking and parking, as the first topic is consuming me—my six-year-old son’s school is in a blast zone of a planned unmanned pumping station. I started to think: What would happen if a parking facility or garage was in a blast zone for an unmanned pumping station or worse? What would a parking lot owner or garage operator do if they were asked to sign an easement on their property for a fracking pipeline? Is the parking industry prepared for the shale boom and all the consequences of it?

Once an easement is signed, some mortgage companies won’t hold your mortgage anymore and you have to pay cash for your property or find a mortgage company that will allow pipeline easements. What happens if you want to sell that property? Who would buy real estate with an easement attached to it? Landscaping, trees, fences—none can be within 50 feet of either side of the pipeline (at least, that is the case for the homes in my township).

IPI’s online courses teach about safety and security—how tall bushes and hedges need to be for the safety of the patron, etc. The Introduction to Parking course also has a section on landscape design. Landscaping adds to the emotionality of feeling safe and secure as well as the overall aesthetics of a garage or lot. Let’s not forget what we as a core group of professionals do for the greening initiatives within the parking industry. So how would a parking professional handle being told they had to remove all landscaping within those 50 feet? How would patrons feel about that? What would the consequences be?

This fracking situation that I find myself, my family, and my beloved township involved in is slightly similar to having an ugly parking garage with no relationship to its neighbors. However, in my case it is an unmanned, loud, fire-and-gas spewing 40-foot stack in a residential neighborhood, near a school, that will have no relationship with its neighbors.

Are you ready for “that” knock on your facilities door? How would you answer it? Like I said before, “What the frack?”

Warrior or Ambassador?

Dave Feehan

With the nation’s attention recently focused on Ferguson, N.Y., and other police shootings, it might be a good time to revisit how parking systems provide security in their facilities and offices.

Some parking systems hire and deploy their own employees as security officers. Some contract with private security firms. Others may hire off-duty police officers. Some parking facilities are patrolled by Business Improvement District (BID) personnel.

Law enforcement has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Today, by some estimates, there are as many private security officers as publicly employed sworn police officers. Foley, Minn., recently disbanded its police force and hired a private security team to patrol its streets.

Discussions of security are generally not the hottest topic at parking conferences. Yet security is sometimes a life-and-death issue, and parking systems that handle security poorly may be putting customers and employees at risk, to say nothing of liability concerns.

Several years ago, when I was the president of the downtown organization in a midwestern city, we provided additional security through our BID. We patrolled downtown sidewalks and the skywalk system as well as augmenting parking garage security. The first important question we had to address was, should we employ our own security workers or contract with an outside firm? We elected to hire our own, because we wanted more control over who was hired and what kind of training was provided.  Fundamentally, we had to decide: Do we want to employ warriors or ambassadors?

There is an old saying in human resources that I often find extremely helpful: Hire attitude and teach skills. In our case, we wanted security patrol personnel who were ambassadors first and warriors only when absolutely necessary. If I were putting together a SWAT or SEAL team, I might think differently about whom to hire.

So what advice might I give a local parking operator or manager? If your facilities are not frequent crime locations, having security officers who are friendly, outgoing, and knowledgeable about their surroundings, who carry maps and event schedules, but who know what to do in an emergency might be the right choice. Your officer is more often going to be helping someone with a dead battery or chasing away a skateboarder than apprehending a murderer or bank robber.

Of course, there are many other considerations when evaluating parking security—cost, internal capacity, availability of good contractors—but if parking is the first and last experience for many downtown users and if your security personnel are the first people they encounter, what message do you want to send? Does your garage feel like a war zone or a hotel lobby?

Spring Ahead with Fantastic Local Education and Networking!

The Parking Matters Blog Avatar

The spring season for parking and transportation events is in full swing. Before you join us at the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, be sure to mark your calendar to attend some of the state and regional events in your neck of the woods or an IPI webinar from the comfort of your desk (invite your co-workers to watch with you!). One thing is for sure: The parking industry is vibrant and offers parking and transportation professionals amazing opportunities for both networking and professional development, and maybe a few rounds of golf, too!

April 14 – 17

New England Parking Council Annual Spring Conference

Newport, R.I.

newenglandparkingcouncil.org

April 15

IPI Webinar: TDM Case Study; Seattle Children’s Hospital

parking.org/webinars

April 21 – 23

Texas Parking & Transportation Association Conference and Trade Show

Corpus Christi, Texas

texasparking.org

April 21, 2015

NYSPA Annual Spring Training

Johnson City, N.Y.

nyspa.net

April 22-24

Parking Association of Georgia Annual Conference and Trade Show

Pine Mountain, Ga.

parkingassociationofgeorgia.com

April 27-29, 2015

Big Ten/Midwestern Universities Transportation and Parking Conference

Minneapolis, Minn.

z.umn.edu/SeeUs

April 28-29, 2015

2015 Parking and Transportation Education Summit (PIPTA/SWPTA)

Boulder, Colo.

southwestparking.org or pipta.org

May 1, 2015

Parking Association of the Virginias Spring Workshop

Richmond, Va.

pavonline.org