In all my years of teaching self-defense, perhaps one of the most concerning situations is safety in parking garages. It’s not too difficult to understand why these locations pose problems. Parking garages display everything common sense tells us to avoid – dimly lit areas, isolation, etc. Many times, we find ourselves having to use them after dark! Unfortunately, these conditions are a necessary evil that can’t always be avoided.
I think the most unsettling issue with parking garages is that there are many places for the “bad guys” to hide (dark corners, stairwells, etc.). It’s our human nature to obsess about the fear of the unknown. The good news is that most of the time, there are no bad guys waiting to jump out at us after dark.
However, it is important to know how to stay safe in a parking garage. We must be ready for the possible circumstance. The best way to avoid panic and paranoid feelings is to train for them, not just physically, but mentally, as well.
Locations such as parking garages emit the creepy feeling of being watched or followed. You won’t eliminate this fear, but one of the best ways I deal with it is to mentally visualize being followed. Of course, I understand that this exercise will be uncomfortable for many of us. The more you visualize something, the faster your reaction time. Doing so also helps to reduce the stress of these obsessive thoughts. It gives you a healthier outlook, positive mindset, and a greater chance of prevention. Suddenly, you feel more in control of your emotions and the potential situation.
If you must venture into a parking garage after dark, it’s best to have a traveling companion. There’s always safety in numbers. However, I realize that having another person with you isn’t always possible. The first order of business is to take note of your body language. Go back to the basics. Always keep your visual field at a full 360 degrees. Know what is in front and behind! As you walk, keep your chest and head up and walk briskly. In other words, walk like you have somewhere to go! Even if you are lost.
Speaking of “lost”, take note of EXACTLY where you parked your vehicle! Wandering around for extended periods of time searching for your car will naturally drop your guard and increase your safety risk. While walking, avoid being distracted by your phone. Instead, wait until you are in a better lit area among other people to use it.
Lastly, if you choose to carry a self defense tool, such as the MUNIO self-defense keychain, it must be out and ready to use! You must be holding the object securely in your hand and understand exactly how it functions. I am all for enhancing personal safety with additional tools, but they serve no real purpose if they are in your pocket or purse. It only takes a matter of seconds to be engaged in an attack. Carrying and using your defensive instrument should NEVER be an afterthought. In the heat of battle, you will not have time to retrieve it.
Since parking garages are a fact of everyday life, taking a moment to plan ahead. Along with embracing the right precautions, we can definitely reduce the fear and risk.
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. She is a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.