Self-Storage Security System Triumphs and Failures: Stories From Facility Operators
|Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.|
|Posted on: 06/06/2013|
Self-storage operators rely on their facility security system not only to keep the property safe and alert them to potential intrusion but to serve as a strong marketing tool with customers. When visitors to the facility see surveillance cameras, an access-control gate, and site-graphics displays behind the management counter, it instills in them a sense of confidence that the business is proactive and secure.
For the most part, security components work as they should. Keypads process gate codes, the gate opens and closes, motion sensors trigger lighting, cameras capture site activity, and door alarms sound the call when a unit has been breached. These tools provide operators with important information about the comings and goings of customers and guests. When crime does occur on or near the property, this equipment can help local law enforcement do their job.
But like any technology, security components can fail from time to time, leaving a facility and its inhabitants vulnerable. It's important that operators watch for shut-downs and work to resolve them as quickly as possible. Inside Self-Storage recently asked industry professionals about the successes and failures of their security systems, sharing details about times when security tools saved the day and how they handled periodic breakdowns.
Has your security system ever helped you or law enforcement solve a crime that occurred at your self-storage facility?
Ever since the first camera went up at my facility, I have not had another issue (knock on wood); but last year someone broke into a house neighboring my facility. The people who lived there and the cops came by to ask if our cameras might have caught anything.
We took a look at our footage and found a guy carrying a 42-inch TV with a blanket over it down a isle at our facility. He goes all the way to the end of the facility, then walks all the way back toward the camera and into the view of another. In the mean time, the getaway car is outside the gate, which a camera picks up as well.
The homeowners know both the person and the car. We burn a copy for police, and the case was solved.
Last year I had an incident where a past-due notice resulted in a phone call from a "gentleman" in Florida informing me that he had "no" storage in Virginia and that I should call the police because someone must have stolen his identity. I told him he needed to report the identity theft to his local police department and I would investigate further on my end. I compared the picture on the ID we had on file with the picture of the person renting the unit and immediately could tell they were not the same person.
I called the guy in Florida to ask about the information on his license, and it was accurate; but he again stated someone must have stolen it because he had never been to Virginia. He did report the problem to his local police department and I did the same.
While waiting for our local PD to show up, I received a call from someone claiming to be the tenant wanting to make a payment so he could access the unit. I took the payment over the phone and again called our PD to let them know what had happened. They asked if I could deny the person making the payment access to the unit, so I did not remove the overlock.
[Then I got] another phone call from the person making the payment asking when I would be removing the "red" lock on his unit. I told him I would do so shortly, and again called to inquire when an officer would be arriving at the facility. When the officers arrived, I told them what had transpired and showed them the ID and picture I had. After filing the report, they asked that I call their cell phone when the tenant showed up.
Sure enough, not 20 minutes after they left, I got another phone call about the lock. I told him I would have it off in a few minutes and did so while calling the officers' cell phone. The tenant showed up just as I returned to the office and went through the gate to his unit. I copied the license-plate number and descriptions down while removing the gate-access code so he could not vacate easily.
The officers showed up and arrested the person standing outside the unit in question when he dropped a box he was carrying. He denied knowing what was in the unit or the box but would not give the officers permission to access either. They took him and the box to the local magistrate to get a search warrant for the box and unit. They found a fake ID and credit card in his shoe while processing him at the jail, and when they opened the box, they found several hundred stolen credit cards and lists of numbers and ID information. When they served the search warrant for the unit, they again found more stolen credit cards, blank cards, laptops, lists of information and equipment used to create credit cards.
Several weeks later, a postal inspector came by with the necessary paperwork to obtain all the information I had on the person who had rented the unit. He told me they had not arrested everyone connected to the case but were actively seeking quite a few suspects in several states. I will probably be summoned to court when they have everyone in custody. I told him, "Don't wait too long. At my age, I may not remember everything or my time may expire any day."
A few years ago, we knew someone was coming in at night and stealing the gas out of the RVs that were stored in our facility. We knew who it was because we could see them enter their own gate code, and we could watch them siphon the gas out of the vehicles.
So my boss set up our computer to text his phone whenever that particular gate code was entered. He would then watch the cameras, and when he saw these idiots siphoning the gas, he called our local PD. They caught them with a hose in a tank. When they opened these guys' unit, it was full of gas cans and stolen TV sets! KCRA news came down and did a story on the 5 o'clock news about our facility and its great security system! Free advertising is great!
Have you ever experienced a malfunction in your security system? If so, how did you handle it?
We have alarms on every unit and gate. If the power goes out, we have to open the gate by hand and leave it open. When our alarms malfunction—and they do from time to time—the problem has to be resolved as quickly as possible. This is when you need to have a reliable alarm tech on call.
The first year we were open, we had so many malfunctions with the alarms I decided to take the class and become a tech myself. Now when there is a problem with the alarms, I can fix it. Whether it's thousands of alarms going off at 3 a.m. and the police call me, or it's a keypad freezing up in the middle of a blizzard, we don't have to wait around for the alarm company all day.
The most important thing to remember, though, is to keep spare parts such as door alarms and circuit boards on hand, because these things can become backordered for weeks or even months!
Years ago, we installed battery backups for the computer running the security system, as well as the 13.8 DC-volt alarm system. Then we went to an LP gas-powered generator so we could operate continuously when the power went out. In our area, power outages occur about every two months. Some outages are short and some take up to 24 hours.
We’ve become experts at replacing DSBs [dual sense bars] for the alarms and fuses for the gates, keypads and individual door alarms. We have a couple of backup keypads, keypad interfaces and DSBs. For the video system, it's pretty easy to purchase backup cameras, as the most recent changes have been to the dome-type cameras that cost less than $70 compared to the boxed cameras that cost $400. So we have many spares. The DVRs can be purchased and shipped virtually overnight, so we don't have any extras of those. We only need to call the reliable alarm tech when we get thoroughly stumped. He really doesn't make much money on service calls to our facility.
In summary, battery and generator backups keep us going. Redundant parts make it pretty easy to diagnose a problem by simply swapping parts 'til something works.
Thieves like to steal desktop computers in hopes they can find credit card information, which they can then use to make fraudulent purchases. Of course, what they don't know is that with cloud computing and PCI-compliance, those numbers aren't on the hard drives. This reinstates the importance in our areas to be extremely careful with credit card data and ensure it is password-protected and never written down in full or in e-mail archive. Operators have also begun securing their servers in security closet rooms so there is just a simplified workstation at the rental desk.
No problems so far. I'm just preparing for events. We added e-mail data backup to our house at each close of day. When closing, our data is e-mailed. At any time, if wind or fire or theft happens, I would just bring our backup computer from my house and reload last night’s data. Five [minutes] and it is done. The operating program is already installed and ready to go.
To reduce the possibility of theft, we are looking into battery-powered intruder alerts that go into individual units. They have added 10,000 codes, so the remotes will only work with one unit and not affect surrounding units.
If customers want an alarm, they pay, not us. It costs us about $22, and we sell them for more. We are also going to offer some magnetic signs that say "Warning: loud alarm inside." It seems that it should discourage the attempt to enter if the thief knows there will be a noise. Low-tech, low price bought by any person that feels he wants additional security. Not my equipment, not my batteries, so I can't be responsible. When they leave, they take their alarm home.