Beyond Flashing Lights and Guard Dogs

When planning for self-storage security, the options go far beyond flashing lights and guard dogs. Each property has its own unique challenges that may be approached in a variety of ways.

Security systems should serve three main purposes: 1) Protect your investment. 2) Provide a high level of comfort for customers storing their belongings. 3) Assure the safety of your managers.

Concepts to have in mind when planning your project range from building layout to electronic security devices you intend to install. Making educated decisions in the design phase will save you money and time down the road.

Building Layout

The first consideration should be the projects overall layout. According to Buster Owens, of Rabco Corp., the facilitys perimeter should be designed in a fortress style with the buildings acting as the barrier. This design allows the perimeter to be secured without the additional cost of a fence and you get the added benefit of having double loading driveways on the entire property, explains Owens. Inside the fortress, all buildings should run parallel to the longest dimension of the property, he adds.

Make sure to design adequate turning room at the ends of buildings. Too often facilities are positioned so tightly it makes it difficult for trucks to navigate. Many moving trucks are rented by people with little truck-driving experience. Limited turning space leads to damaged trucks and buildings.

Access-control systems should be considered early in the layout phase. Virtually every facility these days has a plan for an automatic gate system. How will tenants enter and exit the site? While a single entry point may be adequate, multiple exit points may be necessary, depending on the projects layout. Exiting convenience is a priority; if its hard for customers to use an exit keypad, they may try to bypass the access system and tailgate out, damaging property in the process.


Figure out your lighting needs in advance, especially if you plan to offer customers 24-hour access. Proper illumination is definitely a factor in the overall security of your facility, but its typically overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

Project lighting is often improperly calculated, according to John Vowells, an electrician and lighting-control specialist. If you have to go in after a project is completed to correct the problem, its both expensive and inconvenient. Vowells recommends balancing lighting between both sides of the driveway to achieve the ultimate goal in lighting: No dark spots at night!

For climate control, where corridors dont need to be lit 24 hours a day, many facilities rely on automated lighting systems. Motion detectors and timers are not always practical, judging from the ongoing problem of tenants being left in the dark, literally. Todays automated offerings integrate into access-control systems and turn on specific lights for tenants going to their units.

Modern lighting systems can be customized for tenants either by time- or activity-related functions. They cost more initially but pay for themselves over time, especially given the recent rise in electricity costs.

Individual Door Alarms

The market has proven that individually alarmed units command a higher price. Facilities with door alarms should promote the added security feature in all marketing efforts.

The time to think about installing individual door alarms is at the beginning of the project. Economical, reliable systems involve wiring and require conduit runs be implemented in the electrical blueprints. Make sure conduit runs are big enough to accommodate the system and are directed to the correct units. A rule of thumb in calculating the size of conduit needed is to double it. It may cost a tad more, but its less expensive if you ever have to run additional wires down the line. Since the majority of individual door alarm systems for self-storage are low voltage, they must run in separate sleeves from the regular AC voltage serving each building.

Door-alarm systems also integrate into access-control systems. Customers key in entry codes to disarm their units. When they key out and exit, units are re-armed. If the door is open without proper coding, the alarm sounds, usually sending off sirens and strobes. At most sites, the signal is sent to an alarm panel in the main office. The system can be configured to relay the alarm in the yard as well, in case the manager is not in the office.


Camera systems have been around for years and are a longtime friend to self-storage. Because equipment prices have dropped, some operators like to cover every square inch of the facility with video surveillance.

Incorporating monitors into the office should be a primary concern when designing a new site. Most modern facilities have monitors grouped behind the rental counter providing a visual display for tenants and walk-ins. Couple this with a color-coded map identifying each units activity in real time and you have a dynamic and impressive display that sends the message that security is a high priority at your site.

At the very least, you should have cameras covering high-traffic areasdriveways and, in the case of a climate-controlled building, the entry doors. Make sure you have a clear view of the gate and license plates. A camera should also watch the office counter at all times.

The Nesting Instinct

The trend in security is toward nesting, in which some areas of the facility are secured with additional safety features. Nesting requires installation of double devices, such as keypads for gate entry and door alarms on individual units. Another option is to install a keypad and card-reader combination, which will require a valid code and card to enter these designated areas. Many tenants will pay a premium for double security, so the added features may pay for themselves quickly.

Access-control systems should always be considered in a projects planning phase especially since they often become the only line of tenant communication. Many modern systems are integrated with management software allowing customized messages to be sent from the front office to tenants entering and exiting the property. You can choose your general greeting as well as send tenant-specific messages about account balances, due dates and special sales promotions.

With all security plans, its important to design and budget far in advance. And never let security be the sacrificial lamb of the project if there are cost overruns. Budget for a tight security system and stick to it. If you dont, youll regret it. 

Joe Burt is international sales manager at Sentinel Systems Corp. of Lakewood, Colo., which has manufactured self-storage software and security systems since 1975. Mr. Burt has more than 16 years of self-storage experience. For more information, call 800.456.9955; e-mail [email protected]; visit

For more information about self-storage security, check out "Security: Choosing Tools, Protecting Your Investment," a 32-page e-book available through the Self-Storage Training Insititute. Click here for more info!


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