By David Fleming
Inside Self-Storage has dedicated this month's issue to the topic of security. You will be reading about the latest technology. There will be advertisements for everything from computer-controlled access gates to video surveillance and individual unit alarms. All of these devices are very effective security measures. But what can we as managers do to ensure are our facilities are secure?
There seems to be no limit to the creativity of the criminal element. They seem to find a way to get around just about any type of security measure. Gates can be bypassed very easily by tailgating. Fences can be cut. The office is only open eight to 10 hours of a 24-hour day, and the manager has to sleep sometime. To some criminals, self-storage may seem like a golden opportunity. That's why it is so important to do everything you can to deter criminal activity. There is a multitude of security options on the market today, ranging in cost from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. We managers might just be the single best deterrent to criminal activity at our facilities.
The question should not be, "What one thing will stop crime at my facility?" but "What combination of things will deter criminals?" The fact is there is very little you can do to stop someone who is intent on wrongdoing. But these types of individuals can be deterred. Criminals are opportunists. They prey on people and businesses they feel provide them with an opportunity to get some type of financial or material gain with relatively little effort.
Our Best Lines of Defense
Let's start at the last line of defense: the padlock. Most facilities use a latch system that requires the occupant to secure it with a padlock. The harder this is to bypass, the more a criminal will be deterred. Most locks are easily cut. I have even seen locks that were so flimsy it looks as if you could just pop them open with a screwdriver. I suggest disk locks. As the manager of a facility, you have a lot of say in what type of lock you offer for sale. I give my customers a choice: the big disk lock or the little disk lock. If they have their own lock, they are allowed to use it, but I advise against it. I have even heard of facilities that require disk locks. These locks are not uncuttable, but they are difficult to cut or drill quickly and effectively. Remember: We are just trying to deter the criminal. If the theft takes too long or too much effort, that is a great deterrent.
The other thing we can do as managers is make ourselves highly visible throughout the facility. Besides our morning lock check, we should be out and about the grounds on a regular basis. When we are out showing a unit, we should do our best to pass by other individuals on the premises. This will do two things: First, it gives you an opportunity to say "hello" (and get a peek at what is in his unit), which promotes goodwill with your customer. It also shows your prospective customer there are other people using your facility to meet their needs. And you don't need to be showing a unit to do a "walk-by." There are several reasons you might be walking past a unit--if you need a reason, just grab a broom.
I make it a point to meet every one of my customers during their move-in just to say "hello," make sure everything is OK with the unit and see if there is anything else I can do for them. They love that I am so concerned, and I get to see firsthand what is going into my facility. There are other types of criminal activity beside theft, such as the storage of stolen or illegal goods, hazardous materials and waste. It's better I catch these things right off the bat. I do these "walk-bys" with everyone, but especially if a customer doesn't seem quite right. As a manager, the best thing you can do is trust your gut feeling. If something doesn't sit right with you, investigate. Trust your instincts.
Tailgaters, or "gate crashers" as we refer to them, are always a problem. If you have a gate system that requires everyone to register with the office before entering--whether by keypad, card swipe or manual sign-in log--it needs to be strictly monitored. Most problems will come from customers who are just too lazy to stop and execute the required procedure or are in a hurry. They still need to follow the regulations of the facility. Make sure the entry procedure is outlined in your rules and regulations, and post a sign on the gate or by the keypad. This way there is no argument when you come out of the office, stop them and ask them to go back and follow gate procedures.
Remind them that this is for their protection as well as yours. Not only do you have a log of everyone who has been on site and for how long, but if there were a problem, you could exclude them from the list of possible suspects. Nobody gets through the gate without registering. I have actually gotten on the golf cart and driven to the far end of the facility to make sure a person comes all the way back to register at the keypad. There are no exceptions.
Finally, the first line of defense comes at the time of rental. By requiring a government-issued photo ID at the time of sign-up, you will automatically send a message that you run a secure facility. You may even want to consider requiring ID before you even show a unit. Anyone with less-than-legal intentions will be hesitant to show ID. And those who didn't intend to do anything illegal but later consider it may be deterred from doing so when they remember their ID is on file. And that they are registered as being on site because the manager stopped them and made them punch in when they tried to run the gate. And the manager may just be walking around the corner at any time, like he so often does. (You get the picture.)
Statistically speaking, the majority of crimes committed at storage facilities are committed by customers of the facility or someone they know (and has most likely been there before). By showing a strong managerial presence, and by putting as many deterrents in their way as possible, you will greatly reduce the odds of being targeted by criminals.
David Fleming is a manager and manager trainer for Premier Self-Storage Inc. of Amherst, N.Y., which plans to build 20 state-of-the-art facilities over the next five years. After having managed facilities in three states over the past 10 years, Mr. Fleming now resides in a Buffalo suburb with his two children and his co-manager and wife, Tina, who will also contribute to this column. David has won awards from industry publications, including the Inside Self-Storage award for Manager of the Year. To contact the Flemings, call 716.688.8000; fax 716.688.6459; e-mail [email protected].