We are confronted with daily evidence that the world can be a dangerous place, yet self-storage owners across the globe make the sad mistake of failing to prepare for peril. In addition to the usual transgressions of theft and vandalism, our industry now faces the very real risk that facilities will be used in relation to terrorist activity. Crime and misfortune abound on the planet. How do you prevent your business from becoming a primary or secondary victim?
No matter how you spell or say the word—seguridad, sicurezza, sécurité or security—there are steps you can take to bring your potential liabilities under control. Today’s security suppliers offer the software, electronics and mechanical tools to manage and minimize your risks. This article addresses the benefits and basics of a risk-assessment process, which will assist you in choosing the best solutions for your needs. It also examines tips for choosing a security provider and some emerging trends in the field.
Assessment of Risk
The first step in minimizing your risk is a thorough assessment of your exposures. You need to identify the possibility and probability of danger to your site or business. Consider this: As a self-storage operator, you give control of portions of your property to third parties. You recognize that the more you know about your customers and what they store with you, the less risk they pose to your livelihood.
This may mean you have to gather more information from tenants than planned. Some data-collection, such as the verification of credit reports or criminal records, will require compliance with local and national regulations. Other bits of info will be simply for your own protection and convenience. For example, you may decide you need visual verification of people who access your site.
To determine the needs and vulnerabilities of your specific facility, you’ll need to ask yourself a series of risk-assessment questions. Site requirements will vary according to local conditions, such as demographics, as well as more expansive criteria, like culture and geography. While it would be difficult to summarize all areas of appraisal in an article of this scope, the following are some basic considerations:
- Are your customer-data procedures adequate? Can you quickly and reliably identify each customer?
- Do you have up-to-date contact information for each tenant?
- What are your exception-handling procedures?
- Do you know who is on your premises at any given time?
- Does your security solution take into account environmental factors? For example, are you on a coastal or other area that experiences extreme weather conditions, which could compromise your security?
- Do you have spare equipment on site for the event of an emergency—for example, a tenant damages a security camera, light fixture or access keypad with his moving truck? What is your downtime if you don’t have replacements available?
- What happens if a lightning strike or power surge damages your computer hard drive and security-system controller?
- What would happen if your software license expired on a Friday evening and your supplier was not available until regular business hours on Monday?
- Do you have a business-continuity plan to cope with potential disasters?
- Have you entered a crime-watch agreement or liaison with other businesses in your area?
Once you have answered these and other questions, the next step is to identify and minimize your risk. Match it against the technology and systems on the market. The complexity of ever-changing technical solutions and the sheer volume of security equipment and vendors may make your choice difficult. Your most cost-effective option may be to hire a professional to assist you.
Choosing a Security Provider
Decide on your security provider only after careful research, bearing in mind the cheapest option is not always the best. You are entering a long-term business relationship, so you want to choose wisely. Poor decision-making in this area could cost you—in more ways than one. Consider the following:
- Does the company’s sales package include important information you’ll need to make your choice?
- Is the supplier responsive to your questions and concerns?
- Are installation drawings and other documentation available?
- Does the supplier offer professional engineering and installation services, or does it hire third parties for these tasks?
- Is the proposed system too rigid, or is it flexible enough to allow the easy, cost-effective addition of updates and modifications?
- Do the supplier and its installers have a strong record of reliability and sound business practices?
Always get references from potential security providers, and make sure each candidate has appropriate qualifications and licenses for the proposed work. Not only will it give you peace of mind, it will ensure the company has followed necessary procedures. Many municipalities have strict guidelines regarding licensure to protect consumers. For example, in New South Wales, Australia, there is a state-administered licensing scheme with severe financial penalties for noncompliance. If your provider does not have a master license for work he has completed, you are not obligated to pay.
In addition to standard offerings available at most self-storage sites—access gates, keypads, video surveillance, unit alarms, etc.—several new technologies are coming on the security scene. Biometrics is a new option being used to replace magnetic stripe cards (i.e., bank cards) at some facilities. Due to growing demand for this technology, it is likely to become a cost-effective means of access control for storage facilities. In fact, some operators already use biometricdevices at a number of sites for wine storage and other high-security areas.
There are several competing biometric variations. The oldest and most established is a finger-scanning device. This can work using surface detection of fingerprint patterns or the subsurface detection of blood vessels. The newest biometric device is the iris scan, which is also the most reliable.
Another up-and-coming technology, used primarily by government agencies until recent years, is video motion detection. There are several layers of technology under this category. At the simplest level, it refers to a camera or digital video recorder that sounds an alarm when it senses changes in the grey levels (light pattern) of a video image. Moving up several levels of sophistication, you have systems that can recognize the presence or loss of very small elements, even in a busy image.
Motion-detection systems, while relatively expensive, are getting more affordable as the technology improves. These systems make image storing and archiving more manageable for storage operators, as they only record valid events.
The Big Picture
The purpose of security at any storage site, whether in London or San Francisco, is the minimization of risk for the facility owner and tenants. Therefore, risk assessment is a crucial part of your ongoing success. Evaluate hazards in terms of potential rather than immediate and obvious problems. Ask yourself a host of “what if” questions, anticipating security needs before they are imminent.
An important thing to keep in mind is there is no “one solution fits all” approach. Owners of multiple facilities should remember each site is unique, and what is adequate protection for one may not be effective at another. Fortunately, with today’s technology, the ability to monitor several properties from a single location is facilitated via the Internet and related options available as part of most security systems.
Finally, do not be afraid to research your options. Technologies change, and new products come on the market all the time. Don’t assume you have to stick with what you purchased at installation. A good security system should have the flexibility to change with the times and adapt to evolving demand.
No matter where you are in the global community, security has been statistically proven to be one of the best tools for marketing a storage facility as well as maximizing per-square-foot yield. Invest in a system that will reduce your risk and safeguard your self-storage business.
Steve Cooper is part of the marketing team at Digitech International Inc., which produces comprehensive security solutions for the self-storage industry. The company’s product line includes gates, access control, video surveillance, individual unit alarms, management site control and onsite marketing tools. For more information, call 800.523.9504; visit www.digitech-intl.com. Martin Dugdale is the principal of Holdfast Security Pty. Ltd., the agent for Digitech products in Australia and New Zealand. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].