By David Reddick
Planning the security systems for your self-storage facility has become a rather complex task. The long and short of it is that there are a lot of choices and you will have unique wants and needs that respond to your market area and how you want to operate your business. Let's begin by defining the environment:
- The self-storage software program you use directly impacts your security system. It makes little sense to operate two separate systems if they can be interfaced or integrated so that many operations are accomplished automatically.
- There are a number of vendors who provide security systems specifically for this market. Self-storage is a unique business and vendors who specialize in this market provide features you need and that are useful in operating your business.
- Many different systems are available. For example, access control (keypads or card readers), individual door alarms (hardwired and wireless), CCTV, perimeter beams, graphic displays, etc.
- Systems/vendors offer unique features. Everyone tries to differentiate themselves from their competition. Providing a capability that no one else offers is one way to say, "my system is better."
- The physical layout/structure of your site will impact your security decision. Single-story, multi-story, inside units, outside units, etc., will impact your specific security system configuration.
- What your competition has to offer can make a difference. Do they have an automatic gate? Do they offer 24-hour access? Do they have and market a door-alarm system?
- Your marketing plan needs to relate to your security system. Security systems can be very effective marketing tools that can increase rates and occupancy.
- Everything has a cost. Your budget will ultimately dictate what you do. Leaving your security decision until late in the game often limits your ability to purchase the security system that will best meet your needs.
Understanding what is available will take the most time, but it is also the most important activity you will undertake. You need to be an informed buyer and that mandates that you do your own research and make your own comparisons.
Your software decision is directly related to your ultimate security decision. In most cases, choosing a software program will be the first thing you do. This naturally occurs for several reasons:
- The self-storage property-management software you select will be your primary tool for operating your business. As such, it must meet all of your operational needs, i.e., automatic posting of rent and late fees, generation of customized late and lien notices, printing customer receipts, as well as providing you the financial information you and your CPA need.
- A fair amount of customization will be required to meet your state laws and the conditions specified in your lease agreement. This customization and the fine tuning required as you implement your system will take some time.
- Learning how to use the software will also take you and your managers some time. While it is true that the simple operations (i.e., renting a unit) can be learned quickly, the countless variations (how to take a partial payment or do a pre-lease, for example) will require more hands-on knowledge. The key point is that the time to learn must come before a customer is standing across the counter in the rental office.
Selecting your software will require you to make the fundamental decision of which operating system you will use. It is basically a choice between DOS and Windows. Our industry has grown up on DOS, and there are many vendors with lots of storage experience who can provide you with a reliable and stable DOS-based system. Many of these vendors are working hard to provide Windows-based systems, and there are several who have successfully made the transition. I'll make the following observations for your consideration:
- It is virtually impossible to purchase a new PC that does not have Windows already installed.
- There are inherent conflicts in running a DOS-based program on a PC with Windows. Not that these issues can't be resolved, but it often takes extraordinary knowledge and skill to smooth out all the bumps. These obstacles can be significant when running your DOS-based security system on the same PC as your Windows-based management software.
- Development of Windows-based systems is tedious and difficult. It takes time, both in the development shop and in the field, to provide a system that is reasonably reliable. Early releases (versions) may provide you with some significant challenges. If you are not prepared to do Beta testing for your vendor, look for systems that have been in use for a period of time, and talk with people who use them.
- Finally, why buy old technology? The reality is that all new features and capabilities will come from Windows-based systems, not DOS.
And Now, on to Security
An overview of self-storage security systems will help you focus as you prepare to do your "homework." I think it is most easily understood by separating these systems into three categories: access control, individual door alarms, and ancillary systems and devices.
Access-control systems provide a means of selectively allowing tenants to enter your facility. The most common method uses an entry and exit keypad in conjunction with a motorized gate. Your customer keys in his unique passcode at the entry keypad and, if certain conditions are met, the system will signal the gate to open and record the date and time this tenant has entered the site. Egress from the site is handled in the same manner at the exit keypad, and the system records the date and time this customer has left your facility.
Access-control systems can also be used to control entry via a door with an electric lock, i.e., to an interior corridor where inside units are located. The more sophisticated systems will support both gates and doors and selectively permit access only to those tenants having units in that particular inside corridor. Card readers are also available with many access-control systems. Some use proprietary cards (must be obtained from the supplier) and others use the customer's debit/credit card. The vast majority (99 percent) of self-storage facilities use keypads.
It is important to note that access-control systems only signal the gate to open. They provide a momentary closure (one to two seconds) of the circuit connected to the two normally open contacts at the gate motor. The gate motor (often referred to as "gate operator") controls how long the gate remains open and when the gate closes.
Holding the gate open is most often accomplished with the use of safety loops, which are connected to a loop detector inside the gate operator. Loops are wires embedded in the ground in front of and behind the gate. The loops and detector can sense a vehicle, which is in the way of the gate, and hold the gate open until the vehicle has cleared. They act as both "safety" and a signal to close the gate. Beams are sometimes used in place of loops. They are not as reliable and generally require more maintenance. We are beginning to see an occasional case where local codes require both beams and loops. In my opinion, the use of beams should be as secondary safety devices and not primary safety devices.
Your gate operator should always include a "timer to close." These timers are variable; for example, you can adjust the amount of time before the timer to close signals the gate, i.e., 15 seconds, to close. This is a fail-safe device that will help ensure the gate will close if someone keys in at the entry keypad (or card reader), then changes their mind, backing up and never crossing the loops.
The operation of an electric door strike is somewhat different in that it is always locked unless the circuit is closed. This means that the device (keypad) connected to the door strike must have the capability of holding the circuit closed for some period of time (five to eight seconds, for example) to allow the customer to physically open the door. Remember that exit must always be allowed without restriction.
Gates. Gates are available in an infinite variety. Sliding gates and vertical-pivot gates are the most common in the self-storage business. Swing gates are almost never used. Sliding gates are equipped with rollers that follow a track on the ground to keep the gate on course, or are a "Cantilever" style. Cantilever gates are built to support themselves, i.e., they have rails and rollers that support the gate allowing it to open and close without touching the ground. Vertical-pivot gates (somewhat new to the industry, but catching on) also support themselves. The gate and operator are purchased as a package. The gate opens by pivoting 90 degrees. It is counter-balanced so it can be easily raised manually if required.
The optimum size for a gate in our business is 16 feet wide by 6 feet high. This will allow any vehicle, which can legally travel our roads, easy access (room to spare) to your facility. The reality is that your local fire department is probably going to dictate the width of the opening. Don't give up the fight too easily as very large gates and openings can complicate your operation and add unneeded cost to your project.
Entry/Exit. Designing your entry/exit is something that should be done early in your project. Too often we see plans reflecting gates that don't fit, no provision for keypads or card readers, no conduit specified and little consideration to the flow of traffic. As an industry, we seem so preoccupied with coverage and unit mix that we don't consider how our customers are going to get in and out of our facilities. A normal situation would specify a 16-foot opening that would be a shared entry/exit (one gate). The traffic flow would be reversed so the customer enters and exits on the left side of the driveway respectively.
Keypads (or card readers) would be placed on the left side at a point 12 feet away from the gate--one for entry on the outside of the property and one for exit on the inside. Remember, it is as important to know when a customer leaves as it is to know when he arrives. Access to either keypad would be done from the window of the customer's vehicle. Ample space would be provided so the customer could easily straighten the path of their vehicle to line up with the keypad and proceed through the gate once it opened. The gate would be back from the main thoroughfare to allow room for three or four vehicles, and would be easily viewed from the office. Sufficient parking would be available outside the gate for prospective tenants, delivery vehicles, etc. There are, of course, many acceptable variations.
Your access-control system vendor should be able to provide you with scaled drawings to assist you in designing your entry/exit, placement of keypads/card readers, size and placement of required concrete pads and placement of conduit. Today's access-control systems are rich with features tailored to meet the unique requirements of self-storage. Individual passcodes, multiple time zones, holiday programming, discrete access levels and make late/pay up are just a few standard capabilities you will need to operate your facility. Evaluating the practical use of features available as they apply to how you want to run your business will help you in your decision-making process.
Individual Door-Alarm Systems
Door-alarm systems, by design, have inherent access-control capability. The most common configurations utilize the entry function to not only open the gate, but to also disable the alarm on that tenant's unit door. An entry message is recorded, and the date and time the unit door is opened is also recorded. For example, "OPEN 1124 9:37 4-26-2000." Thus, you not only have a record of when the tenant entered the site, you also have a record of when they entered their unit. When the unit door is closed, the system will record a close message (CLOSE 1124 10:14 4-26-2000) for the unit, which will also record the date and time. Upon keying out at the exit keypad, the system will open the gate and record an exit message (EXIT 1124 10:17 4-26-2000) and re-enable the unit-door alarm.
At this point, you will have a permanent record of the tenant's entry, open door, close door and exit from the facility, a much more complete record of the tenant's onsite activity than simply an enter and exit message provided by an access-control system. And, most certainly, a more complete record than just an enter message captured by an access-control system using only an enter keypad and providing a free exit.
Individual door-alarm systems are still the best way to secure a self-storage facility. Considering that most break-ins (60 percent or more) are accomplished by tenants, electronic monitoring of unit doors makes a lot of sense. The classic break-in scenario goes like this: An individual rents a unit, probably paying in cash. He spends a fair amount of time on site observing move-ins and other activity where unit doors are open (so he can see what's inside). As each "good" tenant leaves and the opportunity presents itself, the individual cuts the lock, sorts through the unit contents placing the valuable items at the front of the unit, closes the door and secures it with his own lock. When he has eight or 10 units secured (I've seen as many as 35 or 40 at a time), in comes the truck and out goes someone else's goods. The unit doors are left locked, and no one is the wiser until the real tenant returns and his key doesn't fit.
I will occasionally hear opinions that since it is the door that is alarmed, burglars will cut through unit walls and obtain goods in that manner. The reality is that while this may occasionally happen, the vast majority are accomplished as described above. It's a whole lot easier. The other reality is facilities that post appropriate signage ("Every Unit Alarmed"), who market this capability by describing and demonstrating it to every prospective tenant, and who include it as part of their advertising, probably send problem tenants "down the street." After all, why would a burglar select a target with an individual door-alarm system in place when they could go down the street to a facility that doesn't have one?
The marketing capability of an individual door-alarm system is enormous. Properly and consistently done, the sales pitch can easily increase revenues $2 to $5 per unit per month and increase occupancy between 5 percent and 10 percent. Let's build an example: Take a facility with 50,000 rentable square feet and convert it to 500 equivalent 10-by-10s. In this market, a 10-by-10 rents for $50 per month. Add $3 per unit per month (on the low end of the scale) and increase occupancy by 6 percent (also on the low end of the scale). The result? An increase in revenue of approximately $32,000 a year. Further, at time of sale, the value of the facility would increase about $280,000 using a 10.5 CAP rate.
How do you sell door-alarm capability? Simple. You have your manager demonstrate the capability every time he shows a prospective tenant a unit. On the way to the unit, the manager explains that the security system provides a "secret" and unique passcode to each customer. Entering his passcode at the gate not only lets them in to the facility, it also disables the alarm on his unit door. When they arrive at the unit, the manager says, "We obviously haven't entered a passcode. Let me show you what happens when the door opens." The manager opens the unit door and the system sirens sound, clearly audible throughout the site. The system will automatically "time out" the siren after whatever period of time you desire, such as 25 or 30 seconds.
This demonstration provides a graphic example to the prospect of the door-alarm capability. I should add that the manager provides other descriptive information such as the systems-records entries, opening of doors, etc., and that the door alarm is re-enabled when the tenant exits the facility. Most door alarm systems are "hardwired," i.e., each unit is physically connected to the control system in the rental office. This connection is shared in some fashion to avoid the need of physically running wires from each unit back to the office.
Wiring and switches. There are several wiring schemes in use, with the most prominent being "multiplexed." One or more multiplexers are placed on each building and are used as a central point to connect the wiring from each unit. Multiplexers are connected together using communications cable, which can be routed in a variety of ways and placed to minimize wire lengths and conduit requirements.
A reed switch is placed inside the unit and its associated magnet is placed on the unit door. They are positioned so that when the door is closed, the magnet and switch are "aligned" and within the operating gap of the switch, normally two to three inches.
Several different types of reed switches are used. A floor-mounted switch is ideal for roll-up doors. This device is anchored to the floor of the unit inside the door and on the same side as the door latch. The magnet associated with the switch is mounted on a bracket, with the bracket being mounted on the inside of the door. The bracket provides an easy way to align the magnet to the switch and position it within the operating gap. The other type of switch is normally used with swing doors. This switch is mounted to the door header, and the magnet mounted on the door. A bracket is not usually provided unless the particular swing door has no header for mounting the switch.
Many facilities will use the swing-door switch with roll-up doors. The magnet is mounted on the upper part of the door (inside) and to the side. The switch is positioned by using a bracket, which is mounted to the unit wall. The use of swing-door switches on roll-up doors is done because of cost--they are generally $5 or $6 less than floor-mounted switches, which are more expensive and require some additional wire and connectors to install.
The arguments for using floor-mounted switches with roll-up doors are: 1) the point at which these switches and magnets are mounted is the most stable position of the door and more likely assures that the alignment and operating gap are maintained for an extended period of time; and 2) the magnet never gets "rolled up" inside the door when the door is opened, thereby avoiding the wear and tear that causes magnets to fall off over time.
Door-alarm systems that are hardwired operate in a "normally closed" condition. This means that the each circuit has continuity when the unit door is closed, and the magnet and switch are aligned and within the operating gap. An easy way to visualize this state is to make a comparison to a light and light switch. When the light switch is turned on, the circuit is complete and "closed." When the switch is turned off, the circuit is broken or "open."
Normally, closed systems also protect against wires being cut or components being disconnected since either will create an "open" condition and, therefore, generate an alarm. Hardwired door-alarm systems are normally installed during construction since all the wiring, switches, etc., can be placed inside. They can, however, be installed on the outside of the buildings after the facility is leased up. Installing a door alarm system on the outside (commonly referred to as a "retrofit") is being done with increasing frequency in our industry. There is no disadvantage to an outside installation, but there are two considerations that impact cost.
Reed switches used with an interior installation cannot be used for an outside installation since they can be easily "defeated." These switches are appropriate for an inside application because they are located on the back side of the unit door and, therefore, are not accessible from outside the unit. Switches that are accessible from the outside must be "high-security" or "anti-defeat" devices, and they are simply more expensive ($10 to $12 more) than standard reed switches. In addition, since wire for the units is run along the outside of each building, it should be concealed for aesthetic reasons as well as to protect the wire. It is important to note that protecting the wire from the sun is every bit as important as protecting it from moisture.
Protecting and concealing wire can be accomplished by using conduit or steel molding. Conduit is not very attractive, and wire placed in conduit is sometimes difficult to service. Molding, on the other hand, is attractive (many colors are available) and servicing wire is much easier than with conduit. Molding manufacturers have costs for each piece and part used, e.g., straight runs, 90s, couplings, etc. As a general rule of thumb, you can figure 85 cents to 90 cents per linear foot for molding. Assuming that your average unit is 10 feet across, you can estimate molding to cost about $9 per unit. Adding $12 per unit for anti-defeat switches will bring your incremental costs for a retrofit door alarm system to $21 per door/unit.
Wireless door-alarm systems have begun to make an appearance in the self-storage industry. Their primary appeal is the avoidance of having to discretely wire each unit. The perception is that material and installation costs are less than those of hardwired systems. The only way for you to determine which method is less expensive is to request proposals from hardwired and wireless vendors. The other claim of wireless-systems vendors is that you can market unit-alarm security on a customer-by-customer or unit-by-unit basis. In other words, the customer can rent unit alarm security for their unit(s) for a fixed amount per month in addition to their rent, if he chooses to do so.
There is a real question as to whether or not this kind of marketing is effective. We most certainly know that facilities with door-alarm systems can use the alarms as a marketing tool. You will have to decide if a unit-by-unit option is viable for your market. Perhaps discuss the merits with owners who use wireless systems and make your own judgement.
Individual door-alarm systems have many variations and features that will help you tailor them to your situation. For example, door-alarm systems are used at facilities without gates. The customer is still required to key in, which disables his unit alarm, but without an exit keypad to re-enable the unit alarm, the system is programmed to rearm at close. This means that when the tenant closes his unit door, the system automatically resets the alarm. This is not an operational problem, it simply means that instructions regarding the system must be slightly changed for the tenants. They need to understand that they must key in each time they open their unit door. This feature is used at many facilities without difficulty.
One feature I consider imperative as well as useful is "multiple units." Your security system must have the capability of linking all units rented by the same customer. This allows him to use only one code for entry and exit, regardless of how many units he rents from you. Customers with multiple units have a habit of only entering the codes for the units they believe they will need to access. Invariably, once on site, they determine that the things they need are in a unit for which they have not entered a code. They open the door and the alarm sounds. The multiple-unit feature eliminates this problem.
The multiple-unit feature has another advantage to the facility, since many changes can be accomplished through programming in place of making physical wiring changes to the door-alarm system. For example, if you take two 5-by-10s and combine them to make a 10-by-10, you will have two doors on the 10-by-10. Without the multiple-unit feature, you would either have to wire both doors together (in series), or put your lock on the second door so the customer could not use both doors. With the multiple-unit feature, it is a simple programming change to designate the second door as a "secondary unit" and give the customer full use of the unit.
Individual door-alarm systems are reliable and can be a productive security and marketing tool for an extended period of time. They are, however, dependent on the quality of the material used and require that they be properly installed. And as with any system, some preventative maintenance will assure proper operation. Your individual door-alarm system vendor should provide you with a specific installation overlay on your site plan/unit mix indicating conduit requirements, multiplexer locations and how each door switch is to be wired. Since these systems are low-voltage DC, care should be taken to provide separation (8 inches minimum) between conduit for the door-alarm system and conduit for AC power.
Ancillary Systems and Devices
There are an infinite number of security devices and systems available for use today. The most common ones used in our industry are perimeter beams, intercoms, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and site-graphic displays. Let's examine them one at a time.
In the use of perimeter beams, a "line of sight" projection of an infared beam will annunciate an alarm if it is interrupted (something is in the way). They are commonly used along fence lines surrounding the facility, but can be installed at other points if useful. These are referred to as PIR beams.
PIR beams were originally introduced as a single-beam system, i.e., only one beam was transmitted to a receiver/reflector. They were only moderately dependable as almost anything (weeds, birds, dust, etc.) could interrupt the beam and cause an alarm. Dual beams followed and reliability increased, since both beams had to be interrupted at essentially the same time to cause an alarm condition. Quad beams (four) are now the most common and are much more reliable than dual- or single-beam systems. PIR systems are priced on a "distance sensitive" basis, i.e., the longer the beam, the more it costs.
Many beam systems offer control and annunciating equipment that allow them to stand alone and, therefore, operate as an independent entity. Beam systems used in self-storage are more commonly connected to the site access-control system and operate under its control. PIR systems should be treated as ancillary security and used only when a specific need is identified. They have limited value as a general-security system.
Intercoms are an easy and reliable way to provide voice access between the rental office and key points throughout the facility. Intercom systems include a master station and one or more substations. Master stations are designed to support one, two, three, five, 10 or 20 substations (there may be other variations) and are priced accordingly. The larger the capacity, the more they cost. Substations are relatively inexpensive, generally come with a plastic or metal face, and should always include a "call button" to provide a way for the substation to contact the office.
All primary self-storage security systems should include provisions for an intercom system. At a minimum, intercom substations should be associated with the keypads or card readers supported by the primary site-security system. The use of intercoms has been one of convenience in the past. Today, intercom systems are viewed as security and safety devices and are being installed throughout the site, particularly in inside corridors, multi-story buildings, etc. The real decision is not whether to install an intercom system, but how large a master station to buy that will meet your existing and future needs.
Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV)
CCTV is available in black and white or color and, in its most simple form, consists of one camera displaying an image on one monitor. Few CCTV systems are limited to only one camera and, since it doesn't make sense to add a monitor for every camera you place, the CCTV manufacturers have developed equipment to handle multiple cameras.
The early systems used a "switcher" that would allow the office to manually select which camera image to display or to switch from camera to camera at a specified interval. Switchers were commonly built to accommodate four or eight cameras. Next came the quad system, which split the monitor screen into four equal parts so the images from four cameras could be displayed at the same time. These systems also provided the ability to display a "full screen" for a designated camera should the office personnel want to enlarge the image.
Today's systems utilize technology that allows the cameras to be multiplexed, allowing the monitor to view eight, nine or 16 different images at the same time. Single, enlarged images can still be viewed easily by office personnel. A time-lapse VCR is often included with CCTV systems to provide the ability to have a record on videotape of all activity viewed by the installed cameras. Videotapes are generally archived and labeled with the start and end dates should the site need to review activity at a certain point or during a specified period of time.
There are a number of motivations for using CCTV at a facility. They range from simply wanting to see gate activity (if not readily viewed from the rental office) and perhaps having a video recording of all entries and exits, to having a comprehensive video record of site activity, including what was stored and by whom. You can spend as much money as you want on CCTV systems and should remember that they have some marketing value when monitors are prominently displayed in the rental office. You should also consider that such systems require some human intervention to be effective; therefore, their value is often "after the fact" as opposed to systems that are electronically based, e.g., individual door alarms.
Of particular interest is the newest remote-viewing capability now available at a reasonable price. These systems use a differential transmission protocol over a dial-up telephone line, which greatly enhances the quality of the video image and increases the "effective frames per second." This gets you much, much closer to real-time viewing than anything previously available on a dial-up basis. Owners with remote, unattended facilities should investigate this technology. You could be in your distant office (or at home), dial the telephone number and view your site (from multiple cameras) using your PC monitor. It is really slick!
These systems provide a full-color view of your facility indicating units, buildings, etc. Unit colors are changed as their status changes, e.g., rented/vacant, tenant on-site, tenant in unit (alarm systems) and alarms (PIR or alarm systems). They often will also include activity messages across the display as these messages are generated by the primary system.
Most graphic displays address only the security system, including rented and vacant units. Other displays will also provide management information, such as delinquent, lien and unrentable status. They display the site by "paging" or "scrolling," as most sites are too large to fit on a single screen. Some vendors provide the site with the ability to reflect changes in the unit mix as they occur and stipulating what will be displayed and in what color. This gives the facility the ability to keep the display current (I had two 5-by-10s and now I have a 10-by-10) and to only display what they deem necessary; for example, they may not want to display delinquent units.
Site-graphic displays are most effective when displayed on a separate, larger monitor. DOS-based systems require a dedicated processor (a low-end PC) to run the separate display. Windows-based systems utilize a second video card to operate the separate monitor. Both approaches work satisfactorily, but the Windows-based display offers more capability and opportunity for future development.
Site-graphic display monitors are often placed in a cabinet along with CCTV monitors and other peripheral devices. This provides the rental office with a "high-tech" control center that also gives customers and prospects some real sizzle when they visit the office. Cabinets can be purchased from a variety of vendors or can be built at and by the site. Building a cabinet on site is easy, and there is not much for you to know. For example, once you have decided what will be placed in the cabinet, you can easily determine the horizontal shelf space required. The depth will be determined by the size of the monitor you select for the graphic display, as this is almost always the "deepest" component.
Construct the cabinet and place the required shelves. Make sure that access to AC power is provided, and allow for wire to placed through holes in the shelves or a space are the rear of each shelf. Paint the inside of the cabinet black. This reduces the opportunity for light to bounce around inside the cabinet, reducing the effectiveness of the displays. Purchase a piece of smoked Plexiglas cut to match the opening at the front of the cabinet. Obtain a hinge(s) suitable for mounting the plex on the cabinet frame. A piano hinge works well for this purpose. Hinges are not necessary, but you will want to have access to the inside of the cabinet from time to time, so make it easy on yourself. Locate your closest instant-sign store and arrange to have some lettering cut to label the devices inside the cabinet. You may also want to have your site name and logo prepared for placement on the plex. White letters show up very well on smoked Plexiglas. This lettering can be prepared so that words or groups of words are registered (in a straight line with appropriate separation between letters and words), which will make it easy for you to affix them. If you are not up to the task, the sign shop will place them for you for a nominal charge.
Shop around for other devices to be placed on the inside of the cabinet that will enhance the high-tech look. For example, Walgreen's sells a digital alarm clock with 4-inch, red digits that shows up extremely well behind the smoked Plexiglas. You may also want to include a simple key lock available from almost any hardware or builders store. The real magic is provided by the site-graphics display and the CCTV monitor. Color and movement is significantly enhanced when viewed through the smoked Plexiglas.
Compatibility With Your Property-Management Software
Self-storage property-management software systems generally have the capability of communicating with self-storage access-control and individual door-alarm systems. This is an important consideration since it reduces work in the rental office and helps ensure that the management and security systems are "in sync."
The primary protocol used is referred to as "interfacing," which essentially means that the management software is downloading information to the security system and the security system is acknowledging receipt in some manner. Information that is commonly sent to the security system includes move-ins, move-outs, change passcode, make late and pay up. Other data is becoming available that will allow assignment of time zones, access levels and multiple-unit designation.
There has been much discussion about establishing a "universal-interface" protocol that would allow software and security vendors to communicate between systems using the same standards. Several documents have been written and shared among the involved vendors, but a ubiquitous spirit of cooperation is not in place. From a customer's point of view, it would be ideal to have the flexibility to select a preferred software vendor and a preferred security vendor and be assured that an interface exists that would communicate 100 percent of the required information. Today, this capability only exists with vendors who provide both software and security or, in selected instances, where liaisons have been established.
The introduction of Windows-based systems further complicates the interface debate and the decisions you will make regarding software and security. Windows-based security and software systems can operate in a stand-alone mode, but they can also be "integrated" if obtained from the same vendor. Integrated systems completely avoid the interface question since they are essentially a single program, written in the same code and sharing the same database.
What Kind of Computer Does Your System Require?
This question is asked because a self-storage operator has a computer and wants to know if it will run the system, or because he is planning to purchase a new PC and wants to know what to buy. The question of using an existing PC should be easily answered by the security vendor if you can specify the general configuration. Does it run DOS or Windows? What version? How much memory (RAM)? How much hard-drive space is available? What other programs do you run?
Purchasing a new PC requires you to consider what's available on the market as well as what the vendor's system requires. The probability is high that a new PC will more than meet the vendor's system requirements. PC technology is changing very rapidly and you should consider your new PC as a short-term investment (two to three years.) At that point in time you must consider the merits of obtaining new equipment and discarding old equipment.
The other issue with buying a new PC is where to go to make your purchase. I would suggest that you discuss your purchase with your self-storage vendor(s) before you buy. Certain brands have high failure rates and hardware/software packages at cheap prices are not always the value they seem to be. Remember that you are going to depend on the PC to run your business. This may be an important--but not critical--consideration as it relates to your management software, but it is absolutely essential when your PC is responsible for your security system.
Dave Reddick is president of Sentinel Systems Corp. of Lakewood, Colo., which has been manufacturing self-storage software and security systems since 1975. Mr. Reddick can be reached by calling (800) 456-9955 or (303) 242-2000; fax (303) 242-2010; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.sentinelsystems.com.