By Lance Comstock
You have read the magazines, gone to the trade shows, and even visited your competitors' facilities to see what they have to offer. You have finally made the decision as to what type of security system and which manufacturer you will invest in to protect your property and your tenants' goods. So, now what?
As your decision comes to a close, let's hope you looked at and weighed a decision as equally important to the functionality of the system as the components of price, features, etc.: installation and post-install support. As the industry and its security systems get more complex, one important fact remains true: If the system is not installed or maintained properly, it can give you and your customers years of aggravation and a breach in the security itself, exposing you to unnecessary liabilities.
The reality is that, once your property is open for business and units are being rented, your security system will be one of the most important purchases you make. If there is a failure in one part of the system, it will create great inconveniences for you and your customers. Finding the right installation company can be very difficult if you don't know the right questions to ask or what to look for in the vendor.
When researching, ask the manufacturer if he offers a dealer or distribution network of qualified and trained installers. This can be one of your more useful tools, and the best way to find qualified companies. If he does, don't just get one name but several, then make sure they are actually familiar with the equipment and installation in this particular industry. If they aren't, you may want to reconsider your purchase. Many times, customers will purchase equipment directly from a manufacturer, then look through the Yellow Pages to find the closest and cheapest burglar-alarm company, asking them to bid the install of the equipment. This is the wrong way to go. Even though the components may be similar to what the company may have installed in the past, there are many things that must be installed differently when looking at self-storage.
One of the most common mistakes unqualified companies will make is using the wrong switch and mounting method for an individual door-alarm system. If you look throughout your home or any commercial business with a standard burglar-alarm system, you will normally see a magnet and contact set, which measures approximately 2 inches across. This contact will only allow for a maximum gap distance of three-quarters of an inch. This contact is much cheaper and can appear to save you hundreds of dollars in the beginning, but it is not sufficient for storage use because the tolerances of self-storage doors will greatly vary. This switch may work for the first few years, but as the door tolerances increase and the magnet for the switch looses its effectiveness from being mounted to the metal surface, false alarms are inevitable.
Other very common mistakes from an inexperienced company will be its assumption that the wiring and contact will be accessible for repair if a problem is incurred. This is not the case. When the unit is rented, it is nearly impossible for the installer to ever gain access for any adjustments or wiring issues, thus rendering the alarm useless.
Most installers not familiar with installing hundreds of contacts on one job will also suffer from getting lazy by redundancy. Be sure your installation company has had experience with installing a door-alarm system of this type before hiring them.
Although few and far between, a company that can handle all aspects of the install is superior to having to use several different companies. In most security applications, you will need high-voltage electric conduit work, fencing work, concrete and low-voltage work. Finding a company big enough to handle all these tasks may be difficult, but they can usually get the install done quicker and cheaper than several different companies hired separately. It also helps to keeps the responsibility with one company if there is a problem somewhere, rather than getting into a finger-pointing contest to determine who is to blame.
It seems that what goes up must come down, and what goes in must get repaired on occasion. Be sure to check with your installation company as well as the manufacturer to determine the warranty period and service policies on your system. As many installation companies may be small, be sure to ask about their response time and number of personnel dedicated for service work. Also ask to see if they have any annual service agreements or 24-hour on-call service. As coincidence has it, gates always seem to fail at 5 p.m. on Friday. If your service company does not offer extended service, your facility may be left unsecured all weekend until Monday.
Lastly, your system may be comprised of a very complex mixture of power supplies, sirens, cameras, conduits, junction boxes, wiring and splices. Keeping track of all these items is important and is essential for service in the future. As the owner, you should demand in your negotiations to get a copy of the wiring and equipment schematics. These can prove to be invaluable in the unlikely event there are disputes with the installing company and a new company is brought into the picture to resolve any issues, or if a technician is on site for service and has never seen the property before.
Remember: The lowest price is generally not the best. Make sure you fully research the companies. Call their references and ask questions. With a very busy economy, it's easy to become lazy and just buy the lowest priced system or hire the company that responded to your phone calls. Your security is crucial, and access control is the nuts and bolts of your facility. It's what sets you apart from your competition. Don't treat the installation lightly--you may pay for it in the long run.
Lance Comstock is CEO of Preferred Technology East, a project-management and installation company to the self-storage industry of more than 12 years. Mr. Comstock is also president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Access Controls, which has designed and manufactured access-control systems for the self-storage industry for more than 20 years.