The first security element that impacts a visitor is your facility layout. Your goal can be expressed succinctly: maximum visibility with minimum accessibility. Stand out from the competition with a welcoming and professional appearance, but keep security as the guiding principle. Limit the number of access points to your facility. Less entrances mean fewer areas to monitor. Whenever possible, create "sight lines" so you have visibility to your units from the office. Including those sight lines in your design is a low-cost way to present a visible deterrent to crime.
Keeping in mind the importance of limited access points, make sure all of your entrances and exits are gated to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering your facility. A keypad-access system that links the latest technology in access control with your property-management software enhances command of your property and will convince your renters their security is paramount. Linking gate control with your management system enablers you to lock out nonrenters right at the gate.
A well-lit facility not only discourages the bad elements, it also keeps customers and staff safe from accidents. Linking your lighting to a time-operating system keeps your electricity costs down and ensures lights are turned on at the appropriate times. Motion-controlled lights also prove to be very effective in low-traffic areas. These systems cause quite a shock when the lights kick on, but for true safety and security, keep those traffic areas lit up.
Cameras are essential for keeping a watchful eye on the happenings at a facility. Even with a full staff, most facilities are spread over large areas, so think of cameras as an operator's extended eyes. Though cameras are looked at mainly for their role in the security chain, they are also vital for safety.
The technology with these systems has advanced very rapidly. At this point, VHS technology is a dead end. A digital system gives you greater storage capacity and indexing, and will allow upgrades when you need them. There are many options available to fit any budget, but keep in mind this investment is vital in keeping your facility secure and safe. There are many companies out there that can sell you a surveillance system. Shop around, and look for one with a track record for servicing businesses like your own. You may also want to consider a remote-access option some surveillance companies now offer. Using the Internet, you can view your site on a remote computer or even some hand-held devices.
Know Your Renter
The days of running a quick and light security check on your renters have long passed. At a minimum, the most successful sites follow simple procedures such as photocopying IDs, taking photos for records, performing credit checks, and verifying the phone numbers they register. These simple steps are a great deterrent for renters with bad intentions. Most criminals will naturally look for a base with lenient security. When these procedures are presented properly, they enhance the confidence of prospects and renters while deterring the bad guys.
Another tool many sites take advantage of is local law enforcement. Some self-storage operators volunteer their facilities for K9 training or work on area crime watches. The whole key is getting involved. Again, publicize your security. An attractive sign and a picture of an officer and his canine partner will have a reassuring or a threatening effect, depending on the prospect.
Alarm-system technology has come a long way in the past couple of years, and more and more facilities are being built standard with these systems. There are a great many older self-storage facilities that have retrofitted to bring themselves up to speed. There are quite a few different ways to set these systems up, whether hardwired or wireless.
In most circumstances, building in your wiring during the construction phase is the most cost-effective and reliable route to take. Check references, and look for an installer who has worked with configurations similar to yours. It is also critical to make sure your system has some sort of back up, such as a cellular signal, in case the main power source is cut. Alarms are a powerful deterrent in preventing crime, but don't invest in something that can be immobilized with the loss of a power source.
Resident Managers: A Thing of the Past?
Self-storage facilities have long been known for having resident managers to provide an extra measure in security as well as customer convenience. Though this has been a practice for many years, some operators are moving away from it. The technology in security systems is so advanced you can monitor your facility from a hand-held device like a Palm Pilot. Some groups also feel managers get burned out more easily when they are on site 24/7. The managers who don't live on site have proven to be more enthusiastic about performing their duties.
The last line of your security, and a key marketing advantage, is your lock system. Some operators make the mistake of lumping locks with boxes, tape and other retail ancillary products to sell for a profit. Locks are not an ancillary product, and security is not an option in self-storage. It is a necessity, and you cannot market or provide security without a high-security lock system. Lock systems are not an option to leave with the renter any more than door alarms or security cameras. A cheap padlock--whether you sell it or the renter provides it--signals to everyone at your facility that you are not serious about security.
The minimum level in lock security is to sell or provide disk locks. Disk locks have a 'hidden" shackle that can slow a thief. Lately, however, thieves have discovered it is just as easy to cut the slider around a disk or any lock as it is to cut a shackle. Disk locks may now be offering the worst kind of security-false security.
Because of the potential vulnerability of a latch, even when secured with a disk lock, you should consider investing in a cylinder latch system if you are in a high crime area, or if you are emphasisizing security as a marketing advantage. A cylinder lock and latch system buries the lock mechanism inside the door and presents a uniform face to a potential thief.
Faced with a row of doors, uniformly secure with a flush-mounted front, a thief will likely move on. Or, if he was thinking about renting from you, he may change his plans. With a deposit and administrative-fee system, you can recoup the price of the system over a few rentals, and more important, you can ensure every link in your security chain is secure. A cylinder system delivers the same deterrent/reassurance effect as access control, security procedures and the other components of a comprehensive security program. It puts barriers in front of bad elements and demonstrates your security commitment to the renters you want.
This is a basic outline of key elements of security for your facility. However, each site is different. The most important piece of advice we can give operators old and new is to consult with professionals in each area. Sometimes it seems new products are developed every day. Long-term commercial renters as well as average customers will feel more comfortable storing their belongings with you if they see you are taking steps to protect their investments. There is a great advantage in separating yourself from your competition through marketing your security program.
The self-storage marketplace is getting crowded just as the economy appears to be slowing. You can compete for renters with price and degrade your profit margin, or you can compete with features. Security is one feature that continues to pay well after your initial investment. Not only does a genuine visible security program prevent theft and crime--and the resulting cost and bad publicity--it provides a tangible way to stand out against the competition. A serious security program also attracts long-term commercial renters and higher-end residential customers.
Rich Morahan is the managing editor of The Self-StorageTelegram, a quarterly magazine that focuses on security, marketing and operations issues in the self-storage industry. He can be reached at 617.559.0177 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Shope is the vice president of sales and marketing for L.A.I. Group (Lock America Inc.), which manufactures and distributes locks and security hardware for the self-storage, gaming, vending and coin-op industries. He can be reached at 704.824.8363 or email@example.com.