Think Before You Install

Chester Gilliam Comments
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Many initial plans for self-storage projects have one thing in common: They give no forethought to the type or placement of security equipment the facility will use. In most cases, the owner wants a security system, but has no real concept of what it takes to put one in place. He spends a lot of time on the overall development of the facility--the placement of the office, unit mix, color of buildings, type of driveway, signage, even marketing--with little focus on the implementation of the security system. Most often, security professionals are called in too late in the game, when the dirt work is finished and buildings are already going up.

The time to call your security supplier is during the planning stage, prior to finalizing your facility design. There are so many things that can effect the security system, such as site grade, doors, building layout, drive types and even door latches. You cannot make an informed decision on your site layout without looking at how the design will effect security.

You Must Plan

When it comes to self-storage, you have to plan for what you want, you have to plan for success. Security is no different. If it is not planned for or incorporated into the overall building design, it will be compromised. You can choose the type of system you install, its functionality and its overall cost. You can even plan for future expansion. But you must have a plan, one that allows for what you want and for future needs.

Basic Needs

Let's look at one of the basic components of all security systems: conduit. All of the basic systems require conduit runs, and while the layout changes from site to site and system to system, there are some general rules to follow. Do not assume if you put some conduit in the ground it will work--it probably will not. Make certain all your subcontractors are on the same page and conflicts are worked out on paper, not in the dirt. Here are some simple rules:

[ 1 ] Bigger really is better. It is just as easy to install 2-inch conduit as it is to install 3/4-inch conduit. The cost difference is minimal during the building stage, and thousands of dollars can actually be saved, especially if conduit would have to be replaced later for an upgrade or additional needs.

[ 2 ] Have the electrical contractor install the security conduit. By doing this, you'll avoid having conduit lines cut during installation because your installer doesn't know where they are. This also saves the cost of double trenching. Since electrical conduits must be deeper than those for security, security conduits can be installed in the same ditch providing a 12-inch separation is maintained. This does require the security and electrical contractors to meet with each other and plan the runs.

[ 3 ] Place conduits on the outside of buildings. Keep them 1 to 2 inches off of the building, making sure to allow for the finished wall. Do not run conduits inside units. This will create unserviceable areas after renting begins. However, it is OK to run conduit lines into mechanical rooms or service closets.

[ 4 ] Plan the entrance to the office according to where the security equipment will be placed. Look at the counter layout and how the equipment will be used. If possible, use a mechanical room.

[ 5 ] Loop the conduits one to the other. In other words, do not plan to use the buildings for wire runs unless there is a serviceable hallway. By doing so, you will ensure you can upgrade your system, add to your system, or even change your system architecture completely.

[ 6 ] Never mix high and low voltage in the same conduit. This is a violation of code.

[ 7 ] Follow electrical-code practices. Do not attempt to run wires through water pipes, sprinkler lines, rubber hoses, etc. Use electrical conduit, fittings and boxes.

Special Needs

Let's look at the basic types of security systems and some of the things that should be considered for a successful installation. There are five basic types of security systems associated with the self-storage industry: gate and fence, access, door alarm, CCTV, and general burglar alarm. Each of these have special requirements dependung on the type of system, the manufacturer producing the equipment, the security professional installing the equipment, and how the equipment will be used. In other words, it can get complicated. You have to decide what you want your security system to do, what you want it to look like when it is finished, and how you, your managers and tenants will interface with the system.

Gate-and-Fence System

In most cases, gates and fences are set by local zoning regulations, lay of the land and access to the property. Strangely enough, these also determine the layout of the buildings, where the office will be located, and the size of the entrance and drives. As a rule, tenants should be able to go to the office without entering the gate. The gate should be far enough off of the road to allow for stacking in the event more than one person is trying to enter the property, or in the case of someone entering with a truck or trailer.

Most developers start with building layouts, progress to the office, and then try to make a gate fit at some point. The proper approach is to consider where the gate should be in relationship to the access point and locate the office and buildings accordingly. This is not always possible, but when this practice is followed, the flow of traffic is correct, access to the office is maintained, and buildings are less likely to be damaged due to restricted flow. The gate location is the most important security consideration and usually the last to be addressed.

Remember to allow enough room for the gate to operate, as different types require different operating clearances. Automatic gates--that is, those opened and closed by a gate operator--have special considerations. When possible, install the safety loops prior to laying the final paving. Not only will this make a cleaner installation, it helps maintain the loops and aids in the prevention of driveway cracks.

There are special building codes concerning automatic gates. Be aware of these codes and follow them. Make sure your system meets life-safety requirements. You are liable for the safe operation of the gate system. Be trained not only in the use and maintenance of the gate and operator, but in regard to what safety devices are installed and how to test them. Set up a regular maintenance procedure to test the gate each month, recording each occurrence and its results in a logbook.

Fence type is usually determined by zoning requirements and budget. There are three basic types: wrought iron, chain-link and wood. In most jurisdictions, the fence cannot exceed 6 feet in height without a variance, and barbed wire, spikes and other such items are prohibited. While it is possible to follow the lay of the land with chain-link and wood, wrought iron is not as forgiving. You should avoid crossing ditches or drain lines and maintain as smooth a line as possible along the fence. Do not plant trees and shrubs against the fence line if possible.

Access System

The two things to consider in the development stage are keypad locations and conduit runs. As a rule of thumb, keypads should be about 15 to 20 feet from the gate and align with the gate opening, allowing for the type of keypad stand that will be used.

If you have not considered which access system you will use, the following conduit layout will work with all systems: Run 1-inch conduit from the office to the gate operator, from the gate operator to the entrance keypad, and from the gate operator to the exit keypad. This size line allows for data, intercom and camera lines.

Door-Alarm System

The requirements for security installation will change, depending which system you choose. In general, you will need to have conduit runs from the office looping to each building. Most of the systems available do not use "home run" technology, but rely on "daisy chain" technology. This simplifies the wiring and conduit runs. Conduit size is determined by the type of system and what security devices will use the same runs.

You also need to consider the type of switch you will use. There are three basic types of switches: floor, overhead and latch. Floor switches require clearance in the door-footing area. The door cannot be set against the back of the concrete weather lip at the time of installation--it must be set at least 2 inches out. In some cases, this means a deeper weather lip. Overhead switches attach to the door track at the top of the door and have no special requirements. The magnet for these is glued, riveted or screwed to the door itself. Latch switches are becoming the switch of choice due to their ease of installation and the fact they activate prior to the door being opened.

Door latches must be able to block the magnetic field of the switch. This means a latch should not be stainless steel, must be the correct size, and must extend past the switch when mounted. Play in the door from side to side must be kept to a minimum, and the door must latch properly. If the doors are installed correctly, this is not a problem. Just remember to order the correct latch with the doors. Since wireless alarm systems are generally used for existing properties, they are not discussed here.

CCTV System

Out of all the security systems available, CCTV (closed-circuit television) is probably the least understood, but the one with the most options and possibilities. Spend some time getting educated about this system. When laying out a property, we generally do not consider cameras as being important to determining how or where buildings should be, and rightfully so. However, building layout does determine camera placement, and placement does determine conduit and wire requirements.

When planning for cameras, keep in mind such things as where the sun tracks and shadows stay. Cameras should not be pointed toward the sun, nor should they have light and shade in viewshot if possible. When placing cameras inside, do not point them toward windows or doors. Remember, you must run a coax and power cable to each camera, and outdoor cameras require additional power for the enclosures.

Super-size your conduit when considering cameras. Make sure you allow enough room in the office for the equipment required to support the system, including power supplies, monitors and recorders. Think about where your manager will be. Think also about whether you want customers to see the system and, if so, how much of it. Cameras are the most visible and complicated of all the security systems. The technology changes daily, and there are no cookie-cutter systems. Plan for changes and expansion.

Burglar-Alarm System

One of the most overlooked systems in the self-storage industry is the burglar alarm. This should be installed in the office and manager's apartment. Most door-alarm systems can be tied to the burglar alarm as well. Install panic switches, considering wireless if possible. Remember to allow for the wiring to be installed prior to Sheetrock being hung. These systems do not require a lot of prep work or space, but do require you to choose before you start building. Be sure to budget for monthly monitoring.

Another item along these same lines is the fire-alarm system. More and more jurisdictions are requiring fire alarms, and the Uniform Fire Code is making it more difficult to build without them. As with the burglar-alarm system, it is important to have time in the building schedule for the installation of the fire-alarm system. Make sure you do not need a fire-alarm system prior to building. This can be a very costly mistake or assumption and can cause delays in opening.

Just Two Things

There are two things I feel are the most important items where self-storage security is concerned. The first is lighting. You just can't get enough of it. Light your facility up like a runway. If you ask any law-enforcement agent what you can do to protect you property and employees, he will tell you the more light you have, the better off you are. Criminals do it in the dark!

The second item is a good manager, which is your most important crime-fighting tool. Show me a facility with an onsite manager who personally greets tenants, knows them by name, and can tell you what kind of vehicles they drive, and I will show you a site that has the lowest possible crime rate while maintaining the highest possible occupancy. Managers can play an active role in site security just by taking a small interest in the people with whom they come in contact every day.

Chester A. Gilliam works for Wizard Works Security Systems Inc., a Littleton, Colo.-based provider of access systems, individual door alarms, gates, fencing, management software, surveillance cameras, perimeter security, sales, installation and service for the self- storage industry. For more information, call 303.798.5337.

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