Security can be a fantastic selling point at a self-storage facility, regardless of its location; but installing a security system in an already established site can be problematic. Retrofitting a site with security creates different concerns than with a newly constructed facility.
In new construction, conduit can be laid before there is asphalt—a luxury existing sites do not have. An operational site has active tenants on the property as well as locked units. There are structures that may not have easy access for adding conduit and wiring. Retrofitting requires working with what is there, such as cabinets and access through walls. It requires a well-laid plan.
There are several things to consider when thinking about retrofit security, such as:
- Site plans
- Hours of operation
- Cash-handling .
To start, let’s take a look at the property. It’s a good idea to get a copy of the site plans to determine points of security and devise a method of defense for the site. Your contractor can supply these. If necessary, draw the site on a piece of paper. Make notations regarding traffic flow, access points and areas of concern. Identifying the weak spots makes it easier to secure those areas.
Access points are places of entry to the site. How do tenants get in? This is largely determined by the site layout. Access points can be drive-thru gates, doors to inside units, elevators to multiple floors, or anywhere tenants can enter the site. If you can control access, you gain a level of security. Knowing who is on site and when can be a valuable tool. After identifying access points, you can formulate a plan to control access only authorized tenants can use.
Site layout is a large factor in determining what kind of security to use. Are the facility’s units inside or outside? What is around the site (buildings, railroad tracks, streets)? Are there open spaces around the site or places where someone could jump the fence? What is the street access to the site? How will moving trucks enter and leave the site? If the site has inside units, how many entrance doors are there? How many lobbies and elevators are there? Are there outdoor vehicle spaces?
Hours of Operation
Hours of operation also have an effect on security. Are tenants allowed access to their units after the manager has gone home? Does the manager live on the property? If there are gates, how late do they stay open? Does anyone have 24-hour access? How late does the office stay open? The hours of operation may have to be adjusted to meet security needs. This has to be balanced with convenience to tenants and their needs.
Cash-handling is another important aspect of security. Are you going to take cash? How and when will bank deposits be made? Where will the cash be kept, and how will you account for it? Will there be petty cash at the site? If so, where will it be kept?
Thieves are always looking for easy targets, so you should know exactly how you are going to handle cash at all times. Poor cash handling practices leads to lost revenue. Know how much cash you have on site, and do not keep all the money together. For example, petty cash and sales should be kept separate with a log for each.
Money should never be handled in sight of a customer. Petty cash and change should be kept in a locked safe. There should be frequent money drops and bank deposits. Encourage your tenants to pay by credit card or check. There are new products that allow payment by credit card in the office without the manager’s attention, such as a self-serve kiosk. Limiting what people can steal is cheaper than protecting what there is to steal.
What is your security budget? Security should be factored into the budget from the beginning of the project; and there are ways to minimize your security costs. Reducing access points and how they are controlled will factor greatly into the expense. Take care of your actual needs first and enhance the property next. You could spend thousands of dollars on a great video-surveillance system and be left with nothing to control access. You would just end up with pictures of thieves stealing from you or your tenants.
Installation adds to the expense of the security system and disruption of the property. Some systems require access to each unit or necessitate digging up asphalt to lay conduit. This could limit or block all entrance to the site. Dust and debris from the installation could affect your tenants. Some systems require new computer systems and office hardware. Ask what is involved with the installation of any proposed project. Even a new brick wall would mean cement trucks coming on the property and loads of bricks stacked somewhere.
Now that we have surveyed the property, let’s make a plan to add the retrofit security system. Access points are critical and should allow entrance to only tenants and authorized staff. If there are multiple driveways, some can be exit or entrance only. Gates should be added to driveways to control access.
Walls or fencing can restrict access to the perimeter of the site. Controlling the perimeter is your first layer of security. Your tenants will feel more secure knowing they are the only ones on site.
Keypads at the entrance gate—generally near the office and computer systems—are a cost-effective way to control gate activity. They can also be used at access doors. Try to reduce the number of doors required to reach inside areas. Some should be designated as emergency exits only. These can have wireless door sensors to easily monitor access.
Keypads are typically hardwired back to the office. This is a big consideration in retrofitting a property. Wiring can be expensive and time-consuming. Installing a gate requires trenching the driveway. Check with your contractor about how best to proceed.
Wireless door sensors can be placed on each unit to indicate when doors are opened or closed. These eliminate the need for any conduit or hard wire. Some brands can be mounted without opening the unit doors. This is convenient when units are rented and locked. Wireless door sensors are also a good visual crime deterrent. Also consider placing locks on all the vacant units to keep anyone—tenants or trespassers—from using them.
Video surveillance adds “eyes” to your property. Video systems can be comprised of wired and wireless cameras leading back to the office. Outside wiring should be inside conduit unless near or inside the office. Check with your local building department for your requirements.
Cameras in the office will provide a view of who is in the office and the money-handling practices of the managers. A camera overlooking the entrance gate will show who is coming on site. Remember, cameras in or near the office are easier to install than those in remote areas of the property.
There are many different camera systems from which to choose. Digital-video systems have the best picture quality and record directly to a hard drive instead of a VCR tape. Digital systems can be viewed remotely and recorded off-site.
Retrofitting a security system to an existing site can be challenging and expensive. First, secure your perimeter walls, fencing and gates, and reduce the number of access points. Second, control who has access to the regions of your site using vacant-unit locks, keypads and wireless door alarms. Third, monitor site activity with video surveillance, good cash-handling practices, competent security software, access keypads and attentive managers.
If building improvements are in your business plan, include your security upgrade. You will save time and money, and brings tremendous marketing value to your business.
Rod Davis is an installation specialist for QuikStor, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance and corporate products for the selfstorage industry. For more information, visit www.quikstor.com; call 800.321.1987.