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Beating the Bad Guys

Grady Carlson Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive
Beating the Bad Guys
Keep them from breaking—and moving—in

By Grady Carlson

Drug labs, chop shops, explosives...In 2004, self-storage security means a lot more than keeping the bad guys from breaking in. It also means keeping them from moving in. To do both, you need clearly defined and effective measures to ensure you know who rents space and works at your facility. These actions should be reinforced by a high-quality, uniform locking system to stop criminals at the unit door.

Know Who You’re Dealing With

Criminals want to hide their identities. For this reason, operators should ask every tenant for valid photo identification, as well as use photos and surveillance cameras to record their faces and vehicle license plates. Another significant part of any security program is an active, visible manager who makes it clear to every renter that he spends a lot of time on site. Working involvement with local law enforcement is another way to make your facility less attractive to the enemy. These measures protect your investment and your renters’ property.

You also need to know the people who work in your office. Can you trust your staff? Background and reference checks are in order to avoid making the wrong hire. While it is important to consider locks and security hardware to keep criminals out of your facility, you also need to know who you are willingly letting in. Not only is your renters’ property at stake, but your very business.

A Uniform Front: Locks and Latches

Set your own security parameters. It’s time to end the “your lock, your key” school of self-storage security. Allowing renters to make their own lock selection may lead to the presence of methamphetamine labs, chop shops, and dangerous chemical and firearms storage on your premises. The problem stems from honest renters “securing” their units with generic hardware-store locks. A thief or someone who needs to dump unwanted goods then cuts the lock, does his business, and re-secures the unit with a look-alike lock. No one is the wiser until the legitimate renter attempts to enter his unit and asks you why his key doesn’t work.

This old “cut and switch” technique has become the new “cut and dump” method for storing illegal and dangerous material. So for starters, upgrade your security by selling or giving away quality locks directly from a high-security lock manufacturer. In doing so, you improve your odds against crime, and your facility presents a uniform security front. If every unit is secured the same way, a thief cannot target particular units based on whether he thinks their locks can be compromised. Lengthen his odds, and improve yours, with standardized locks.

But uniform locks are only the first step toward thwarting criminals. Even the finest padlock or disk lock still hangs on a slide bolt; and while the lock shackle can resist a bolt-cutter, a slide bolt cannot. Most facilities use access-control systems, surveillance cameras and door alarms. But since studies indicate most self-storage thefts are committed by people who actually rent at a facility, you still need security at the door. Only a cylinder-lock system with a flush-mounted cylinder and no shackle or latch provides protection against bolt-cutters and other brute force. A hand-assembled, high-security system also provides protection against picking.

The Next Level: Master-Keyed Systems

You can take your cylinder-lock and latch system to the next level by employing a cylinder with a stainless-steel front that resists drilling and a unique key that cannot be duplicated. A hand-assembled, tubular cylinder- lock system provides tens of thousands of usable key combinations and precise tolerances to prevent picking. Combining a cut and drill-resistant cylinder with a unique key combination in a master-keyed system provides physical protection, maximum security and fast, safe access in an emergency.

A master-keyed system isn’t for everyone. But if you operate a professional security program and write a lease that accommodates your system, worries of liability are better saved for other aspects of your business. A master-keyed system gives managers the ability to access units safely and legally—under carefully controlled circumstances—in an emergency. It also makes it clear to every renter that you are serious about security.

With a distinctive, nonreplicable key blank and millions of key combinations, your master key will be exclusive to your facility. It can then be safely protected in an electronic key safe with controlled access by authorized personnel. The only people who love high-security, master-keyed facilities more than renters and operators are local fire marshals and zoning boards. Your payoff is significant market visibility as a safe and secure facility.

Grady Carlson is the self-storage operations manager for Lock America Inc. (d/b/a L.A.I. Group), a manufacturer of security products for the self-storage, vending, gaming, trucking and coin-op industries. He can be reached at 800.422.2866; e-mail; visit

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