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The Future of Storage Security

Steve Cooper Comments
Posted in Articles, Technology
The Future of Storage Security
The basics still reign, though technology increases options

By Steve Cooper

As the hovercraft slowly descends, the signal from its Little Black Box ID transmitter triggers an acknowledgement and authorization to enter. The bay door slides open. The vehicle settles silently on the docking pad. As soon as the driver’s lift door opens, the facial recognition scanner instantly compares the driver’s face to those in its database of stored images. The speaker announces softly, “Welcome to Center City Personal Closet.”

As the visitor presses the call button, the fingerprint-sensitive device confirms his identity. The Security Master Software quickly and automatically matches his vehicle ID, facial scan and button input. He is told, “Supplies and refreshments are in the self-service room through the doorway to your left, should you need them.”

This 20-story tower, a 22nd-Century marvel of pneumatics and hydraulics, features four multistory, conveyor-like lifts. The announcement sounds: “Your personal closet will be available momentarily.” The column-four lift whirs into action, revealing the key convenience feature of the world’s newest model self-storage store. Back in the home office of Global Storage, the monitor shows the activity as the lift delivers Bin # 4357 to the loading level. The door opens automatically.

Who knows what the future might bring to the self-storage industry? You have the opportunity to dream up your ideal storage solution. Whatever the vision, it will contain aspects of security.

As we move toward that future, security technology advances to meet the need. Already, biometric ID devices of one type or another are beginning to appear more frequently in high-security areas of upscale storage stores. Centralized management and monitoring across broadband connections is opening the way to efficient customer service in what is called a “hub and spoke” operation, with several stores operated from a single office. Regardless of how your future storage store looks or operates, following are some security principles you will need to consider. Some operators need to rethink them in the present.

Facility Design

Start with the design of your store. Consult your architect or engineer, or search the Internet on the keywords “crime prevention through environmental design.” You’ll find design principles that allow you to create a safer facility and help your business fit more seamlessly into your neighborhood. Among other things, you will understand the need for sight lines, which allow you to see activities from inside and outside a facility.

David Michael Davenport is a Florida based architect with many years of experience in designing self-storage, especially in East Coast urban areas. “With the cost of land continuing to climb, we’re finding smaller pieces of property that can be developed with multistory buildings to be the trend,” he says. “One of the ways we maximize the use of the property is to reduce the amount of paving by moving all the units to the interior. Not only do we optimize the footprint, but it provides much greater security, especially in some of the urban neighborhoods.” He cites as an example several developments with all parking underneath, on the first level, and 90 percent of the storage above grade.

“Competition is getting fierce in some areas,” Davenport says, “so we design for a place that looks nice inside and out, and make a place for a prominent security display in the office as a prime selling feature. And, in many neighborhoods, we continue to include an on-site apartment for managers. Tenants know there’s a criminal element out there. They’re concerned about it; and having someone on site 24 hours a day makes them more comfortable.”

Harden the Target

Security experts talk about “hardening the target,” simply by making crime not pay. This is accomplished by increasing the difficulty of criminal activity and increasing the likelihood it will be noticed immediately. “There’s no question that when a store has strong deterrents, anyone planning a theft will just move on to the next target, the competition down the street,” says Tom Litton of California based Litton Property Management Inc., a veteran self-storage management consultant.

Anne Ballard, one of Litton’s counterparts and a partner in Atlanta-based Universal Management Co., suggests, “In today’s environment, you really must know who your customers are. Absolute and proper identification, addresses and active telephone numbers are a minimum. The better service you provide in getting to know customers and prospects, the more secure your operation will be.”

The fundamentals will always apply, but the exciting new technology, designed to keep pace with development trends in the industry, makes it easier than ever to employ security tools. “There’s no questioning the fact that security is one of the primary selling features in a self-storage store,” says Davenport. “In urban, suburban and even many rural areas, if there’s competition, the store with the security features will have an advantage.”

One trend for the future includes segmenting the marketing mix with a “high security” area for specialized storage. Minor Scott’s Lodo Self Storage in Denver features a room so well controlled it qualifies to store museum-quality paintings. George McCord’s Plantation Self Storage in South Carolina features wine storage with its additional security features.

“In [high security] situations, we have biometric devices like fingerprint readers that add a sophisticated layer of security,” says Rick Stumpf, West-Coast sales representative for Digitech International, a self-storage security supplier. “Coupled with wireless alarm transmitters for each unit door, these can help owners achieve a very high level of security, which absolutely makes the right impression on prospects and gives tenants the warm, fuzzy feeling their particular property is better protected.”

Wireless devices have been used in the industry for several years. New application of discrete technology has improved the efficiency and convenience of their use in the self-storage environment. “It’s amazing,” exclaims Alan Floren, president of High Security Alarm Systems Inc. in Orlando, Fla. “We just had a crew install wireless transmitters for more than 700 individual unit doors in less than three days. Compared to the installation cycle for hard-wired door alarms, we’re way ahead; and this owner will be renting spaces a whole lot faster.”

Hub and Spoke

New technology that leverages the power of the Internet is helping some owners consider a trend toward the “hub and spoke” arrangement of stores. A central office, connected through broad-band data devices on the web, can effectively manage a collection of smaller stores scattered throughout a market area.

“We can easily make connections to give the central office complete control of gates and other access-control devices, lights, and more,” says Mike Mead of Dallas Automatic Gates, an experienced security-system installer. “With digital video recorders and the right kind of cameras in the right places, the central office can be monitoring activity on a real-time, full-time basis. We can also easily integrate intercom call stations to the telephone so tenants who need to communicate with managers have a way to do that, even from remote sites. We haven’t seen a situation yet where we haven’t been able to match new technology to give the level of security and control owners need.”

“Being able to have cameras feeding over the web and having remote integrated systems should open up some of the more marginal markets to larger companies,” says Paul Darden of Dallas-based Darden Properties. “Adding a few tools, like remotely controlled pan-tilt-zoom cameras, will help operators maintain tight control over their properties.”

Moving Forward

“Improvements in technology help us do a better job; but the truth is, the basics stay the same,” says Jon Loftin, Digitech’s vice president and systems engineer. “You want to make sure you have absolute access control, alarms to signal exceptions, video surveillance to keep a record of activities, contact with your customers via intercoms, and good sound systems.”

“Helping to develop new ways for store owners to protect their property and make operations more efficient keeps us right where we want to be—on the leading edge,” says Jim DelSordo, president of Automated Security Corp., which serves eastern Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey and New York. “Keeping up with new technology is the fun part of our business, and it helps us partner with owners to make each store better.”

Self-storage design and methodology will continue to evolve to meet what is rapidly becoming a more mainstream customer demand in our global society. Security tools now in the brainstorming stage of development will be available to support the needs owners have for property protection, insurability and risk management. Wherever your hovercraft and imagination take you in the creative development of your storage business, the security providers in the industry will be there to help.

Steve Cooper is part of the marketing team at Digitech International, the provider of World Class Security Solutions. He can be reached at 800.523.9504 or via e-mail at For more information, visit

Security Pointers From SpaceAge Storage

SpaceAge Storage in Marietta, Ga., uses the latest in industry technology to serve customers, including a selfservice rental device that works much like a typical ATM machine. This new tool, intended to increase customer convenience, features connections to management software for rentals, credit-card processing for payments, a voice line for real-time communication, and video connections for visual monitoring.

But while conveniences are a nice addition to the facility’s offerings, it still employs basic security measures at the forefront of customer service:

  1. Computerized gate codes are a must for entry and exit of the property. It is also important to keep the gate closed at all times of the day. Too many facilities keep the gate open during business hours to reduce wear and tear on the gate operator. By doing this, the owner is sending a clear signal to consumers that he is soft on ingress/egress security and an open target for anyone to enter the site.
  2. Digital cameras and recording are critical in providing property surveillance. Customers, especially the female customer base, now expect them. These give the customer a higher comfort level and peace of mind to visit the property later at night.
  3. Security zones are a must for property security in larger stores. Keypad-controlled entry to climate-controlled buildings offers added security and is a great selling point.
  4. Proper lighting is critical, particularly around the office, gate, drive aisles, drive-up units and hallways. Lights can be set on sensors or timers. More light provided outside and within the property attracts more female customers. Light clearly provides greater security.
  5. Established gate hours are critical in decreasing break-ins and vandalism and providing added consumer safety. Extended hours can be offered on an as-needed basis.
  6. The “free disk lock” promo has proven to be highly successful in preventing break-ins, plus it is a low-cost marketing special that works. The cost is reasonable, and the returns can be been great.

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