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Inside Self-Storage Magazine 07/2004: Safeguarding Your

Chester Gilliam Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

Safeguarding Your Security System
Preserving gate, access, alarm and surveillance systems

By Chester Gilliam

We all know we need to change the oil in our cars every 3,000 miles or three months and that by doing so, we prolong the life of our vehicles and reduce the overall amount of service that needs to be performed. Well, the same holds true for your self-storage facility’s security system. Gates, gate operators, surveillance cameras, and access and alarm systems require regular preventive maintenance.

In my experience, the majority of managers are more than willing to perform this type of service. In most cases, the problem is no one has conveyed to them what needs to be done and when. Security maintenance does not require a lot of tools, hard work or even specialized knowledge. In fact, it requires very little time and can be done by almost anyone using a standard tool set.

Let’s Start With the Basics

While you don’t need many tools to perform your maintenance checks, you do need some. Every site should have basic tools, including a set of wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, several types of pliers, hex wrenches, a cordless drill, drill bits and, of course, a hammer (in the event none of the others fix the problem!). These can be purchased from any hardware store and are a must. You do not need to get top-of-the-line products, but buy good-quality tools. Look for those that come in sets, as these are usually a bargain.

Now that we have tools, let’s take a look at the components of our maintenance routine. We can divide the security system into five major areas: gates, gate operators, access systems, alarm systems and surveillance cameras. While some of these require little or no maintenance, others need to be cared for on a regular schedule. The routine will vary depending on your surroundings, which will be explained as we go along.


Gates require minimal maintenance with the exception of rollers, hinges and paint. It’s always a good idea to have a few cans of touch-up paint on hand as well as a can of metal primer. Rust is not only an eyesore, it represents the metal being eaten away by corrosion. This weakens the welds and surrounding metal and, if not attended to, will eventually cause problems.

There is a variety of gate rollers and hinges. Some require no maintenance while others must be greased regularly. A good rule of thumb is if a part has a grease fitting, it needs grease. You should lubricate hinges and rollers every month. If you live in an area where you get a lot of moisture or blowing dust, you may want to grease them more often.

Also inspect all hinges and rollers for wear. Look for metal shavings on the ground surrounding them and at adjoining surfaces. Check for uneven wear on rollers and noises when the gate opens and closes. All of these are signs something is not right. Sometimes, lubricating rollers and hinges will eliminate the problem; however, if it does not, call for service before the gate breaks down. You know it will inevitably break down on the weekend or on a holiday! So get it fixed sooner than later.

Gate Operators

All gate operators require regular maintenance. The first step, before doing any work, is to turn off the power. No one needs to get hurt. If you’re not sure if the power is off, find out before you do anything else.

Slide-gate operators with chains need their chains tightened regularly. In general, a chain should not have more than 1 inch of drop from end to end. Never allow a chain to twist. It should be lubricated with chain lube at least once a month. If you live in an area where you get a lot of moisture or blowing dust, you want to lubricate it every two weeks, without overdoing it. A light coating is better and will attract less dirt. Do not use WD-40. This is a cleaner and will not provide lubrication but just the opposite, drying the chain out and causing it to rust and eventually need replacement.

Swing- and vertical-pivot gate operators need their bearings greased once a month. Check with the manufacturer to find out which bearings and other items need to be oiled. Not all of them require lubrication, and not all models are the same. Get the specifics for your particular equipment.

With all gate operators, inspect drive belts and gears for wear every six months. Do not use belt dressing on drive belts, no matter how good an idea it seems. Drive belts are designed to slip in the event something binds. If they don’t slip, something’s going to break—usually something that costs a lot to fix. Visually check all moving parts for wear. Check to see if the gear box is filled with lube oil. Keep the gate, gate track and gate operator free of trash.

Inspect safety devices often, no less than once a week. Safety loops can be tested by opening the gate and driving over the devices slowly when the gate begins to close. The gate should reverse and open. Safety edges can be checked by simply hitting them with your hand as the gate begins to close. Again, the gate should reverse and open. Some gates may take a few seconds to reverse. This is normal and should not cause alarm. Remember, safety loops work off magnetic fields and may not detect vehicles that are high off the ground or have aluminum or fiberglass structures. Motorcycles and bicycles may not trip the safety loops either.

If your safety loops were cut into the pavement, check the lines where the wires are to make sure there are no exposed wires and the sealer does not have cracks. If you find cracks or open spots, you can use a concrete or asphalt filler to seal over the loop wires. In areas where the paving is cracked around the loops, care should be taken to ensure they can’t get damaged by movement or moisture. Here, too, you can use filler to seal the area.

If you are not sure about any maintenance items, contact someone who can show you how to care for your gate system. Gates and gate operators differ greatly from one manufacturer and model to the next. What you did at one site may or may not be appropriate for the system you now have. You can get information from your installer or the manufacturer. Most manufacturers post this information on their websites. Get the right information before you attempt to do any maintenance work.

Access Systems

With the technological advances that have been made in our industry, little service is required on access systems. The only thing you should do is to inspect conduits for breaks and exposed wires. This is best done in early spring and late fall.

Most breaks occur when there are changes in weather from one season to another. By visually inspecting the conduits and junction boxes as well as where keypads attach to stands and buildings, you should catch problems before they get out of hand. Look for places water could get into conduits or keypads. As with any issue of this type, you should get a qualified installer to fix the problem. If you do not have someone to call, contact your equipment manufacturer. It can refer you to someone in your area.

Alarm Systems

Alarm equipment falls into the same set of standards as the access system. There’s not a lot to do for maintenance except inspect conduit runs. However, when it comes to switches and wires, there are some things to watch.

When a tenant moves out of his unit, check to ensure it is clean and take the opportunity to inspect the alarm. Look to see if the wires are tied off and out of the way. Make sure wires running through the unit are not hanging—these could get caught in a rolling door or accidentally damaged by a customer. Ensure the switch and magnet are not loose, damaged or missing. Also ensure they align with each other and there is not a gap greater than 2 inches between them. With latch-type switches, check to see the door latch does not hit the switch and the track is not bent in the switch area. Close and open the door, then look to see if you get an “open” and “close” notification on your site-activity report.

These actions take only a few minutes, but by doing them, you are also investigating potential problem areas such as the door and latch. You can avoid problems with the alarm system and the next tenant by allowing for repairs while the unit is empty.

Surveillance Cameras

As with the alarm and access systems, make sure the conduits to surveillance cameras are not broken, especially where the flex conduit goes into the camera housing. There should be no exposed wires. Clean the outside of the camera-housing window once or twice a year. Use a soft cloth and no abrasive cleaners.

Once a week, make sure the cameras are actually recording. Review a tape or recorded image so you know you are getting something stored. Don’t take it for granted that because the record light is on something is on tape. On VCRs, clean the heads with a commercial-grade cleaning system once every six months and change tapes every 12 months. (You should be using one tape for every day of the month.) Check the cameras after dark to ensure they are in focus. They can look great during the day and be out of focus during low-light conditions. This can make a big difference at the time of playback.

It’s the Little Things That Count

With any type of equipment, check with your installer and/or manufacturer to find out what maintenance can be done to keep your system in top working order. Not all systems are the same, and you can do more harm than good if you do not follow the correct procedures. Check to see if there are specific types of lubricants recommended by the manufacturer. And remember safety first. Never work on a system if you are not sure or if you are uncomfortable with the task. It really is better to be safe than sorry.

These maintenance processes can be done in a few hours each month. That’s not a lot of time when you consider how long you could be waiting on parts and service in the event something breaks. By being aware of your site, you can head off trouble. The more active a manager is on a property, the fewer problems the site experiences. By taking care of the security system and letting your tenants know it, you will earn greater respect for yourself and your site. Customers will get the message that you value their business.

Chester A. Gilliam works for Centennial, Colo.-based Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. and has been involved with self-storage security systems for 18 years. For more information, call 303.798.5337 or e-mail

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