Homeland Security

Van Carlisle Comments
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Over the past few years, several advisories and bulletins released by the federal government have illustrated the responsibilities of the self-storage industry in securing our homeland and preventing domestic terrorist attacks. In one release, the FBI warned storage operators to be alert to indicators of potential terrorist activity, such as tenant use of chemicals, explosives, weapons, ammunition, or even seemingly innocuous items like uniforms, badges, flight manuals, access cards or tools used to fashion IDs.

The intelligence community bases its warnings on the domestic-terrorism cases of Ramzi Yousef (Word Trade Center bombing, 2003) and Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City bombing, 1995). Both criminals used truck bombs to carry out their actions, and both stored their materials (large quantities of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) in self-storage units.

But whatever the implications of government documents, the reality is self-storage personnel are not law-enforcement officers. Facility owners and operators will (and should) remain primarily focused on running their businesses in an efficient and profitable manner. To everyone’s benefit, however, they should consider basic and proper risk management and “smart security.”

The idea is the more security elements you employ—access systems, CCTV, alarm points, etc.—the “smarter” your security and greater your level of protection. To properly support employee awareness, you must choose the right technology to secure your self-storage environment.

The Importance of Vigilance

Since the root of vigilance is observation, a key element in smart security for self-storage is a CCTV system based on DVR (digital video recorder) technology, as opposed to a time-lapse videotape solution. By using a DVR system to monitor your facility, you have two ways of preventing domestic terrorism: surveillance and the procurement of evidence.

Install cameras in key locations around your facility, including the front gate, loading docks, building entrances, and above the front desk and point-of-sale system. Your monitoring equipment should be in plain view in your front office, not only to give comfort to tenants but to deter any criminal activity. A DVR can be easily integrated with security features such individual unit alarms and access control to ensure important images are captured and stored.

But cameras will not be sufficient if your staff doesn’t know the red flags. To understand what to watch for, employees will need a list of suspicious items and behaviors. Consider posting a list in your office. You can create one from the aforementioned government advisories. The Self Storage Association has made some notices available for download via its website, www.selfstorage.org.

No matter how vigilant employees are, it can be extremely difficult to determine the intentions of customers by simply observing them. It’s more likely a red flag will be raised when a tenant makes a blunder that reveals criminal plans. For example, Yousef had chemicals delivered to his storage unit directly from the manufacturer. This sort of activity is not only suspicious, it is easily recordable via surveillance cameras.

This is where the DVR is most useful. To conduct a solid investigation, law-enforcement officials will need accurate evidence, such as video footage. A DVR produces highly detailed images, making key information, such as the identities of individuals and license plates, easy to see. In addition, a DVR can pinpoint events from specific time periods, eliminating the need to sift through hours of tape. It offers great flexibility, extended record times, future expansion ability, and a greater capacity for data storage and reproduction.

In this age of heightened security concerns, superior technology combined with increased employee caution will enable the self-storage industry to play a key role in the war on terrorist activity.

Van Carlisle is president and CEO of FKI Security Group, a security and loss-prevention company, where he has worked since 1975. Mr. Carlisle studied criminal justice at the University of Louisville and served six years in the Air National Guard Security Police Force. For more information, call 800.457.2424; e-mail vanc@fireking.com; visit www.fkisecuritygroup.com.


Homeland Security: Red Flags

The following is excerpted from the “Potential Terrorist Use of Self-Storage Facilities Notice” released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on August 6, 2004.

Owners, operators, and employees should be aware of any suspicious activity by self-storage customers, including:

  • Insistence on paying in cash, sometimes weeks or months in advance.
  • Seeming overly concerned about privacy.
  • Visiting the storage facility late at night or at unusual times.
  • Exhibiting suspicious behavior when approached by employees.
  • Having unusual fumes, liquids, residues or odors emanating from their storage units.
  • Displaying burns or symptoms of chemical exposure and providing vague or irrational explanations for the injuries.
  • Discarding chemical containers in facility dumpsters.

Storage of the following items may also be cause for concern:

  • Quantities of fuel
  • Agricultural or industrial chemicals
  • Agricultural equipment, such as commercial sprayers
  • Explosives, blasting caps or fuses
  • Weapons or ammunition
  • Flight manuals or other similar materials
  • Laboratory materials (e.g., flasks, sealed containers, incinerators, incubators, cell cultures, agricultural sprayers, improvised showers and eye baths)
  • Protective clothing (e.g., surgical masks, gas masks, rubber gloves, self-contained breathing apparatuses)
  • Textbooks and journals discussing biology, chemistry, explosives and poisons
  • Pesticides
  • Large delivery vehicles, vans, cargo containers, trailers or related equipment

Self-storage personnel are encouraged to contact their local FBI office regarding any concerns about possible terrorist activities or behaviors. Contact information for field offices can be found by calling the local police department or visiting www.fbi.gov.

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