Self-Storage Security Technology: Creating Customer Confidence and Discouraging Crime

By John Fogg Comments
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The "Star Wars" movies changed the way we look at the future, space and technology, stimulating our imagination and creativity. Who among us would not love to own a lightsaber, or visit the space station? Self-storage security technology, while not to "Star Wars" level, has evolved greatly in recent years. The challenge for facility operators is to incorporate technology that creates a visibly secure environment, one that pleases and assures renters, encourages prospects to rent, and discourages wrongdoers.

Your tenants want you to provide a comprehensive security system that helps them sleep at night. They want to know their belongings are safely stored. An experienced storage user will go out of his way to rent at a site he believes is protected. Having the technology in place is what gives him that confidence. When a self-storage site is secure, it helps the facility owner and manager sleep at night, too.

The Consequences of Poor Security

Self-storage break-ins are on the rise. I recently spoke with a facility owner who recorded a rash of burglaries on his video-surveillance system. A few weeks after the initial incidents, the same burglars committed more break-ins at the same location. This was an older site, which did not have enough technology in place. Cameras passively record the event. If the owner had installed individual door alarms, an alarm would have actively sounded at the first unit.

Break-ins cost a company in three ways. The first is tenant move-outs. Those whose units were broken into, or heard  about the incident and are concerned, move to a more secure location. Second is future move-ins. If word spreads, this will deter prospects from renting with you. Third is man hours lost in addressing the crime. Managers and owners must call the victims, file police reports and review surveillance video. All of these add up to lost revenue.

Another pitfall is working with a security system or company not tailored for a self-storage operation. Generic security systems don’t provide features exclusive to the industry. This can lead to holes in your protection. Recent ownership changes in self-storage security companies have left some facility owners with pieces of technology that are not replaceable or repairable. In some cases, the software is not operable going forward in Windows 7.

What’s New in Security Technology?

While many of today’s security measures, such as surveillance cameras and access-control gates, have been around for years, they’re evolving, and new products are being introduced all the time. For instance, access control that uses the Internet for communication is becoming more widely used at unmanned self-storage sites. Access-control software is sophisticated and can accomplish real-time operation and changes from any personal computer.

Camera technology has the functionality to view activity from a PC, iPad or smartphone, including the ability to remotely operate the pan and tilt. Although this feature is not brand new, it provides more security options and flexibility for the self-storage owner.

In the field of biometrics, vascular-recognition technology is available for access control. This reads the vein pattern in a human finger, which more difficult to duplicate than a fingerprint. As of now, software has not yet been written to link this technology to a self-storage access system. There’s still debate on how reliable these readers are, especially in an outdoor application. Biometrics is not widely considered as viable for self-storage.

Automated overlock systems allow overlocking from the office, though these are more of a management tool than a security feature. They do not interface with self-storage management software, being controlled from a separate program. They do keep the manager in the office, but they are costly.

Card and proximity readers are becoming more prevalent for certain areas of a storage site such as RV lots, wine storage, climate-control units or vehicle storage. These should integrate with the access system to record activity, lock out late payers, and restrict access levels to different areas—the same information now generated through the self-storage keypad.

Budget and Plan

Self-storage security begins with planning and budgeting. Design your office and parking area so there’s space for a gate, access devices and traffic flow. Sight lines that create strong visibility from the management office are a deterrent to crime. If your facility includes hallways, you may need more cameras, lighting and security at each access door.

Budget enough money and time to put the proper security in place. The buildings may be erected and the doors hung, but until the security system is installed and functional, the site is not ready. Remember, you’re buying peace of mind for yourself and your customers.

Difficult economic times can bring out either the best or worst in people. This is one reason theft is increasing in our industry. Much has been written about the proper components to secure a self-storage facility. You’ll certainly want to do your homework. Apply the technology to have things in place when you open. Talk to the companies that work in the self-storage industry and have proven track records.

Remember, technology for the sake of technology may not add functionality to your security. You're not aiming to build the Death Star, but to create the system that will work best for your particular operation. Anyone who’s experienced a self-storage theft, whether from the management/owner side or the tenant perspective, will never forget the experience. Keep this in mind when building your site and you’ll choose well.

John Fogg has been in the self-storage industry since 1986. He’s currently general manager of Sentinel Systems Corp., which provides security and software exclusively for the self-storage industry. To reach him, call 800.456.9955, extension 405; e-mail jfogg@sentinelsystems.com ; visit www.sentinelsystems.com .

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