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4 Crime-Prevention Strategies for Self-Storage Facilities

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By Rick Beal

Crime prevention and security measures are a hot topic in the self-storage industry. Thanks to popular reality TV shows, everyone believes each storage unit holds outrageous treasures like first-edition comic books or gold bars. That’s also the perception of people who might want to break into your facility, so it’s up to you to make sure your security is up to par.

I had the opportunity to be involved in law enforcement before my time in the self-storage industry, and I’d like to share some theories with you. When I was a teenager, there was an abandoned high school in our small town. Since there wasn’t much for us to do on the weekends, my friends and I would sneak in late at night to wreak the usual teenage havoc. The school had been empty for years and provided embellished stories of ghosts and adolescent bravery. Since the statute of limitations for vandalism has expired, I’ll confess to my fair share of spray-painting and breaking a few items inside the school. (Sorry, mom.)

My intention of telling this story isn’t to come clean, but introduce you to the “broken windows theory.” In short, it essentially states that if a broken window or graffiti on a building isn’t taken care of immediately, the overall environment will continue to encourage more damage. We went to the school because someone had already started the vandalism; someone else had broken the window. We didn’t sneak into a new, well-kept school. We went to a place nobody cared about.

However, your self-storage facility doesn’t have to be rundown or graffiti-riddled, or even have a single broken window, to become a possible target for crime. The fact is, illegal activities occur at all types of properties—new and established, in small towns and big cities. The following four measures will help you prevent crime from happening at your property.

Keep a Well-Maintained Facility

This is the first measure in crime prevention. Regardless of the location or class of facility you operate, it can always look well-maintained. If someone sprays graffiti on a fence, think of that in terms of the first “broken window.” If it’s not taken care of quickly, it’ll soon invite more damage and criminal activity. If your site is trash- and weed-free, sparkly clean, and has the appearance of a well-run property, it might give a would-be criminal enough hesitation to move on.

Think like a bad guy. If you wanted to break into your facility, how would you do it? What corners of your property need more lighting? Where are your security cameras? Where are your blind spots? Does your perimeter fence have any holes or damage? Do you have overgrown bushes that could be hiding spots? Think about ways a criminal might access your site, and then take steps to eliminate them.

Invest in Security Hardware

Not only does it make good business sense to have functional security features, it actually deters crime. Cameras, lighting and other security components tell your customers you care about their belongings, but it also sends a message that crime won’t be tolerated on your property.

You also need to consider the type of lock your tenants use to secure their units. Many break-ins at storage facilities are committed by people who cut locks with bolt-cutters. The smart ones replace the padlocks so a manager doing a walk-through doesn’t realize the lock has been replaced. Help your tenants and yourself by stocking a quality lock in your retail store and encouraging them to purchase one. There are a number of vendors in the industry that can help you choose the right type.

Have reasonable gate hours. Most customers don’t need to access their unit at 2 a.m. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule; however, the majority of people will visit your property during the day or early evening. The key is to find the right balance between offering good customer service, such as extended hours, and protecting your property. Don’t limit your hours so much that it costs you business. On the other hand, wide-open hours could invite trouble. Exceptions can always be made for certain customers, but keep reasonable hours for the majority of your tenants.

Watch for Red Flags

Most of our customers are decent people. Unfortunately, we do have those on the fringe who aren’t. If you do an Internet search for “self-storage and crime,” you’ll find news on everything from drug busts to break-ins, counterfeiting rings to the first World Trade Center bombings. The unfortunate part of our business is some people use our facilities for illegal activities. While it’s impossible to keep every criminally inclined person out, we can do things to minimize the possibility of renting a unit to a criminal.

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