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Security Upgrades for Older Self-Storage Properties

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By Steve Weinstein

Making the leap from being a vendor to a self-storage facility manager was an eye-opening experience. I’ve worked as an industry security and software professional since 2004, but last year changed careers to become the manager of Agua Dulce Storage in Agua Dulce, Calif.

The 27-acre storage and parking facility offers 24-hour access and was little more than a glorified dirt lot when I signed on. Our vision was to turn it into a premiere storage facility with all the perks. I knew the software; I have good people skills; I can do installation and light maintenance on the various security systems, so it seemed like a natural fit. I didn’t realize how relevant my previous security experience would be.

Agua Dulce is in a fairly rural area, but not too far outside of Los Angeles proper. The surrounding region is all horse property and open mountains. There isn’t a lot of population density or the usual crime that tends to come with it.

For their security, the previous facility owners primarily relied on a couple of “yard-hand” employees who lived onsite. Now that there was no one living on the property, it needed more sophisticated measures to ensure the safety of tenants’ belongings. It had an automated gate and access-control system, an older analog video-surveillance system, and some lighting. It was time for upgrades.

Video Surveillance

The access-control system was solid and reliable; it did its job well. The video system was, unfortunately, not quite so robust.

Keypad entry at Agua Dulce in Agua Dulce, Calif.The cameras were an older analog type and simply not providing the clarity necessary for a property of this size. The night lighting consisted of energy-hungry, 400-watt, sodium-halide bulb fixtures sparsely sprinkled around the grounds, with a couple of 1,000-watt fixtures here and there. This created pools of light while the rest of the facility was in utter darkness, not to mention bright-star hot-spots if any camera was pointed toward a light.

Our first step was to install a high-definition (HD) analog system. This is a great solution for operators of existing facilities with analog cameras. It enables them to upgrade to HD cameras and better-quality video without completely re-wiring the facility, which can be costly. HD analog uses standard coax cabling but provides mega-pixel-quality video.

Once installed, the cameras were great and provided a significant improvement. However, for a property this large, we simply needed more cameras and a more dynamic solution.

In a traditional analog surveillance system, each camera needs a dedicated wire from the camera to the digital video recorder. On a 27-acre property, this not only means a lot of wire, you quickly reach the effective distance limits of the system, which requires expensive “signal boosters” to go any further.

We decided to install an Internet-protocol (IP) camera system. With IP cameras, everything works on a Cat-5 Ethernet network, just like a computer network or the Internet. It greatly reduces wire and installation costs as well as “spaghetti syndrome” (jumbles of wiring) if done properly. Ethernet networks do still have an effective distance limit; however, this can be easily overcome with standard network hubs and switches to pass on the signal.

Lighting

With upgraded cameras, I now had a clear view of the property and could keep an eye on what was going on during the day. Unfortunately, the view at night, even though our cameras were infrared and equipped for night vision, was terrible. Did I mention we’re in a rural mountain area? It gets dark out here. A couple of our cameras were installed on light poles, but even with those, the effective viewing distance was severely limited. The others were worse.

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