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Advancements in Self-Storage Access-Control Technology

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By Chester A. Gilliam

Every year I attend the International Security Conference & Exposition, an event designed for the security industry where all the new whiz-bang technology and tools are on display. Unfortunately, not a great deal of new equipment has been introduced over the last few years. What has changed, though, is the reliability and functionality of existing products and how we interface with them, meaning how we end users access and use their features.

In the self-storage industry, we mainly deal with just a few types of security products: access control, alarms, intercoms and cameras. Occasionally, we’ll mix in a few others; but for the most part, this where we focus our attention.

Of these, access control is one of the most important for facility operators. It includes keypads, card readers and automatic gates. There have been several advancements in these technologies including near-field communication (NFC), mobile apps, license-plate recognition (LPR) and automated vehicle identification (AVI). Let’s look at these products in detail.

Near-Field Communication

According to Wikipedia, NFC is a set of protocols that enables two electronic devices, one of which is usually a portable device like a smartphone, to establish communication by being within very close proximity. For example, in self-storage, a customer can use his phone to open the facility’s access gate. It’s easy to use, and makes it so tenants don’t have to remember their access code. It also shows them your business is embracing technology.

There are also some disadvantages. The biggest drawback is you must position your device close to the receiving equipment, within an inch or even touching.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are gaining in popularity and are a better fit for access control, as you have a greater distance of use. This technology is also evolving faster than NFC, and we’re seeing a great deal of added features. This is the same technology being used in “smart homes” to control lights, thermostats, blinds, coffee pots and ovens.

The consumer market is driving this technology. NFC is flashy, but WiFi and Bluetooth are more robust and expandable. There are apps that allow you to view your storage facility’s video cameras, and security and management system remotely. Some allow your tenants to open the gate, receive notifications when their unit is opened or closed, access their account balance, and make a payment. This technology is where everything is heading.

One note of caution on using mobile apps for gate access: You should never open a gate remotely unless you can see it. Otherwise, you have no idea if a person could be injured in the process.

If you’re planning to use an app, you need to install an arming loop at your gate. This is the same equipment you use to keep the gate from closing on a vehicle. It’s positioned so a vehicle must be present at the keypad before the gate opens. You can consult with your gate supplier about installing one.

License-Plate Recognition

LPR isn’t a do-it-yourself product, but if you hire someone to set up the system, it’s easy to maintain and use. You enter the customer’s license-plate information into the LPR software. When his car approaches the facility gate, the system reads and recognizes the plate and permits entry.

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