Limiting Your Self-Storage Facility's Exposure to Crime

The job of a self-storage company is to provide a secure place for customers to store their belongings. Follow these guidelines to prevent would-be thieves from targeting your property.

It’s simple really: The job of a self-storage company is to provide a secure place for customers to store their belongings. Folks only agree to this concept because they believe their possessions will be there when they return. Knowing this, it’s imperative that you do everything you can to ensure their property is as safe as possible. Achieving this feat is another matter.

The Nordstrom Effect

If you’ve ever walked into a Nordstrom department store, you’re immediately transported into a world of gleaming floors, and well-lit and impeccably organized displays. The employees are attentive, greeting you with a friendly, helpful air. The company understands that creating this upscale environment shows would-be crooks they care about every aspect of their business, including its security.

Now compare this with a cut-rate department store. The décor is dated and worn, the lighting dim and uninviting, and the salespeople nowhere to be found. Or if they are in the store, they’re certainly not approaching the customer to offer assistance. Criminals take their cues from this atmosphere and understand the security is most likely also neglected.

The same thing holds true for a self-storage business. The image a property projects is a signal to criminals of the security they’re likely to encounter. Take, for example, the simple act of trash pickup. A would-be crook passes the property and notices a fast-food drink cup has been sitting in front of a storage unit for several days. To him, this is an obvious sign that the staff isn’t walking the property, which makes it a great target for theft.

By contrast, when management puts emphasis on keeping the office, driveways, hallways and bathrooms clean and well-maintained, its lets customers and passers-by know the facility is well-run. By extension, the opportunities for undetected theft are low.

The Vigilant Manager

Storage managers should be visible and active on their property. An important part of being visible is to ensure you walk the grounds every day, with the goal of identifying anything out of the ordinary. This includes checking the perimeter fence, doing lock checks, looking for signs of vandalism, picking up trash, and checking access points for proper function.

Being a vigilant manager also involves consistent monitoring of the entrance and exit for each unit. Occasionally, you’ll find a customer has entered his unit but hasn’t left. This could be a situation in which the customer is trying to live in his space.

In these instances, engaging with customers doesn’t have to be confrontational. When you notice a non-exit, approach that person from an informational stance: “Good morning. I noticed you didn’t punch out with your code last night. I just wanted to remind you that we don’t allow customers to be in the facility after access hours.” The goal is to let the tenant know you’re paying attention without directly accusing him of acts that could be detrimental to the continued rental of the unit.

You should also conduct a full, weekly reconciliation of all units to ensure they jive with your store report. Anything that looks off should be investigated.

Customer Rapport

Another element to crime prevention is developing a relationship with customers. Whenever a tenant comes to the property, engage with him. It can be as simple as asking, “How’s it going?” Over time, this rapport pays off. As the customer gets to know you and your staff, a bond of trust is created. This can deliver big dividends when he turns into a community watchdog, alerting you to potential illegal activity on the premises.

“We’ll have customers calling our office to report that someone followed them in, or that they’re at the gate and someone is asking them to be let in,” says Scott Timmons, district manager for West Coast Self-Storage. “These customers have paid to keep their things safe and are contributing to that effort as part of relationship we’ve established with them. They’re eager to volunteer information to assist in keeping the facility secure.”

Law Enforcement

It’s also a good idea to develop relationships with the local police and fire departments. When West Coast builds a new facility, it invites law-enforcement officers and firefighters for a property tour, Timmons says. If there’s ever an emergency such as a break-in or fire, officers or fire crews will know the lay of the grounds ahead of time, and can therefore react more quickly.

Some West Coast properties also allow police K-9 units to train on their grounds. The officers place contraband in a storage unit and train their dogs to find it.

The development of good relationships with the local police and fire community can be invaluable when there’s a need to call on them. If you haven’t already built this connection, reach out and invite them for a property tour.

Video Surveillance

Most self-storage operators today understand the need for video surveillance of their facility. But for video to be a truly effective tool in crime deterrence and apprehension, it must meet certain requirements.

Cameras must be set up to monitor of every inch of the property. While many operators recognize this and install cameras to provide full coverage, they often employ too few cameras with too wide a field of view, which results in poor facial recognition. Instead, install more cameras, with each responsible for a narrower area. The resulting resolution will be more effective in determining what happened and who was involved.

Other factors in surveillance setup are camera angle and lighting. Cameras should be installed at a height that allows for better facial viewing and must have adequate illumination. Lights should be placed uniformly throughout the viewing area to avoid bright or dark spots, which can result in poor image quality.

Video-surveillance company Pro-Vigil recommends upgrading any old closed-captioned TV systems that produce grainy black and white footage to the newest high-definition systems, which deliver higher-quality video and enable easier identification of thieves and their actions. These new systems also allow for local hard-drive storage or even cloud storage of video, rather than onsite analog-tape storage that can wear out and fail.

Lastly, it’s important to use a backup power supply in the event the storage facility loses power from storms, blackouts or even the would-be thief. Some advanced systems can even send alerts if the system goes offline.

A video-surveillance system is only as good as the staff that maintain it. Set up routine inspections to ensure your system is working correctly. The last thing any business owner wants is a situation in which a crime has been committed and the evidence of the theft is missing due to a technology malfunction.

No prevention method will solve every potential crime. By understanding your facility’s weak spots and acting to improve your systems and staff training, you should be able to limit your exposure to criminal activity. You’ll also keep your customers’ possessions safe and secure.

Derek Hines is an Internet-marketing assistant for West Coast Self-Storage, a self-storage acquisitions, development and management company with facilities in California, Oregon and Washington. He writes extensively on all subjects related to self-storage. For more information, visit www.westcoastselfstorage.com.

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