Last month, we focused on software and how a seamless integration with security could improve efficiency at your facility. This month, the spotlight is on security equipment and what it can do to protect your facility and increase occupancy.
There are five main security categories that each facility should review and understand: access control, video surveillance, unit alarms, facility communications and office/apartment intrusion protection. When a facility uses these security categories in combination with software, it not only offers a robust security solution for tenants, but also creates a great marketing benefit for the site. Who wouldn’t prefer to store precious belongings at a facility that was protected like Fort Knox?
This article examines each of these security solutions and highlights how their integration with software will improve your security as well as help you increase revenue and occupancy.
Let’s begin with the security that every site will need to get started: access control. Whether you have a facility with 20 units or 2,000 units, you need to protect the belongings in those units with some form of perimeter security. The most common form of perimeter security is fencing around the facility, combined with a gate or two controlled by a keypad system. Multi-story sites with elevators also use similar keypads to restrict access to upper floors to assure that only tenants with a unit on that floor are allowed access. Along those same lines, access doors into the first floor or single-story buildings can enjoy the same protection by having a keypad control an electronic door lock.
The early days of keypad systems were simple—no bells or whistles. They “opened the gate,” and there certainly wasn’t any integration between the keypad system and the management software, which could lead to double-entry and human error. So what’s new in the world of access control? First, many keypads now have so many features that the actual access-control keypad part of it is really secondary. Here’s a short list of additional features that can be added to keypads:
Pinhole cameras. These small, covert color cameras allow you to capture a close-up image of every person who enters a code on the keypad.
Intercom. An intercom speaker allows easy two-way communication between a tenant or prospect who may have a quick question or just wants to say hello to the manager. This is a great option when inclement weather dissuades people from getting out of their cars to enter the office.
Display. Nothing is more annoying than when the gate isn’t opening and the only feedback you have is a little blinking red light. Most vendors have some form of backlit display that provides instant feedback about a tenant’s rent status, delinquency, time allowed on site, etc. Some of the higher-end security vendors make this standard equipment on all keypads.
Card reader. For whatever reason, some people just can’t remember a gate code, so the card reader becomes a viable alternative or complement to the traditional gate code. A good card-reader system will read any card with a magnetic stripe so you aren’t beholden to your security company for replacement cards. This includes credit cards, driver licenses, library cards, etc.
Of course, you can also have site-specific cards with your logo and information on them, but that’s not recommended in case one is lost by a tenant. However, access control is only half of what a card reader can do. What if you could collect your rent right at your keypad? A few security vendors have the ability to tightly integrate between their management software and keypad system to allow for credit card transactions that will help you instantaneously collect delinquent rent even when the office is closed.
Proximity reader. This is a variation to the card reader, but instead of physically sliding the card into a slot, you only need to pass the card near the keypad. Some systems even have longer range proximity readers that will allow you to keep your card in the car and simply pulling up to the gate will identify who you are and open the gate.
Biometric reader. This technology allows the manager to scan the fingerprint of the tenant in the office, than only that tenant is allowed access. Though a promising technology, and certainly a cool gadget, biometric has not yet shown reliable results in practice. Expect to see this technology perfected in the coming years, but until then lean toward the other, more proven, technologies above.
Besides the cool modules we just discussed there are some very cutting-edge technologies going into the latest access-control systems for self-storage that increase reliability, and offer greater flexibility and tighter software integration than ever before.
One of the most exciting things is the introduction of affordable wireless technology in an access system. Instead of expensive wireless units that connect externally, require large antennae, power supplies and thousands of dollars, these new units simply snap onto the keypads and other access-control devices, and are completely transparent to the user. In addition, wireless data to the office means less trenching, fewer conduits, less wiring, less maintenance and, therefore, less cost to you.
Until now, most keypad systems relied heavily on communication with the office controller or management computer to make decisions on whether to let someone into the facility. With these new access systems, the gate codes, tenant data, time zones, etc., are all stored and encrypted in the individual keypads. That means you can lose all communication with the office and the keypads still keep working perfectly for your existing tenants until communication is restored. Each keypad will then automatically synchronize with the office controller to add in new-tenant information or changes made to existing tenant data.
Some systems can be completely updated remotely—not just the software on the computer, but the firmware in the physical keypads and access-control devices as well. That means as your security vendor continues to improve its products and add new features you will not be required to physically swap out keypads or go without the latest and greatest. It can be as easy as calling your security company and having it remotely update your system.
This new feature is also great for diagnosis as each keypad can literally report back any anomalies or problems, and likely have it fixed automatically without the manager or tenants ever knowing there was a problem. This is revolutionary technology promises to just keep getting better and benefiting everyone in the self-storage industry.
Once you have your access-control system in place, the next logical step would be to explore wireless door alarms to monitor your individual units. The way most wireless alarm systems work is you have a sensor that mounts on the outside door frame and a magnet that mounts directly to the door. The best systems have various measures in place to prevent tampering and theft, and provide resilient weather and vandal protection. Having the sensor located on the exterior of the units serves two purposes. First, it provides a wonderful visual deterrent. Second, you can easily install them at any time—during construction or as a retrofit upgrade—to help you compete in an increasingly crowded market.
Wireless alarms work very closely with your access-control system and the various software packages in the office. Though most vendors offer these systems in a modular fashion, there is no denying the fact that having all of these components working in unison adds real value to the facility and to the secure feeling your tenants will have.
When you enter your code at the gate keypad it immediately informs the system that the unit associated with that gate code is authorized to be opened. That information is not only logged in the system for reporting purposes, but it can also be displayed directly onto the main screen of most integrated management software programs, as well as update the digital layout (3-D or 2-D) software that many facilities also have displayed inside their offices.
Alarming individual units has never been easier or more affordable. Like most technologies, the cost continues to decrease even though the product continues to improve. That means in most cases you can get a wireless door sensor with amazing technology that prevents false alarming and comes with batteries guaranteed for 10 years or more, all at a price that was unheard of five years ago. When you compare the improvements to wireless technology against the ever-increasing costs of copper wiring, the choice is simple on which technology you should choose for your modern facility.
Digital Video Surveillance
The last major security system that every site should have is digital video surveillance. The ability to clearly see what is happening around your facility is priceless, and with the technology available today there is no reason why a site on the tightest budget couldn’t have some form of digital video surveillance.
The heart of your video system is a digital video recorder (DVR). This unit, similar to your TiVo or cable-TV recorder, digitally records the video captured by the cameras around the facility. The average hard-drive size these days is around 500GB, which should give the typical site at least a month of recording time depending on the number of cameras and frequency of activity. Instead of old VHS tapes to record and transfer events, you simply do a quick search by camera, time, date or a combination of these, and copy the event onto a CD, DVD or external USB flash drive. It really is that easy.
The other technological leap the DVR provides is the ability to remotely access your video system from anywhere in the world. Almost all DVRs available today have some form of remote access that can be accessed via the Internet using an IP address and username/password, or by using a more full-featured remote software program that allows you to do more advanced functions such as review and transfer recorded video, control Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) cameras, etc.
Once you have the basics taken care of you may want to look at supplemental security components, such as paging and music. Playing music at your facility adds a feeling of comfort, especially in large, sprawling sites. Background music, paging announcements and the ability to communicate with the office via strategically placed intercom stations improves the overall sense of security for a tenant.
Another piece of security that is often overlooked is the office security component. The office and apartment areas are just as likely to be targets for thieves as tenant units. It is important to have an alarm system that covers all perimeter access as well as motion inside. Wireless models allow you to add security as an upgrade or more security without worrying about wiring.
A security vendor that offers software, access control, digital video surveillance and wireless door alarms can provide a tight integration that would allow you to observe all movement and access around your facility. When selecting your security and software systems, remember to plan ahead to ensure all the security and software components work in seamless synergy. This will lead to happier tenants, a more secure facility and higher revenue.
Paul Brandenburg is the commercial sales manager for Van Nuys, Calif.-based QuikStor Security & Software. He has more than eight years of self-storage experience, including six years with QuickStor. To reach him, call 800.321.1987, ext. 207; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.quikstor.com.