Straight Talk About Individual Door Alarms for Self-Storage Facilities

Individual unit alarms are an active form of security that lets a self-storage operator know immediately when a breach occurs. Here’s why these tools should be part of your site security plan.

By John Fogg

Self-storage construction spending rose 73 percent in the United States in 2015, and the growth continued last year. With ongoing development in full swing, it’s a good time to revisit ways to integrate site security as part of the building process.

One of the best ways to secure your investment and customers’ stored belongings is to use individual door alarms. The first such system was developed because a facility owner was experiencing break-ins. He reasoned there must be a way to electronically monitor each unit. He also concluded this electronic protection wasn’t just good for his business, it was good for employees’ and tenants’ peace of mind.  It showed great promise as a marketing tool by letting prospects know their stored goods would be safe. Finally, it helped keep rental rates and occupancies at optimum levels.

Individual unit alarms are an active form of security that lets a self-storage operator know immediately when a breach occurs. As soon as the burglar opens the unit door, an alarm sounds and the activity is recorded. This warrants a timely response.

An access-control system that lacks unit alarms is vulnerable to would-be thieves. Here’s how: The criminal rents a unit and receives an access code to the property. He then spends time on site, observing activity and any open units, all while making a mental inventory and planning which units to rob. When the opportunity presents itself, he drills or cuts the locks, moving the goods he wants to his own unit or moving them to the front of the victim’s unit for later removal by truck. He puts his own lock on the unit so no one is suspicious … until the tenant visits the site and can’t open his door.

Individual door alarms prevent this type of theft. As soon as the bad guy opens the first door of a unit not belonging to him, the alarm sounds, notifying staff or a third-party monitoring company.

Letting people know you have an individual-door-alarm system will encourage them to rent with you. It will also let wrongdoers know they don’t want to attempt to steal property at your site. By making this a part of your marketing strategy, advertising and signage, you present your facility as being more secure than the competition.

Evolving Technology

The reliability of door-alarm systems has vastly improved over the years. In the beginning, component technology was lacking. Door switch sensitivity gaps were minimal, causing frequent false alarms. But the technology has improved, making false alarms rare.

The quick switch that’s now widely used is a latch-type switch that detects the metal in the sliding door-latch mechanism. It’s a simple installation with two self-tapping screws, which saves time. The system software supports the needs of the customer. Tenants with more than one unit need only punch in one access code to disarm or alarm all their units.

Reputable alarm manufacturers will supply a hard-wired system to be installed during construction. The wireless door-alarm experiment wasn’t successful. Reliability and maintenance failures made these systems more of a nuisance than a security tool.

Choosing a System

When looking for a quality door-alarm system, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Stay away from systems that aren’t specifically designed for a self-storage application. They won’t support the number of alarm points (doors) at a storage facility, and they won’t interface with industry management software. They become wiring and operational nightmares.
  • You need a provider with the experience to provide a reliable system designed to secure a storage facility. It should also be around in the years to come to support its products.
  • Installation is crucial. It’s much easier to get it right on the original install than to go back and make corrections after units have been rented.
  • In addition to incorporating this expense into the budget for a new project, allow enough time to correctly install the system. Doors need to be mounted in the buildings before the alarm installation can be completed, so plan ahead.

More storage owners are adding individual-door-alarm systems to their new construction projects, as the competitive edge and marketing potential make it a sound investment. Facilities with individual alarms can justify higher rental rates and enjoy better occupancy. Also, a property with state-of-the-art security will attract more buyers when it comes time to sell. The initial investment pales in comparison to the increased revenue yield individual door alarms will bring through the years.

John Fogg is the general manager for Sentinel Systems Corp., a self-storage software and security manufacturing company. He has been with the firm for 24 years and in the self-storage industry since 1986. To reach him, call 800.456.9955, ext. 405; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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