Info Rides the Radio Waves

We have increasingly become a wireless world. Small high-powered transmitters change the way we do many things in day-to-day activities, including the many management activities at your self-storage. Some devices use infrared light to carry information, similar to your TV remote; others, like your portable telephone, use a radio transmitter. Regardless, you can have information and data moving from one place to another without using a wire.

Wireless devices have been used in the industry for several years. New application of discrete technology has improved its efficiency and convenience in the industry environment.

Your computer may use a wireless mouse. The site graphics display that helps managers keep up with activity from the access-control and alarm systems may be controlled with a remote controller. Your office or managers apartment may even have a wireless computer network, something like the neighborhood cyber cafe. Cameras, alarms and other security components may also take advantage of wireless transmission methods.

Linked Facilities

An owner in Little Rock, Ark., acquired a property, and shortly after purchased a second facility across the street. His security installer provided and installed a short-haul wireless modem to connect the two facilities so they could be run as a single site from one office. Though they require line-of-sight transmission and reception, the signals can travel efficiently for as much as two miles, solving some challenges in operating more than one location in a small area.

While improvements in technology help us do a better job, the basics stay the same. You want to make sure you have absolute access control, alarms to signal intruders, video surveillance to keep a record of activities, and contact with your customers with intercoms and good sound systems.

Unit-Door Alarms

The most popular use of wireless in self-storage is individual unit door alarms. The concept of arming a monitoring and alert device for each door is simple, but the engineering and execution can prove intimidating to most engineers, especially when operators are not willing to absorb high costs.

Unit door alarms consist of a contact mounted at each door location, a way to communicate the state change of the contact, either open or closed, and a device that receives and decodes the location information of the sensor responding. Vendors use a variety of components to accomplish the task.

Going beyond high-security locks, wireless-alarm transmitters for each rental unit door can help owners achieve a high level of security, which makes a positive impression on prospects and gives tenants the warm fuzzy feeling that a particular property is better protected. We all want to feel safe. While security systems used in the self-storage industry are not specifically designed to protect persons, they do an excellent job at deterring crime and protecting property.

Return on Investment

Because people have become so security conscious, the return on investing in the added protection of individual door alarms is excellent. Industry figures show that facilities with security measures can command rents up to 35 percent higher than those without.

In some circles, unit-door alarms have been criticized because of a misperception they dont perform well. The truth is most systems will work extremely well when installed properly. To ensure proper performance, vendors go to great lengths to confirm chosen installers are competent and knowledgeable.

Operators most frequent question is, How much does it cost to add door alarms to my system? The answer isnt simple. Cost depends on whether the facility is planned, under construction or existing. It may also be affected by materials used in your building construction, location and topography of the site, and if you opt for a hard-wired or wireless system.

There have been some problems adapting equipment designed for residential and light-commercial applications for use in the self-storage environment. The difficulty has been trying to take off-the-shelf parts and make them work for a use where they were not intended. Ive tried similar equipment at my home that didnt perform that well, so I would never expect it to work at my facilities, says one owner. The lesson learned: Work with a self-storage-specific vendor to avoid these pitfalls.

When planning for door alarms, make sure every door is armed, even the vacant units. This way, the manager knows not only who is coming and going, but also whether or not tenants are actually going to their own units.

Customer Appreciation

Regardless of the technology used, customers appreciate the assurance that the unit they rent has the additional protection. When I was in college, I rented a locker for the summer in a place that looked nice and was well-fenced, says Wendy Earley, a typical storage customer. Somebody apparently jumped the fence, even though there was an automatic gate and all. My parents and I had to replace a microwave, a toaster oven, and everything else that seemed to have much value. The next summer, we stored in a place that had better alarms.

Inventors, engineers and security experts will continue to incorporate new avenues to use wireless methods to improve equipment and systems. Many of those will find their way into your storage facility, making management easier and improving customer service. 

Steve Cooper is a member of the marketing team of Digitech International Inc., providing security solutions for more than two decades. For more information, call 800.523.9504; visit

For more information about self-storage security, check out "Security: Choosing Tools, Protecting Your Investment," a 32-page e-book available through the Self-Storage Training Insititute. Click here for more info!


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