By Amy Campbell and Zachary Esparza
Raise your hand if you’re tired of reading about break-ins at self-storage facilities. These thefts perpetuate the stereotype that storage sites aren’t safe places to store one’s precious items. Unfortunately, our properties are often viewed by criminals as treasure troves waiting to be plundered.
“Self-storage facilities are filled with a variety of commercial and personal items that would attract the criminal element. They are a one-stop shopping mall,” says Jerry Quarles, a crime-prevention officer for the Mesa Police Department in Mesa, Ariz.
Self-storage facilities may seem like the perfect place for nefarious acts, but your business doesn’t have to be at the top of a crook’s hit list. There are steps you can take and low-cost methods you can employ to minimize your property as a target. Facility operators who take a proactive approach will send burglars looking elsewhere. Here are some simple strategies to get you started.
Use a Strong-Lock Policy
Locks are among the best lines of defense for self-storage facilities. To get into a unit, a thief has to get past the lock that firmly secures the door. It’s extremely important to use the right locks or all your other security efforts will prove futile. “There are certain type of locks that are easily cut, and there are other types of locks that are very difficult to cut,” says Jeff Horsley, community-action officer for the Glendale Police Department in Glendale, Ariz.
The best type of lock is one that can’t be removed with bolt-cutters. This includes the popular cylinder lock, which inserts directly into the storage door, rendering cutters useless, according to Richard Morahan, owner of Richard Morahan Associates, a business-communications firm that works with Lock America International, a security-lock company. A high-security cylinder lock goes beyond the tubular mechanism and is based on a series of rotating detainer disks. “The detainer-disk system has more than 3 million usable key combinations,” Morahan says.
Although this type of lock may cost more up front, it provides long-term protection for users. You can furnish these locks to customers automatically when they rent a unit or require them to purchase one. In either case, you should require tenants to use a lock that’s resistant to picking and cutting.
“We have a strong-lock policy. All tenants are required to have disk locks. If a disk lock is not on the unit within 24 hours, our rules and regulations allow us to put one on and charge the tenant,” says Kevin Leebrick, area manager of Advantage Self Storage in Indian Trail, N.C.
Shed Light on Crime
A facility’s lighting is key to preventing burglaries during the dark hours. Lights are a good preventive measure because they bring attention to an area and shine a spotlight on anyone attempting to break into a unit. “Suspects don’t like to draw attention to themselves,” Horsley says.
However, keeping lights on around the clock can be costly and unfeasible. This is where motion sensors come into play. The price for sensor lighting can vary, but depending on your existing light system, you may be able to save money. The majority of motion-sensor lights can be plugged into an existing flood-light fixture, Horsely says.
Create Profitable Partnerships
Your local law-enforcement agents are another excellent crime-prevention resource, and a partnership shouldn’t cost you a dime. “Get to know the local beat officers for each shift, even if you have to meet them after your business closes. Give them a tour of the facility and ask for suggestions to improve security,” Quarles advises. It’ll take some effort and time on your part, but the benefits are immense.
Some police departments even offer security-survey programs. “We go from the front of the property all through the way to the back. We give [operators] different elements they can look at,” Horsley says.
Another way to add a police presence to your property is by inviting officers to train on your grounds. This has worked well for Advantage Self Storage, which allows the sheriff’s K9 unit to practice maneuvers at the facility. “It’s a great deterrent when people know they might be here any hour of the day or night,” Leebrick says.
Another inexpensive step you can take is to join your local crime-watch program. If your community doesn’t have one, consider launching one. Start by contacting your nearby law-enforcement office. “Crime-prevention programs are typically run by a crime-prevention specialist working at the police department or neighborhood division,” Quarles says.
Not surprisingly, most self-storage operators say the No. 1 crime deterrent at their property isn’t security equipment but their own vigilance. This includes everything from ensuring your property’s security systems are working properly to surveying the facility for potential breaches. Even your landscaping and signage can help prevent crime.
“We have a pretty severe homeless problem here. The street out back was a haven, and our bushes were their bedrooms. We put in decorative bushes with aggressive thorns, and it pretty much solved that problem. We also put up signs in the parking lot that say, ‘Smile, you’re on camera,’” says Christine Fetter, manager of Pacific Highway Storage in San Diego.
Some storage operators think reactively vs. proactively when it comes to site security. When walking the site, think about how a criminal might access your property and units. “Our maintenance men walk the facility every morning to see if anything is out of whack,” Fetter says.
Another pre-emptive measure is to clearly communicate your facility’s security features to all prospective tenants. “We're pretty straightforward in our move-in process about the security features. All together it works pretty well, though nothing is fool-proof,” Fetter says.
You may not be able to create a 100 percent crime-proof facility, but you can surely build a crime-resistant one. “Always keep a vigilant eye. Sell the security features of your property and, if possible, invest in a high-quality security system,” Leebrick says. “At the end of the day, if someone really wants to break in, he will. If you have cameras, sensors and alarms, you’ll at least have the evidence to turn over to the police for prosecution.”
Zachary Esparza is a sophomore journalism major at Arizona State University in Phoenix. His emphasis is business journalism with minors in film & media studies and business. He recently interned as a contributing writer to “Bakersfield Life” his city’s lifestyle magazine. After graduation Zachary wants to direct movies someday, while writing about his struggles and successes with owning his own business. To reach him, e-mail [email protected].