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Advancements in Self-Storage Access-Control Technology

Keypad Security Gate
A self-storage facility’s access-control system is critical to its security. Learn about advancements in this technology.

By Chester A. Gilliam

Every year I attend the International Security Conference & Exposition, an event designed for the security industry where all the new whiz-bang technology and tools are on display. Unfortunately, not a great deal of new equipment has been introduced over the last few years. What has changed, though, is the reliability and functionality of existing products and how we interface with them, meaning how we end users access and use their features.

In the self-storage industry, we mainly deal with just a few types of security products: access control, alarms, intercoms and cameras. Occasionally, we’ll mix in a few others; but for the most part, this where we focus our attention.

Of these, access control is one of the most important for facility operators. It includes keypads, card readers and automatic gates. There have been several advancements in these technologies including near-field communication (NFC), mobile apps, license-plate recognition (LPR) and automated vehicle identification (AVI). Let’s look at these products in detail.

Near-Field Communication

According to Wikipedia, NFC is a set of protocols that enables two electronic devices, one of which is usually a portable device like a smartphone, to establish communication by being within very close proximity. For example, in self-storage, a customer can use his phone to open the facility’s access gate. It’s easy to use, and makes it so tenants don’t have to remember their access code. It also shows them your business is embracing technology.

There are also some disadvantages. The biggest drawback is you must position your device close to the receiving equipment, within an inch or even touching.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are gaining in popularity and are a better fit for access control, as you have a greater distance of use. This technology is also evolving faster than NFC, and we’re seeing a great deal of added features. This is the same technology being used in “smart homes” to control lights, thermostats, blinds, coffee pots and ovens.

The consumer market is driving this technology. NFC is flashy, but WiFi and Bluetooth are more robust and expandable. There are apps that allow you to view your storage facility’s video cameras, and security and management system remotely. Some allow your tenants to open the gate, receive notifications when their unit is opened or closed, access their account balance, and make a payment. This technology is where everything is heading.

One note of caution on using mobile apps for gate access: You should never open a gate remotely unless you can see it. Otherwise, you have no idea if a person could be injured in the process.

If you’re planning to use an app, you need to install an arming loop at your gate. This is the same equipment you use to keep the gate from closing on a vehicle. It’s positioned so a vehicle must be present at the keypad before the gate opens. You can consult with your gate supplier about installing one.

License-Plate Recognition

LPR isn’t a do-it-yourself product, but if you hire someone to set up the system, it’s easy to maintain and use. You enter the customer’s license-plate information into the LPR software. When his car approaches the facility gate, the system reads and recognizes the plate and permits entry.

LPR is obviously tied to your camera system, because you’re using a camera to identify the license plate and allow access. When using this type of integration, it’s best to set up a camera or set of cameras specifically for this purpose. A camera set up to give you a general view of the area won’t be reliable.

An advantage of LPR is there’s no intervention by your customer. He simply drives up to the gate and it opens. The drawback is if you can’t see the license plate, neither can the camera. There are no magic filters that allow you to look through mud, snow and ice. Also, if the customer visits the facility in a different vehicle, he’ll need an alternative access method.

Automated Vehicle Identification

LPR and AVI technologies are not only more widely used today, they’re becoming more affordable. AVI is sometimes referred to as radio frequency identification—fancy words that simply mean you have a “tag” in or on a vehicle that sends a signal to a receiver and opens your gate without any involvement from the user.

We’re seeing this type of technology being used in commercial, RV and higher-end storage facilities. AVI tags come in several configurations, from a small puck that’s placed on the dash or windshield to a thin clear strip on the headlight. If your customers are already using this technology for other places they access, there’s a good chance they can use their existing tag with your system.

The big draw of AVI is customer convenience. The user simply drives to the gate and it opens. That said, if he plans to visit your property with more than one vehicle, he’ll need more than one tag, as each is uniquely coded.

Wireless Options

If your site has no infrastructure, conduits or wiring to support this new access-control technology, fortunately, wireless and radio-transmission products have improved and become more affordable. While wireless cameras aren’t a valid solution, using cameras with point-to-point radios is viable. You’re not going to be totally wireless, but you can get signals from cameras in places where you can’t connect wires.

In some cases, it might be more feasible to use point-to-point radios instead of wires. These systems are limited in their abilities and scope, but if you have nothing at all and no feasible way to get wires in place, wireless technology is a good option.

As the consumer market changes, the security and self-storage industries will evolve. Customers want more convenience and accessibility on their terms. They want to have little to no interaction with another person or object. They just want to just click, swipe and go. This is the world in which we live. If you want to know what the next big thing in security technology will be, just watch what’s being presented from the consumer industry.

Chester A. Gilliam is the owner of Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. in Castle Rock, Colo. He’s been involved in the self-storage industry for more than 30 years, and holds certifications in the design and installation of automated-gate, access-control and video systems. He can be reached at 303.798.5337; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.wizardworkssecurity.com.
TAGS: Technology
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