When it comes to keeping your self-storage business off the radar for criminal activity, your best line of defense is your security system. The goal is to create a solid fortress with components that discourage and prevent offenders from pursuing your property as a location for their nefarious acts.
Fortunately, there are many options, and advanced technology makes building a superior system easier than ever. Many self-storage operators now take a multi-faceted approach that includes keypad or card-reader entry at the gate, video cameras, door alarms, smartlocks, perimeter fencing, lighting, and more. “With better Web-based solutions, operators have many more choices to improve security at their properties,” says Natolie Ochi, CEO and president of SKS Management LLC, which operates 26 facilities in California.
The first barrier at every self-storage facility should be a quality access-control system that includes a mix of entry and exit gates, keypads, and perimeter fencing. “Our access-control system limits not only who’s allowed on site but when they’re allowed on site,” says Ben Hendricks, chief operating officer for Five Star Storage, which operates 20 properties in Minnesota and North Dakota.
Access controls can certainly block potential offenders, but bear in mind: They aren’t 100 percent effective. A persistent individual can always make his way into your facility by “tailgating.” Erin Smith, a property manager for Melrose Storage in Nashville, Tennessee, learned this lesson the hard way.
“This guy came at the busiest time of day and waited in his car until someone approached the automatic door,” she says. “Once he gained access to the building, he proceeded to go to multiple floors, checking for incorrectly locked units. He walked in with nothing and walked out with just a backpack and a golf bag. He looked like any other tenant that was here that day.”
This is why it’s so important to restrict tenant access even inside the facility gate. No customer should be able to get somewhere they aren’t allowed. For example, a renter with a drive-up unit shouldn’t be able to enter your climate-controlled building. A climate-control customer shouldn’t have access to the outdoor vehicle-storage area.
Since individual units are the most common target of thieves at self-storage properties, securing them is paramount. Most facility operators require tenants to use higher-quality locks, but once again, technology has upped the game. “Security at the unit level can include properly functioning metal doors and hasps, door alarms, electronic smartlocks, motion sensors, and even a video system that gives visibility to every unit,” says Chadwick Macferran, director of marketing at PTI Security Systems, a provider of access-control solutions. Pairing door alarms and electronic smartlocks provides proactive and reactive security, he adds.
Thermal motion sensors inside storage units are another modern tool that can help detect break-ins in real time, including sending alerts, according to Misty Hembree, marketing manager for Janus international, a manufacturer and supplier of building components and security technology. “Mobile-app-based monitoring allows both operators and tenants to see all activity associated within the individual units.”
A vital component to any self-storage security system is video surveillance. Cameras are now more affordable and produce higher-quality images. Some even use artificial intelligence (AI). “From AI-enabled security technology to live monitoring services, there are lots of innovative video solutions that can give operators better visibility to onsite activity at all times of the day,” Macferran says.
Just forget about scattering fake cameras around your site. You need the real deal! Position them in all key areas of your self-storage facility, inside and out, and place large video monitors inside the management office to display real-time activity from around the property. Not only will it help staff keep tabs on what’s happening, it’ll emphasize the importance of security to customers and other visitors.
“Most of the cameras are visible, and we post signage throughout the facilities that we have them in use,” Hendricks says. “Within our rental offices, we have large television monitors live streaming the cameras, which assists greatly in getting the message out to customers that we’re watching.”
Just keep in mind that this technology only records what’s happening at your site. Unless you’re standing in front of the monitors 24/7 or paying a company to monitor your camera activity, you likely won’t catch an offense in action. Still, don’t underestimate the power of cameras to prevent and even solve crime. No one wants to get caught on video, so offenders will avoid properties that use cameras. In the event a crime does occur, video footage can be used to track down and prosecute offenders.
“This past fall, we had a few units broken into at a facility that was gated and had good security cameras,” Hendricks says. “Fortunately, the police were able to use the information we could provide, and they made several arrests. Stolen property was recovered and returned, and the perpetrators were then linked to several other crimes throughout the community, not just with self-storage burglaries.”
The last piece of the camera puzzle? Good lighting. It’ll help your equipment capture sharper images, especially at night, so make sure yours is more than adequate.
The Cherry on Top
With so many technological options, building the right security system for your self-storage business can be complex, so you might need guidance. Macferran suggests working with a trusted security professional to create a strategic approach. “Self-storage security installers are experts in creating a layered strategy and can bring insights and anecdotes from other facilities they’ve worked with to ensure you’re always up-to-date with the latest and greatest,” he says.
There’s even technology that allows you to keep tabs on property activity remotely. “A tech-based, do-all system that allows [a self-storage operator] to completely monitor a facility without being on site is in the highest demand that it’s ever been,” Hembree says. “A modern system lets criminals know that it’s there, but still allows operators the freedom to not be physically present on site.”