One of the most important aspects of operating a self-storage facility is keeping people and property safe. Self-storage can be a target for criminal activity. Properties that fall prey to break-ins, vandalism and other incidents will lose credibility, customers and revenue. So, to ward off crime, facility operators employ a wide range of security measures. Let’s examine today’s must-have components, the latest technology available, how to maintain your system and when to upgrade.
When it comes to safeguarding a storage property, there’s no across-the-board approach. “A facility’s needs are largely based on size, the area’s crime rate, desired rent rate and how tech-savvy your customers are,” says John Wollam, owner of Stor-Guard LLC, a provider of self-storage access-control and security products. “A boat-storage facility in a retirement community isn’t going to warrant the latest in technology, while a facility in the heart of Seattle will probably want the latest and greatest. Your customers have expectations!”
Though every site is different, there are some common components each should have. The first is a solid perimeter. “A good fence that’s not easy to climb, along with a gate, is the beginning of security for your facility. Without that, there’s nothing to stop criminals from walking onto the site,” says Paula Swanson, an inside sales representative for Stor-Guard. She also recommends a motorized gate. “This will remove the need to manually open and close the gate at the beginning and end of every day. The motorized gate allows the facility to be secured between customers, using an access-control system.”
A staple in the self-storage industry, access control with keypads placed strategically at the entrance and exit allows you to control who’s on the property at all times. Keypads come in a variety of styles and prices. Some require users to punch in a code while others use a card or proximity reader. Higher-end models will grant access through a fingerprint or mobile app.
“Every self-storage facility needs to control ingress and egress. Access-control systems give you the ability to let the good guys in and keep the bad guys out,” says Chadwick Macferran, director of marketing for PTI Security Systems, which provides self-storage security components.
Another common device is a self-contained surveillance system. This usually comprises several cameras, a digital video recorder (DVR) or network video recorder (NVR), and display monitors. Cameras have come a long way in recent years and now offer higher resolution and definition, even in low-light conditions. On some systems, you can download an app and review the camera footage in real time via any Internet-connected device.
A camera system should be designed specifically for each property’s needs and be able to track movement. “Camera coverage is critical to how safe a customer feels about storing his belongings in your facility. If you have an office, it’s highly recommended you have monitors showing the surveillance. This will give your customers confidence,” Wollam says. “It’s also important to have a lengthy recording as problems are not always reported quickly. We recommend a 30-day motion recording.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of lighting in security. Criminals prefer to do their work in the dark. When you light up your site inside and out, you send a clear message that it’s off-limits. “Lighting is a great deterrent and helps your tenants feel comfortable when visiting their storage space,” says David Essman, director of marketing for Sentinel Security Corp., a provider of self-storage security and software products.
While there are other options, incorporate at least these basic measures. “Each of these components offer a level of security of their own. The combination of them all makes for a secure facility that is very marketable,” Swanson says.
After the basics, consider new products. In recent years, a lot of new technology has hit the market. Some of the biggest advancements are happening in closed-circuit television (CCTV), which has become more affordable. High-definition video cameras can incorporate more data into an analog signal transmission, while fully digital Internet-protocol (IP) systems offer a clearer picture and have a larger field of vision.
“CCTV quality has drastically improved, making it easy for the operator to identify people who are not necessarily close to the cameras,” says Swanson, noting that integration between the access-control and CCTV systems allow video footage recall with the click of a button. “Looking up the video footage of when your customer used the keypad is as easy as clicking on an icon in the access-control software log. This can eliminate the need for hours of searching video footage.”
You can also tap into video analytics. Through artificial intelligence (AI), these systems learn how to detect abnormal activities. If a threat is identified, they notify the appropriate parties, such as the manager or owner, a security company, or even police. “An AI video-surveillance system can add an additional cost-effective yet powerful layer to your facility’s security,” Macferran says. “Operators are no longer responding reactively but are proactively preventing damage and theft.”
Electronic locks are increasing in popularity and can be a proactive asset, particularly in the case of attempted theft. “This is where most people think cameras come in, but cameras are only a valuable tool if you get a clear shot of someone’s face and you know who they are,” says Christine DeBord, director of marketing for Janus International Group LLC, which supplies self-storage building components and technology. “If you can’t identify the person or if he’s wearing a hat or hoodie, cameras don’t do a ton of good. That’s why operators need to know about electronic locks and the importance of individual-unit door security.”
In fact, upgraded security at the unit door is becoming the norm. “An automated, outside-the-door electronic lock gives operators peace of mind while providing tenants a best-in-class customer experience,” Macferran says. “Hard-wired and wireless door alarms are a reliable and cost-effective solution to add additional door security.”
Another component gaining popularity is an office-intrusion system with monitoring. “This will include a minimum of a control panel, motion detector, contacts on doors and windows, and a panic button,” Swanson says. “More options are available, but these will sound alarms if there’s a break-in while the system is armed.”
There have also been several advancements in access control, with many systems using smartphones. Tenants simply download an app they can use to enter the gate, a building and even their unit. The tech is also capable of denying access to a past-due customer. “Cell phones are also considered more secure than codes, as each cell phone has unique credentials and people don’t tend to share their phones,” Wollam adds.
You can also control customer movement on your property by “assigning” it. This is particularly important for sites that offer specialty storage such as records, wine or vehicle. “If you have a customer who should only have access to Building C, his code can be tied to the main gate and just this building. If Building C has multiple levels, you can also limit the elevator access to a specific floor,” Wollam says.
This controlled access can also be applied to when and how long a customer is allowed on your property. “Every modern-day security system should have multiple time-zone options, which will allow the assignment of different gate-access hours for different tenants,” Essman says. This allows operators to not only control but track who enters and at what time from any computer or Internet-connected device. Automatic notifications can then alert staff of activity through the security system.
Another advanced product to consider is a thermal motions sensor. “Motion sensors in units can detect heat signatures and alert you if a unit has been broken into or if someone is sleeping in it,” DeBord says.
All this security will be for naught if it isn’t regularly maintained. While some aspects of maintenance should be left to the pros, there are simple steps you can take to keep your equipment functioning properly.
“The manager can play an important role in testing each component of your security system daily,” Essman says. “They should test the keypads, cameras, lighting, door alarms, intercoms, etc., and report their findings to the business operator or a skilled professional for service.”
Software updates should also be performed. “[Facility operators] should always make system backups and take care of any error messages on their DVR/NVR. Not doing this may mean that you don’t have footage of an event when it happens,” Swanson says.
Automated gates must undergo a quarterly maintenance check by a certified professional. “This would include checking the system for unusual wear and lubing parts on the gate and gate operator,” Wollam says.
Those looking for an advanced method of maintenance should consider an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. “A centralized, enterprise IoT platform gives you real-time visibility into the health of your devices,” Macferran says. “In the past, companies may have had to walk the site to check in on video systems, door alarms, thermostats, etc. With an IoT platform, you can be proactive vs. reactive in responding to issues.”
Time for an Upgrade
So, how do you know if it’s time for an upgrade? Even if your components are performing as they should, are some of your keypad numbers so worn that they’re impossible to read? Are you having trouble making out images in your video footage? Do your hallways or building exteriors lack adequate lighting? It could be time for fresh products.
A clear indicator that you need new components is if you’re unable to find someone who can repair existing equipment or find replacement parts. “Another sign that it’s time to change is if your system can’t integrate with current management and accounting software,” Wollam adds.
Even if your systems aren’t failing, it just might be time to modernize. “Your needs may have changed, or maybe newer technology and features are now available,” Essman says. “New stuff always makes your operation more efficient and your life and that of your tenants’ a little easier.”
If you’re ready to upgrade, first consider what you like and dislike about your current system, Swanson advises. “There are tons of options available for both access control and CCTV, so you might as well start with knowing what has worked for you and what may be a waste of money.”
While many older keypads remain functional today, security cameras become quickly outdated as new technology is introduced. In fact, it’s recommended that these systems be updated every four to five years, Swanson says.
When shopping, think about the support each vendor offers, upfront and long-term costs, how the equipment will be wired, maintenance needs, compatibility with existing systems, ease of use, and future expansion. “The most important thing to remember is that each facility is unique, facing different needs and budgets,” Swanson says. “An overall security system needs to be designed, not just a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s imperative to work with a company that’s willing to get to know your needs and your facility.”
Stay up-to-date regarding new products by reading industry publications, attending conferences, and talking to fellow operators and security vendors. Many suppliers will happily offer advice on how to create a more secure site.
As industry competition intensifies, it’s vital to create a safe and secure property. Doing so will minimize your risk of becoming a target for criminals and help maintain your status as a reputable business in the community. “Operators can differentiate themselves from the competition with the technology that they use—security cameras, individual alarms, enhanced door security. Providing upgraded security features gives tenants the peace of mind that they and their property are safe in your facility,” Macferran says.