Finding the Right Combination of Self-Storage Security System Components

Self-storage security is one feature that continues to pay even after the initial investment. Whether a self-storage operator is looking to create an amenity-featured facility with all the bells and whistles or a standard site with just enough security, the right combination of components will lead to success.

April 8, 2009

8 Min Read
Finding the Right Combination of Self-Storage Security System Components

Much has been said and written about security for self-storage. There are numerous considerations for correctly securing your facility, so it’s important to form a strategy, not only to protect your tenants and their belongings, but for the overall look and feel of your site. Call it a “security philosophy,” if you will. Studying the components and how they fit together will help maximize the return on your budget and ensure you get the system right the first time.

Analyzing the individual components is crucial to a security plan. There are many elements to self-storage security, but the key to a successful program is recognizing how the pieces fit together. Keep that in mind as you review the available choices.

Security components will influence the design of your site, so you need to do much of the research and decision-making before you move any dirt. For example, security will be affected by how you lay out your buildings. Planning sight lines so you have visibility to units from the office is a low-cost way to present a deterrent to crime.

Another design component is hallways. Some converted and multi-story buildings warrant more of them, which means you need more security cameras and lighting and possibly more access control. 

Let’s take a look at system components, beginning with the basics and moving on to more sophisticated tools. Your overall goal should be to create a visibly secure and pleasant environment that reassures renters, encourages prospects to rent with you and discourages wrongdoers. 
From the Outside In

The first components to consider are the automated entry gate and fencing. The gate location is the most important security decision and should be addressed at the design stage. Gate placement is influenced by three things: safety, position of the office relative to parking, and zoning. It should be far enough off the street to eliminate any traffic hazard with stacking. The office and parking should be outside the gate for prospect to access. Local zoning may also dictate the gate’s location and size.

Setting the buildings on the boundaries of the property reduces the amount of necessary fencing, as fence panels can connect between buildings instead of running along the perimeter. Styles vary, but wrought iron is the most appealing. Back fencing may be chain link to keep costs down. Wood fencing is not a good option due to low visibility.  

The three main types of automated gates are swing, slide (or roll), and vertical lift. Swing gates are seldom used for self-storage because the number of cycles per day creates too much wear and tear on the gate and motor, creating a maintenance nightmare. Vertical-lift gates pivot up from one side. These are most ideal in limited spaces because they do not need extra room for the gate to pull back. The slide gate is a cantilever style that rolls on a midrail, not on the ground. It requires space for the gate to pull back, plus the length of the cantilever section.

Work with your installer to make sure your gate system meets life-safety requirements. Even though you have an automated gate on the property, you still need a manual walk gate. It should be latched and locked from the outside at all times, and only the manager should have a key. The walk gate should freely open from the inside by turning a knob or latch. Depending on the style of fence, wire mesh may need to be tacked around the gate to deter someone from reaching through to open the gate from the outside.
Access Control

After the entry gate, access control is your next consideration. Driven by software, your access-control system is the brain that “talks” to the entry gate or doors. This provides the flexibility and features to adapt to a site’s various security needs.

An access system will link the latest technology in access control with your property-management software to enhance the smooth operation of the site. The most efficient systems are those that provide access control with management software in one package without the need for an interface between the two products.

The most widely used access-control device is still, by far, the keypad. Keypads come with a variety of options such as pinhole cameras, on-board intercoms, customizable displays and internal memory. They are proprietary to the manufacturer of the access-control software, meaning you’ll need to buy the keypad and software from the same company. Other devices sometimes used for access control are proximity card readers, key fobs and garage-door-type or car-alarm-type clickers (for RV areas).

Pay-at-the-gate is not widely used in the self-storage market. It is often not reliable, sometimes not fully developed, and overlocks will still apply. Kiosks at unattended sites have taken the place of this feature.
Door Alarms

The next security component to consider is door alarms. The system that ends at the access gate welcomes the would-be thief who rents a unit with the intent of cutting locks on others to burglarize the site. Door alarms are a more active security deterrent than cameras, making them an important component. If you’re doing new construction, you should use a hard-wired system. Wireless door alarms should only be considered in retrofit situations where wiring inside the unit is not possible.

Hard-wired door alarms consist of electronics at the office computer, wire that runs from building to building, electronics mounted strategically in each building, wiring from these devices to each unit door switch and, of course, the alarm software. The electronics consist of boards provided by the manufacturer and should be housed in their recommended enclosures. Wiring should also be provided by the manufacturer to ensure it is the correct type and gauge.

There are three basic types of door switches: floor, overhead and latch. Floor switches require clearance in the footing area. The door needs to be at least two inches from the concrete weather lip. Overhead switches attach at the top of the door area with the magnet mounted on the door itself.

The latch switch, commonly known as a “quick switch,” has become the industry standard. It is installed with two self-tapping screws on the door track at the latch opening. The latch blocks the magnetic field, so it needs to be metallic, not stainless steel. Door manufacturers can provide the proper piece if specified by the purchaser.

Wireless door-alarm systems consist of electronics at the office, receivers, repeaters, door-switch transmitters and batteries. The receiver will accept the signal from the transmitters. Repeaters are mounted throughout the site to boost the wireless signal as needed. Each door has its own wireless transmitter. The batteries in these devices need to be replaced periodically. Wireless systems are also sensitive to the cold.

The recessed door-latch, cylinder-lock assembly is another security item for evaluation. It is contained in the door, eliminating the potential thief from cutting a lock or latch with bolt-cutters. It would warrant tenants’ approval because keys are maintained and issued in the office.
Other Security Components

You may also need a burglar alarm for the office and its equipment: computer, monitors, digital video recorder (DVR), etc. These are similar to residential systems with motion sensors, glass-break sensors and door switches. Be sure to budget for monthly monitoring.

Cameras are considered a more passive security component than door alarms because they are merely recording site activity instead of annunciating it. However, the upscale, state-of-the-art sites are doing more with cameras.

Today’s security cameras are more refined and have great picture quality and expanded features. Pan-and-tilt cameras can be connected to a device to automatically zoom on activity in the field of view. Infrared night-vision cameras are available for areas with low light.

DVRs are affordable and feature-packed, allowing for remote viewing from a PC. They’re usually set to record only during motion, and allow for simultaneous recording of activity at all camera locations. Digital recorders are much easier to search and play back when a security situation arises than the old video recorders. Wall-mount, flat-screen monitors provide extra reassurance to tenants and prospective customers when displayed in the office.

One component often overlooked is lighting. Interior and exterior lighting adds to the safety and security of a storage site. It also adds to appeal to the overall look and feel of the business.

Security is just one aspect of self-storage development that should be addressed in the planning stages. Whether you want an amenity-featured facility with all the bells and whistles or a standard site with just enough security, the right combination of components will help you succeed. Security is one feature that continues to pay even after your initial investment. When forming your security philosophy, incorporate a combination of these key elements.
John Fogg has worked in the self-storage industry for more than 20 years. He is the general manager of Sentinel Systems Corp., which supplies security and software exclusively for self-storage. To reach him, call 800.456.9955, ext. 405; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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