June 1, 2001

6 Min Read
Inside Self-Storage Magazine 06/2001: Security From the Inside Out

Security From the Inside Out

By David Fleming

Inside Self-Storage has dedicated this month's issue to thetopic of security. You will be reading about the latest technology. There willbe advertisements for everything from computer-controlled access gates to videosurveillance and individual unit alarms. All of these devices are very effectivesecurity measures. But what can we as managers do to ensure are our facilitiesare secure?

Thereseems to be no limit to the creativity of the criminal element. They seem tofind a way to get around just about any type of security measure. Gates can bebypassed very easily by tailgating. Fences can be cut. The office is only openeight to 10 hours of a 24-hour day, and the manager has to sleep sometime. Tosome criminals, self-storage may seem like a golden opportunity. That's why itis so important to do everything you can to deter criminal activity. There is amultitude of security options on the market today, ranging in cost from a fewdollars to a few thousand dollars. We managers might just be the single bestdeterrent to criminal activity at our facilities.

The question should not be, "What one thing will stop crime at myfacility?" but "What combination of things will deter criminals?"The fact is there is very little you can do to stop someone who is intent onwrongdoing. But these types of individuals can be deterred. Criminals areopportunists. They prey on people and businesses they feel provide them with anopportunity to get some type of financial or material gain with relativelylittle effort.

Our Best Lines of Defense

Let's start at the last line of defense: the padlock. Most facilities use alatch system that requires the occupant to secure it with a padlock. The harderthis is to bypass, the more a criminal will be deterred. Most locks are easilycut. I have even seen locks that were so flimsy it looks as if you could justpop them open with a screwdriver. I suggest disk locks. As the manager of afacility, you have a lot of say in what type of lock you offer for sale. I givemy customers a choice: the big disk lock or the little disk lock. If they havetheir own lock, they are allowed to use it, but I advise against it. I have evenheard of facilities that require disk locks. These locks are not uncuttable, butthey are difficult to cut or drill quickly and effectively. Remember: We arejust trying to deter the criminal. If the theft takes too long or too mucheffort, that is a great deterrent.

The other thing we can do as managers is make ourselves highly visiblethroughout the facility. Besides our morning lock check, we should be out andabout the grounds on a regular basis. When we are out showing a unit, we shoulddo our best to pass by other individuals on the premises. This will do twothings: First, it gives you an opportunity to say "hello" (and get apeek at what is in his unit), which promotes goodwill with your customer. Italso shows your prospective customer there are other people using your facilityto meet their needs. And you don't need to be showing a unit to do a"walk-by." There are several reasons you might be walking past aunit--if you need a reason, just grab a broom.

I make it a point to meet every one of my customers during their move-in justto say "hello," make sure everything is OK with the unit and see ifthere is anything else I can do for them. They love that I am so concerned, andI get to see firsthand what is going into my facility. There are other types ofcriminal activity beside theft, such as the storage of stolen or illegal goods,hazardous materials and waste. It's better I catch these things right off thebat. I do these "walk-bys" with everyone, but especially if a customerdoesn't seem quite right. As a manager, the best thing you can do is trust yourgut feeling. If something doesn't sit right with you, investigate. Trust yourinstincts.

Tailgaters, or "gate crashers" as we refer to them, are always aproblem. If you have a gate system that requires everyone to register with theoffice before entering--whether by keypad, card swipe or manual sign-in log--itneeds to be strictly monitored. Most problems will come from customers who arejust too lazy to stop and execute the required procedure or are in a hurry. Theystill need to follow the regulations of the facility. Make sure the entryprocedure is outlined in your rules and regulations, and post a sign on the gateor by the keypad. This way there is no argument when you come out of the office,stop them and ask them to go back and follow gate procedures.

Remind them that this is for their protection as well as yours. Not only doyou have a log of everyone who has been on site and for how long, but if therewere a problem, you could exclude them from the list of possible suspects.Nobody gets through the gate without registering. I have actually gotten on thegolf cart and driven to the far end of the facility to make sure a person comesall the way back to register at the keypad. There are no exceptions.

Finally, the first line of defense comes at the time of rental. By requiringa government-issued photo ID at the time of sign-up, you will automatically senda message that you run a secure facility. You may even want to considerrequiring ID before you even show a unit. Anyone with less-than-legal intentionswill be hesitant to show ID. And those who didn't intend to do anything illegalbut later consider it may be deterred from doing so when they remember their IDis on file. And that they are registered as being on site because the managerstopped them and made them punch in when they tried to run the gate. And themanager may just be walking around the corner at any time, like he so oftendoes. (You get the picture.)

Statistically speaking, the majority of crimes committed at storagefacilities are committed by customers of the facility or someone they know (andhas most likely been there before). By showing a strong managerial presence, andby putting as many deterrents in their way as possible, you will greatly reducethe odds of being targeted by criminals.

David Fleming is a manager and manager trainer for Premier Self-StorageInc. of Amherst, N.Y., which plans to build 20 state-of-the-art facilities overthe next five years. After having managed facilities in three states over thepast 10 years, Mr. Fleming now resides in a Buffalo suburb with his two childrenand his co-manager and wife, Tina, who will also contribute to this column.David has won awards from industry publications, including the InsideSelf-Storage award for Manager of the Year. To contact the Flemings, call716.688.8000; fax 716.688.6459; e-mail [email protected].

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