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Modernizing Your Self-Storage Security Equipment: Keeping Up With Tomorrow's Technology

As security components rapidly evolve, self-storage operators need a plan to stay current. Here’s a look at new products and what you need to do today to keep up with tomorrow’s technology.

May 25, 2015

10 Min Read
Modernizing Your Self-Storage Security Equipment: Keeping Up With Tomorrow's Technology

By Chester A. Gilliam

The more things change, the more they stay the same—and thus describes the self-storage security industry. Even with all the advances being made in product development, reliability and accessibility, the user side of the equation is pretty much the same. We still enter a code for access, we still have a camera that shows us a picture on a screen, and we still have a gate that opens and closes. So why do you need to upgrade your system when, from your perspective, not much has changed? Sure, there are some new-fangled apps and such, but not much more. Right?

Not right. In fact, completely wrong. The founders of the security industry had the right ideas with the user interface; and that’s why, for the most part, there haven’t been obvious changes in that department. However, technology advances impact the way we approach everything in life. While there hasn’t been much movement in the front side of security, the back side has been evolving rapidly. If you want to keep up with your competition, you have to get on board, because the technology train is running at high speed.

Think of it this way: You have to get a new computer every three to four years. The same is true for your security equipment. You should be putting money aside not only for repairs but for the replacement of security systems as they reach five or more years in age.

The simple fact is components are being outdated faster than ever before. This is forcing manufacturers to send products to the “end of life” file. This, in turn, forces you to upgrade or replace. While most manufactures try to keep backward compatibility, allowing you to just change some of the devices, this is an ongoing problem. Don’t be too quick to blame the manufacturers, though—you should try keeping up from their side of the security landscape!

The Internet of Things (IoT), the connection of “everything to everything,” is driving many of these changes. We want to see, do and get everything from our smart device. I’m sure you’ve seen ads for the new Apple Watch. If you have, you might’ve noticed how the actors use the watch to gain access to an event. How long will it be before the masses want—or demand—that type of technology from self-storage operators? Not long. The IoT has arrived. Let’s take a look at what you need to do today to keep up with tomorrow’s security technology.

Gates and Gate Operators

In the world of gates and gate operators, the major developments are being forced by changes in codes and standards. The Underwriters Laboratories 325 Standard (UL325) dictates the requirements for all automated gates. There are no exceptions. If you haven’t read the standard and put the necessary items in place to be compliant, do so immediately. This isn’t optional. No gates are grandfathered in, and you’ll be held responsible in the event of an accident. Ask your gate installer for a copy of UL325 and review the requirements. (If you’re not sure who to call, e-mail me, and I’ll be happy to send you a copy.)

There’s one modification to UL325 that goes into effect in 2016 and will cause a change to all gate operators. This relates to safety devices and how they’re wired into the system. Starting next year, all safety devices will need to be monitored. This is to ensure all required devices are in place and working properly. You might be surprised to find safety loops aren’t considered a safety device under UL325. The standard only deals with the safety of people, not vehicles.

The IoT is driving progress in the gate-operator industry as well. The latest development is the ability to remotely log into the gate operator and see exactly what it’s thinking. This’ll allow your service provider to remotely diagnose a problem, check on the health of the system and, in some cases, make an adjustment that may fix the issue. At the very least, it’ll allow your vendor to find the problem and have the required parts available when the technician arrives on site, so your down time is limited to one service call. This technology is available on several gate operators now and will be more prevalent as time goes by.

Fence-Line Security

We’ve been looking for a reliable, cost-effective solution for fence-line security for a while, and there now seems to be one. Traditionally, security installers have used either a long-range through beam or a wire that’s fed through the fence material. Both of these require the system to be hardwired back to a control panel.

Now, there’s a new product that uses a wireless sensor on the fence between each post. The sensors are battery-powered and report back to a central unit. In turn, the central unit can be wired to the alarm panel or act as a standalone onsite-alarm panel. In cases of larger layouts, repeaters can be installed to allow for more range from the sensors to the control panel.

Access Control

In the world of access control, we see a variety of alterations and new products hitting the market. The introduction of IoT and near field communication (NFC) is going to change how we access storage sites. The days of entering a code are numbered.

Proximity or NFC units will replace the traditional keypad as we know it. Proximity units use a card or fob the user holds close to the reader. NFC uses a technology that already exists on our smart devices. You simply hold the card, fob or phone close to or touch it to the reader, and it takes the place of entering a code.

NFC technology is already being used in parking garages, secured buildings, sporting venues, etc. As we see it gain traction in the self-storage market, we’ll see medium- to long-range proximity technology being used more at facilities that have a large RV/boat-storage or commercial customer base. This movement will change the way we look at our sites and the placement of gates and readers.

Video Cameras

The area where we’ve seen the biggest jump in technology is the video or closed-circuit television industry. If your system is five or more years old, it needs to be updated or replaced. Here’s what you need to know about today’s high-tech video cameras.

There are three basic types of systems leading the charge: analog, digital (Internet Protocol) and high-definition (HD). There are also three types of recording devices: digital video recorders (DVRs), network video recorders (NVRs) and hybrid units. Add in the fact that there’s an ever-growing number of video- management software providers, and it can be a confusing and almost overwhelming task to choose a system.

Let’s start with cameras. Analog cameras are the traditional choice and installed using coaxial wires and a DVR. We’re now at 1000 television lines (TVL), which are specifications of an analog camera's or monitor’s horizontal-resolution power. Just five short years ago, we were at a whopping 450 TVL. For this reason alone, you need to replace your cameras. There have also been vast improvements in low-light and nighttime vision. These enhancements reduce the graininess of the picture, allowing you to capture a useful recording.

Be careful, as many of the older recording devices won’t record to these newer enhancements. So while it looks good on the monitor, you’re stuck with the same recorded value you’ve always had. In most cases, the cameras and recorders are outrunning the capabilities of the monitors as well. If you change one device, chances are you have to change them all.

IP systems consist of IP cameras and an NVR. They use network wires and are wired just like a computer network. There are several advantages to an IP system:

  • It can easily be expanded.

  • The picture quality is greatly enhanced.

  • The NVR storage can be upgraded.

  • More analytics are available.

  • The camera selection allows for unique environments.

If you want a picture of license plates as tenants enter or exit your facility, you’ll have to use an IP system.

Hybrid systems use a mix of traditional analog and IP cameras. They use a special recorder called a hybrid unit that has connections for both types of cameras. If you’re looking to migrate to an IP system, this is a good choice. You can connect your existing analog cameras and either replace a few with IP cameras or add IP cameras to areas where you want more coverage. This is ideal for those who aren’t ready to take the plunge into the IP world but want to add or enhance their existing system.

HD systems use the same cables as analog but deliver true HD over coax. You must use an HD camera and an HD recording device to achieve this. So on a traditional system, you’re salvaging the wires and nothing more. All other components must be changed to achieve HD, including the monitors and power supplies. This is a good option if you want to get a better picture than analog but not go to an IP system. However, do your homework, as these systems can cost as much as an IP one and not achieve the same performance. I’m also worried about longevity of this product, as all things are moving toward the IP environment. Remember the IoT.

Many of the recording devices look, work and feel like the traditional old-style DVRs or even the good old VCRs. This makes it easy to use from the user side of the device. Additionally, all of the units being sold at this time have the ability to be viewed remotely on a smart device, another computer or a laptop. This is becoming more the norm as the IoT takes hold and drives our system development.

The Future

The security industry continues to push for faster, better and more user-friendly products. In many ways, we’ve reached those goals. Not too long ago, it wasn’t possible to add to our security systems without trenching up a storage property and running conduit. Now we have reliable wireless systems that actually work. New security devices can save time and cost on everyday installs. We can add cameras to the back of a site, install a keypad to a remote gate, and even place intercoms at remote locations. We can use solar-panel systems to power cameras, gates and keypads on sites where there were previously no solutions.

Our landscape is ever-changing, and there’s plenty of room for you to dream about what you’d like to add to your system. However, the days of installing a system and forgetting about it are long gone. You need to have a line item in your budget for enhancements, replacements and upgrades. You have to plan for the future and create a plan of action to get you there.

As an end user, seek a vendor that can lead you in the right direction and help you understand your options. Educate yourself on which products can enhance your site to optimize security and attract new tenants while not breaking the bank. Find a supplier that not only understands self-storage systems but other security solutions as well. You have to do your homework, and so does your vendor.

Chester A. Gilliam is the owner of Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. in Castle Rock, Colo., and has been involved in the self-storage industry for more than 30 years. He holds certifications in the design and installation of automated gate systems as well as video-system and access-system design and installation. He can be reached at 303.798.5337 or [email protected].

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