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Security in Construction and Beyond

September 1, 2002

11 Min Read
Security in Construction and Beyond

In the post-Sept. 11 world, security is on the top of everyone's priority list, and the self-storage industry is no exception. Actually, it's more important than with most other industries. Tenants are trusting facilities with their belongings. They demand a secure environment in which to store items that may be irreplaceable. The location of your facility is the first line of defense when it comes to security. If your site has an unobstructed view from nearby highways or roads, you will gain security and immediate location advertising. Large trees or solid walls actually reduce the marketability of a site, as well as offer vandals and thieves cover to commit crimes against your site and your tenants' belongings.

Security should be at the top of every self-storage owner's list. It is important to plan what types of security you would like to have at your site before you begin the construction phase. Security is a lot like insurance--you may never need it, but you sure are glad you have it when you do.

Start with a security vendor that specializes in self-storage projects. Almost any local security company can run some wires, but they rarely understand the unique needs of the industry. Can the security company handle all aspects of your security needs or just parts? For example, some companies carry camera systems but not access control. Others will sell a variety of products but don't offer installation. Not only does this add more expense and complexity to the project, it also creates liability issues. If there are problems, the installation company will blame the products, and the security vendor will blame the installer. Problems can happen with any product or installation, but there will be no finger-pointing if you deal with one company.

Choosing a System

Once you have chosen a vendor that will handle all aspects of your site security, it is time to decide exactly which products meet the specific demands of your property. Below is a list of today's most popular security options:

  • Video surveillance--This can include digital or analog camera recording.

  • Access control--Keypads can restrict gate access, elevator use and access-door entry.

  • Door alarms--Individual door sensors are available in wireless or hard-wired varieties.

  • Motion sensors--These come in a number of shapes and sizes, stemming from motion detection on digital-surveillance systems to standalone units monitoring movement in the management office and storage hallways.

  • Management software--Alone, this doesn't necessarily fit into the security-product category; but some of the larger security companies provide software that integrates with your security system to provide one interface.

  • Site graphics--This is one of those great marketing tools that also functions as a security device. A scrolling, birds-eye layout of your site pans around on a large monitor. Instantly, the manager and prospective tenants can see the entire site's unit activity. A tenant can quickly see his new unit on-screen and its relationship to elevators and loading bays.

Security can mean more to your project than a dent in your expense budget. It can sell prospective tenants on your property--and at little or no cost to you. Many facilities rent door alarms to tenants for a surcharge, say an additional $4 to $5 per month. Some security vendors offer decoy door alarms and place them on all unit doors to confuse a potential thief. Tenants are given the option to rent a "real" sensor to replace the default decoy. This way no one, not even the tenants, can tell which units are truly alarmed. This is important, since statistics show fellow tenants perpetrate the majority of self-storage theft.

Coordinating With Construction

Once your security products are selected, the next step is to have your vendor or outside installer coordinate with the other trades, primarily the electricians. The electrical contractor will run all necessary conduits and install any required electrical outlets. It is important your security vendor supply the electrical contractor all necessary conduit and electrical needs before he submits his bid to the general contractor or owner. Changes in the scope of work after accepting a bid can be costly to the owner.

I recommend you go the extra mile and request conduit be run for all low-voltage security wiring. There are several reasons for this. Here are just a few:

  • It reduces vandalism and disruption of the security system.

  • It protects wiring from environmental damage.

  • It provides a cleaner, more professional look throughout the facility.

  • In some counties, conduit is required for all low-voltage wiring. In most counties it is not required, but check with the local building and safety department. Required or not, the nominal extra cost of the conduit will make a big difference in the quality of the installation and long-term reliability of your security system.

What happens next in the construction process depends on how closely an owner wants to be involved. I highly encourage every owner to take an active role at this stage. During construction, he may change his mind or see something he was not able to visualize during the planning stages. This, of course, goes back to proper planning, but these things do happen. If you are going to take an active role during construction, or you will be the owner-builder, the following are a few things to consider.

  • Construction sites are a natural point of curiosity. Passers-by always want to see what is being built and if it will be something of interest to them. Turn this to your advantage by marketing your upcoming site and showing off your new security products. Yes, you read that correctly--many security products being used at self-storage facilities can be used during construction. This is important since, being a natural source of curiosity, new sites are also a natural target for theft and vandalism.

  • A typical construction site turns into a ghost town after 4 or 5 p.m. This leaves it very vulnerable because lighting is usually lackluster, and temporary lighting is not very bright. Rarely is anyone paying attention to the property at night. So how can your self-storage security system be of use during construction? The two security products no self-storage facility should be without are video surveillance and access controls. Both these items offer great protection at the work site.

Access Controls

Access control comes in many forms, but the most common is a keypad and electronic gate combination. A keypad purchased for self-storage needs to be of a strong, vandal-proof design and be able to withstand various weather conditions. The type and stage of your construction will determine what types of access control can be used. For example, it probably isn't possible to use access-control keypads during the grading process, since the chain-link fence isn't very conducive to a motor-operated gate system.

Once the actual fencing and gate system are in place, keypads for entry and exit to the site should be installed. Most keypads have the ability to allow one standalone code for construction access, meaning all you need to gain access is power--no controller or computer. This will prevent unwanted people from getting onto the site. But what do you do when you want to log who comes onto the site and for how long?

Once the management office or even a lockable unit is complete enough to house a keypad controller, you or the contractor can allocate individual keypad codes to each site worker. This way, you will have a running log of who enters the property and for how long. This becomes important if you have a theft and need to identify who was onsite at that time.

Video Surveillance

Access control will limit who has access to your construction site but does little to identify what was done there. For this you need video surveillance. Video cameras have been around for decades, but only in the past year have they evolved into more than a crime deterrent.

There are two fundamental types of video systems: analog and digital. Analog has been around for years and is about as easy to operate as your home VCR; but time-lapse VCRs slow the recording speed. This reduces recording quality. To service multiple cameras, the video signal is split into smaller sections, resulting in images that are grainy and nearly useless. A digital video system offers more features at a significantly better resolution--10 to 20 times better--which is the difference between seeing a crime and seeing the criminal. Let's break down the pros and cons of each system:

Analog System--Pros

  • Proven track record

  • Any security installer knows the system, not much of a learning curve

  • A lower cost solution than digital

 Analog System--Cons

  • Poor recording and playback quality, especially as the tapes are used repeatedly

  • Difficult to transfer specific events onto separate media for law enforcement

  • No method to watch live surveillance views from an off-site location

  • Typically need to rotate videotapes daily

 Digital Systems--Pros

  • An all-in-one digital video recorder (DVR) replaces the analog multiplexer and time-lapse VCR

  • Integrated CD-RW device records specific events for law enforcement, security personnel and insurance records

  • High-quality recording (Note: Be careful. Several low-quality DVR and camera packages have less than 500 lines of resolution and may result in quality below an analog system.)

  • Remote viewing capability

 Digital Systems--Cons

  • Newer technology may make it harder to find an experienced security installer

  • Costs about 50 percent more than a standard analog system

If a low-cost deterrent system is all you need, analog is definitely the way to go. However, don't expect to be able to use any video you record for law-enforcement purposes. Most analog systems are usually black and white to increase contrast. Digital systems do not have such limitations in resolution, so color cameras can be used without any quality loss.

Let me give you an example of something that happened outside my office. We have several cameras located around our building for demonstrations as well as our own security. There was an automobile accident several hundred feet away from our office. While the police interviewed both drivers involved in the accident, we located the specific event on our digital video system and transferred it onto a CD for the police. The video was extremely clear, and there was no question as to who was at fault. Imagine being able to do that at your facility or construction site.

There are many different types of cameras you can purchase with your video system. Keep in mind color cameras are not recommended for an analog system due to the lack of resolution in the recording. For a construction site or any outdoor location at your facility, you want to make sure the cameras are weatherproof, sun shielded, and preferably discreet and easy to hide. The concept of having a large, bulky camera is quite outdated. On several occasions, I have seen these cameras stolen right off their mounts.

The more professional trend is to go small and hide the actual cameras as much as possible. If a visual deterrent is still desired, inexpensive decoy cameras can be purchased and mounted in a visible location. A foolhardy thief would be caught red-handed stealing a $79 decoy camera while your real camera records the crime. Along the same lines, many construction sites and self-storage offices add a decoy VCR to thwart a burglar. If a thief were to break in to your construction trailer or management office and try to steal the recorded evidence of his crime, he would see the decoy and take that instead. Meanwhile, your actual recording device is safely tucked under a cabinet.

Camera placement on a construction site is as important as it is around the actual self-storage facility. A typical height is about 12 feet above grade or along the roofline for outside cameras, depending on their quality and size. Cameras should face toward each other as much as possible to provide overlapping camera coverage. This allows one camera to record an event if someone attempts to tamper with the opposite one. Another great location for cameras during the construction phase is on top of a power pole or object of similar height. This keeps them well hidden.

From the planning stages through the different phases of construction and into the day-to-day operation of your facility, security is a valuable part of your business model. Tenants place a premium on facilities that offer high-end security, so plan your needs wisely. Work closely and coordinate with your preferred security vendor and/or installer. The end result will be a secure facility full of tenants who trust their belongings to your hands.

Tony Gardner is the director of installations at QuikStor Security & Software, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. As the responsible managing officer for the company, he has designed and coordinated the security at hundreds of self-storage facilities worldwide. For more information, visit www.quikstor.com or e-mail [email protected].

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