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June 1, 2000

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Self-Storage Security and InstallationThe final frontier

Self-Storage Security and Installation

The final frontier

By Lance Comstock

You have readthe magazines, gone to the trade shows, and even visited your competitors' facilities tosee what they have to offer. You have finally made the decision as to what type ofsecurity system and which manufacturer you will invest in to protect your property andyour tenants' goods. So, now what?

As your decision comes to a close, let's hope you looked at and weighed a decision asequally important to the functionality of the system as the components of price, features,etc.: installation and post-install support. As the industry and its security systems getmore complex, one important fact remains true: If the system is not installed ormaintained properly, it can give you and your customers years of aggravation and a breachin the security itself, exposing you to unnecessary liabilities.

The reality is that, once your property is open for business and units are beingrented, your security system will be one of the most important purchases you make. Ifthere is a failure in one part of the system, it will create great inconveniences for youand your customers. Finding the right installation company can be very difficult if youdon't know the right questions to ask or what to look for in the vendor.

When researching, ask the manufacturer if he offers a dealer or distribution network ofqualified and trained installers. This can be one of your more useful tools, and the bestway to find qualified companies. If he does, don't just get one name but several, thenmake sure they are actually familiar with the equipment and installation in thisparticular industry. If they aren't, you may want to reconsider your purchase. Many times,customers will purchase equipment directly from a manufacturer, then look through theYellow Pages to find the closest and cheapest burglar-alarm company, asking them to bidthe install of the equipment. This is the wrong way to go. Even though the components maybe similar to what the company may have installed in the past, there are many things thatmust be installed differently when looking at self-storage.

One of the most common mistakes unqualified companies will make is using the wrongswitch and mounting method for an individual door-alarm system. If you look throughoutyour home or any commercial business with a standard burglar-alarm system, you willnormally see a magnet and contact set, which measures approximately 2 inches across. Thiscontact will only allow for a maximum gap distance of three-quarters of an inch. Thiscontact is much cheaper and can appear to save you hundreds of dollars in the beginning,but it is not sufficient for storage use because the tolerances of self-storage doors willgreatly vary. This switch may work for the first few years, but as the door tolerancesincrease and the magnet for the switch looses its effectiveness from being mounted to themetal surface, false alarms are inevitable.

Other very common mistakes from an inexperienced company will be its assumption thatthe wiring and contact will be accessible for repair if a problem is incurred. This is notthe case. When the unit is rented, it is nearly impossible for the installer to ever gainaccess for any adjustments or wiring issues, thus rendering the alarm useless.

Most installers not familiar with installing hundreds of contacts on one job will alsosuffer from getting lazy by redundancy. Be sure your installation company has hadexperience with installing a door-alarm system of this type before hiring them.

Although fewand far between, a company that can handle all aspects of the install is superior tohaving to use several different companies. In most security applications, you will needhigh-voltage electric conduit work, fencing work, concrete and low-voltage work. Finding acompany big enough to handle all these tasks may be difficult, but they can usually getthe install done quicker and cheaper than several different companies hired separately. Italso helps to keeps the responsibility with one company if there is a problem somewhere,rather than getting into a finger-pointing contest to determine who is to blame.

It seems that what goes up must come down, and what goes in must get repaired onoccasion. Be sure to check with your installation company as well as the manufacturer todetermine the warranty period and service policies on your system. As many installationcompanies may be small, be sure to ask about their response time and number of personneldedicated for service work. Also ask to see if they have any annual service agreements or24-hour on-call service. As coincidence has it, gates always seem to fail at 5 p.m. onFriday. If your service company does not offer extended service, your facility may be leftunsecured all weekend until Monday.

Lastly, your system may be comprised of a very complex mixture of power supplies,sirens, cameras, conduits, junction boxes, wiring and splices. Keeping track of all theseitems is important and is essential for service in the future. As the owner, you shoulddemand in your negotiations to get a copy of the wiring and equipment schematics. Thesecan prove to be invaluable in the unlikely event there are disputes with the installingcompany and a new company is brought into the picture to resolve any issues, or if atechnician is on site for service and has never seen the property before.

Remember: The lowest price is generally not the best. Make sure you fully research thecompanies. Call their references and ask questions. With a very busy economy, it's easy tobecome lazy and just buy the lowest priced system or hire the company that responded toyour phone calls. Your security is crucial, and access control is the nuts and bolts ofyour facility. It's what sets you apart from your competition. Don't treat theinstallation lightly--you may pay for it in the long run.

Lance Comstock is CEO of Preferred Technology East, a project-management andinstallation company to the self-storage industry of more than 12 years. Mr. Comstock isalso president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Access Controls, which has designed andmanufactured access-control systems for the self-storage industry for more than 20 years.

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