Self-Storage Security: Survey of System Components

Design and budget play big roles in determining which security systems are best suited for your self-storage site.

June 5, 2008

9 Min Read
Self-Storage Security: Survey of System Components

There’s no doubt self-storage security has an impact on attracting and keeping quality renters. There are several considerations that come into play when laying out your strategy. Design and budgeting dictate the choices you make for system components. The key to a successful security program is making these components work within your site plan and budget. The facility should show a secure appearance to reassure tenants, attract and impress prospects, and discourage potential criminals.

The two factors of budgeting are time and, of course, money. Planning ahead for both will make a project run smoothly to completion. Conduit runs need to be in place before pouring concrete. Buildings and driveways will be nearly constructed when the security installation begins. Proper installation will take time. You can help by letting your installer know the schedule early, and keeping him informed of any changes. The sooner you sign his contract, the better scheduling priority you will have for completion.

Any successful storage development depends on the proper budget. The security factor is no exception. It is one part of the overall development, which will contribute to the bottom line.

The building layout on the property will determine how much fencing is needed, the type of gate, location and quantity of entry devices, the number of cameras, necessary lighting and the fit of other components. Buildings on the perimeter eliminate the need for much fencing, but create a visible barrier for passers-by and law enforcement. Hallways create the need for protection of belongings and safety of individuals. The gate and office location will dictate visibility from the office, and possibly the type of gate.

Choosing a Gate

Your self-storage security begins with your gate and fencing. In the planning stages, most developers begin with the layout of the buildings, progress to the office, then try to make a gate fit. The correct approach is to identify where the gate should be in relationship to the access point and locate the office and buildings accordingly. When this is followed, access to the office is included with the proper flow of traffic throughout the yard. The gate location is the most important security consideration, but usually the last to be addressed.

The style of gate and fence can contribute to the look and feel of the business, and can even enhance your curb appeal. From an operation perspective, the least desirable type of gate is a swing gate. The number of cycles per day creates too much wear and tear on this type of gate, making it a maintenance headache. Swing gates require room to swing away to avoid contacting the vehicle.

Slide, or roll, gates move sideways across the drive. They require room to pull away from the drive, but no extra footage in the traffic flow area. Slide gates are mounted on a mid-rail on the fence panel with rollers, top and bottom. No part of the gate itself is in contact with the ground. This is known as a cantilever style.

Vertical-lift gates pivot up in the air. The shape and style can be altered to match the contour of the drive and fence pattern. They do not require the space to pull back from the drive, so they are ideal in tight places.

Safety devices are an integral component with any automatic gate. Loop detectors can be entrenched beneath the drive material, and will sense the metal in the vehicle and keep the gate from closing. Photo eyes project a beam across the drive and detect anything blocking the beam. Miller strips may be mounted on the end or bottom of the gate. When contacting an object, the gate opens away from the item. Warning and safety signs should be mounted at the gate entrance as well. Be sure to plan for a walk-through gate near the office. It should be locked on the outside at all times, and allow for the ability to lock from the inside, after hours, if desired.

Gate operators or motors are mounted near the gate to provide motion. You will need to have conduit with power running to this device. They are generally mounted on concrete slab. The dimensions and thickness of the slab is specific to the brand of operator you choose. Some models mount above ground on a base and posts. Once it is established that the entrant is authorized, the access-control device sends a signal through a relay to the gate motor to open the gate. The length and weight of the gate will determine the grade of gate motor to purchase. A commercial grade is recommended due to the number of open-and-close cycles for the self-storage lot.

Granting Access

After the gate style and location have been planned, it is time to consider type and location of access devices. The most widely used type of access-control device is still the keypad. The customer pulls up to the gate and enters in his unique passcode, which shows on an LED readout. If his account is current, the gate opens. Traffic flow through the gate is left-handed, with the keypad located on the left for the driver. Keypads may also be used for controlling access doors. Self-storage access-control companies have a variety of styles and features available in their keypads.

Other access-control components consist of card readers, proximity readers, key fobs, biometric readers and clickers. Generally, the type of specialty storage will dictate the devices you choose. Systems are sophisticated enough nowadays that any of these should log any activity to the access-control program. Customers are screened by the system so that only those authorized are allowed into a particular area.

The “controller” of the security system is the software. This is an important component because it will read information from the management program along with the security information. The program and components should be designed for application in the self-storage arena.

The security software is proprietary to the provider of the access-control components and the products they manufacture. If your vendor is a self-storage provider, interfaces do exist to management software in most cases. An access-control system that links the latest technology in access control with your property-management software enhances command of your property and will convince your renters their belongings are secure.

Door Alarms

The next consideration is individual door alarms. The self-storage security system that ends at the access gate welcomes the would-be thief. This person rents a unit to get an access code so he may go freely in and out. He then begins spending time on site, surveying activity and observing what’s inside any open units. While doing this, he is making an inventory, planning which locks to cut later. When the opportunity arises, the locks will be cut, goods taken and stored in the thief’s unit, or moved to the front of the original unit for loading on a truck later. The burglar puts a lock back on the storage bins where he has cut the locks, so no one notices until the original tenant comes in and cannot open the lock.

Individual door alarms eliminate this possibility of theft. The door switch, magnet and multiplexer with enclosure are components comprising individual door alarms. Communication is backed to the office PC. The most popular switch is called the quick switch. This mounts on the door track at the latch opening and detects the metal in the latch when it is in the lock position. It installs quickly and easily with two self-tapping screws. Other types of switches are available for specialty types of entrances.

Each door switch is wired to a component called a multiplexer (or mux), which polls the status of a quantity of doors. When a door is opened, communication is sent back to the system computer. If the door has not been disarmed at the access-control device, a signal is sent to a siren or similar device annunciating an alarm situation. Multiplexers are mounted strategically throughout the property to keep wire runs at a minimum.

Reputable alarm-component suppliers will recommend installing your system during construction. This allows it to be hard-wired. Hard-wired systems are more reliable with less maintenance. Buildings and outside signals may affect the performance of the wireless signal.

The application for wireless is in retrofit situations. Because existing units are already occupied, this makes sense. Components for wireless consist of an anti-defeat switch with transmitter and magnet, mounted at the top corner of the outside of each door. A receiver and multiplexer are mounted outside near the office, with communication wire coming into the PC. Repeaters may be located throughout the property, as needed, to augment the signal. Temperature, particularly cold, may affect the performance and battery life of the wireless transmitter.

Wireless devices now can provide communication from an office PC to keypads and/or door alarms. Distance varies with conditions up to a few miles. These are best used for annexed sites across the street or down the road.

Eye in the Sky

Camera systems are composed of cameras, digital video recorders and monitors. The digital video recorder is really the “brains” of the system. DVRs can record all camera locations simultaneously. It can also record only when motion occurs in the view of any camera. You also have the ability to view camera activity from another computer location through the DVR. Flat screen monitors displayed in the rental office give a nice effect. The storage renter sees that the site is under surveillance with the latest technology, and knows his belongings will be safe and secure. Be sure to mount a camera in the office, too.

Consult with professionals with expertise in each area. Make sure to work with a company that deals in self-storage access control and door-alarm components. Although it may cost a little more to get the proper system with the right features installed professionally, it will not cost as much as cutting corners the first time, then having to reconstruct the site security package. Long-term commercial renters and everyday storage customers alike will feel more comfortable storing their goods with you if they see you are taking the steps to protect their investments. A serious security program using a combination of these components will continue to pay well after your initial investment. It provides a tangible way to stand out from the competition.

John Fogg, general manager of Sentinel Systems Corp., has been involved in the self-storage industry since 1986. To reach him, call 800.456.9955, ext. 405; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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