Sponsored By

The Best Security System

June 1, 2005

17 Min Read
The Best Security System

They say a job worth doing is worth doing well. With that in mind, planning for the security of your self-storage facility can be complicated. The industry has undergone substantial changes in the security arena. Following are some important considerations:

  • The property-management software you use directly impacts your security system. Rather than trying to operate your facility with two separate systems, consider an integrated product that is stable and easy to use. Automated features will allow you to accomplish more daily, weekly and monthly functions.

  • A number of vendors provide security systems specifically for this unique market. Todays equipment options include keypads, card readers, individual door alarms, CCTV, site graphics, drivers license/ID scanners, perimeter beams, etc.

  • When searching for the best system, determine which one meets the majority of your needs. Not all systems do the same things. Sometimes you must choose which options are the most important.

  • The physical configuration of your site will impact your security decision. For example, consider whether your facility is single-story or multistory, has inside or outside units, etc.

  • Take a look at your competition before making a decision about security. If another facility is equipped with door alarms and yours isnt, can you offer tenants the same protection? If competitors offer 24-hour access, you may be tempted as well. But will this compromise your site security?

  • Use security to bolster your a marketing plan. While cost-effective, the flash and sizzle of your system will also help you sell your site to tenants.

  • Dont wait until too late in the development process to choose your security system. Hesitation may result in not having access to the resources you want or need.

Its critical to take your time when investigating the numerous security products on the market. How do you choose whats right for your facility? To be an informed buyer, conduct thorough research and make your own product comparisons. An overview of self-storage security systemsaccess control, individual door alarms, and ancillary deviceswill help focus your search. Lets take a look.

Access Control

Access-control systems allow you to award selective access to your facility. The most common method uses an entry and exit keypad in conjunction with a motorized gate. Your customer keys in his unique passcode at the entry keypad and, if certain conditions are met, the system signals the gate to open, recording the date and time he entered. Exiting the site is handled in the same manner. With pinhole cameras mounted in the keypads, not only can you visibly identify the renter, you can cross-reference the image with the gate-activity log.

Access systems can also control door entry with an electric lock, i.e., to an interior corridor. The more sophisticated systems support gates and doors, and permit access only to particular areas where a tenant is renting. The vast majority of self-storage facilities use keypads, but card readers are also available with many access-control systems. Some use proprietary cards that must be obtained from the supplier, while others use customers debit/credit cards.

Remember that access-control systems only signal the gate to open. Its the gate motor (often referred to as the gate operator) that controls how long the gate remains open and when it closes. An open-gate status is most often accomplished with the use of safety loops connected to a loop detector inside the gate operator. Loops are wires embedded in the ground in front of and behind the gate. The loops and detector sense when a vehicle is in the way of the gate, holding it open until the vehicle has cleared. They act as a safety as well as a signal to the gate to close. There are several layers of security you can add to the safety loop, such as photo electric beams and the Miller safety edge. I suggest using at least two of these devices.

Gates can also be operated via an electric door strike. With this method, an entry gate is always locked unless a customer uses a card or PIN, triggering several seconds of downtime for him to physically open the door. (Remember exit gates must always be unrestricted.)


Gates are available in a huge variety. Sliding and vertical-pivot gates are the most common in the self-storage business. Sliding gates are equipped with rollers, which follow a track on the ground to keep the gate on course or come in a cantilever style. Cantilever gates are built to support themselves, i.e., they have rails and rollers that support the gate, allowing it to open and close without touching the ground. Vertical-pivot gates also support themselves. The gate and operator are purchased as a package. The gate opens by pivoting 90 degrees and is counter-balanced so it can be easily raised manually if necessary.

The optimum size for a gate in our business is 16 feet wide by 6 feet high. This will allow any vehicle that can legally travel the roads to access your facility with room to spare. The reality is your local fire department is probably going to dictate the width of the opening. Dont give up the fight too easily, as very large gates and openings can complicate your operation and add unnecessary cost to your project.


Designing your entry/exit is something that should be done early in your project. Too often, I see plans reflecting gates that dont fit, lacking provisions for keypads or card readers, lacking specifications for conduit, and giving little consideration to the flow of traffic. As an industry, we seem so preoccupied with coverage and unit mix we dont consider how our customers are going to get in and out of our facilities.

In a standard self-storage scenario, the gate opening would be 16 feet with a shared entry/ exit (one gate). The traffic flow would be reversed so customers enter and exit on the left side of the driveway. Keypads or card readers would be placed on the left side, 12 feet from the gateone for entry on the outside of the property and one for exit on the inside.

Access to either keypad should be possible from the window of the customers vehicle. Provide ample space so the customer can easily straighten the path of his vehicle to line up with the keypad and proceed through the gate. The gate, which ought to be visible from the office, should be back from the main thoroughfare to allow room for three or four vehicles. Also, allot sufficient parking outside the gate for prospective tenants, delivery vehicles, etc. There are, of course, many acceptable variations, but you need to comply with your local fire codes.

Your access-control system vendor should provide you with scaled drawings to assist in your design: placement of entry/exit, placement of keypads/card readers, size and placement of required concrete pads, and placement of conduit. Todays systems are rich with features to meet the unique requirements of self-storage. Individual pass-codes, multiple pass-codes per unit, multiple time zones, holiday programming, multiple access levels and automatic lockout with nonpayment of rent are just a few standard abilities you will need. Evaluating the practical use of features in how you want to run your business will help you decide.

Individual Door Alarms

By design, door-alarm systems, which come in hard-wired and wireless varieties, have inherent access-control ability. The most common configurations use the entry function to open the gate and disable the alarm on a tenants unit door. An entry message as well as the date and time the unit door is opened is recorded, for example, Unit 101, Robb Dalton, OPEN, 9:12am 4-07-2005. Thus, you not only have a record of when the tenant entered the site, you have a record of when he entered his unit.

When the unit door is closed, the system records a close message: Unit 101, Robb Dalton, CLOSE, 9:26 am, 4-7-2005. When the tenant keys out at the exit keypad, the system opens the gate, records an exit message, and re-arms the unit. At this point, you have a permanent record of the tenants entry, open door, close door and exit from the facility, a much more complete record of the tenants onsite activity than the enter and exit message provided by an access-control system.

Considering that most facility break-ins (60 percent or more) are perpetrated by actual tenants, electronic monitoring of unit doors makes a lot of sense. The classic break-in scenario goes like this: An individual rents a unit, probably paying in cash. He spends a fair amount of time on site, observing move-ins and other activity where unit doors are open (so he can see whats inside). As each good tenant leaves and the opportunity presents itself, the culprit cuts his lock, sorts through the unit, places valuable items at the front, closes the door, and secures the unit with his own lock. When he has 10 or more units secured, in comes the truck and out go the goods. The unit doors are left locked, and no one is the wiser until the real tenant returns and his key doesnt fit.

Individual door alarms prevent the above from occurring. I occasionally hear arguments that burglars will just cut through unit walls to sidestep the door alarm. While this may happen, its rare, as it involves at lot more work and risk for the criminal. Not only that, but criminals tend to avoid facilities that actively market their alarm system using the appropriate signage, advertising and onsite demonstrations.

Wiring and Switches

When it comes to self-storage security, there are several wiring schemes in use, with multiplexed being the most prominent. In this situation, one or more multiplexers are placed on each building and used as a central connection point for the wiring from each unit. Multiplexers are connected to each other using communications cable, which can be routed in a variety of ways and placed to minimize lengths and conduit requirements.

Generally, a reed switch (also known as a floor switch) is placed inside the unit, and its associated magnet is placed on the unit door. They are positioned so they align and are within the operating gap of the switch (normally 2 to 3 inches) when the door is closed. The newest industry standard uses a door contact that detects the movement of the latch on the door as it passes through the switch. This method saves installation time and eliminates false alarms.

Hard-wired door-alarm systems operate in a normally closed condition. This means each circuit has continuity when the door is closed. An easy way to understand this is to consider a light and light switch. When the light switch is on, the circuit is complete and closed. When the switch is turned off, the circuit is broken or open. These systems protect against wires being cut or components being disconnected, since either will create an open condition, generating an alarm.

Retrofit and Wireless

Hard-wired systems are normally installed during construction, so all the components can be placed inside each unit before occupancy. However, a hard-wired retrofit system or wireless door-alarm system is also an option.

A retrofit system uses a higher security, anti-defeat door-switch set mounted on the exterior of the door and door frame. The switch has an armored lead that protects its wires, which are routed to a special surface-mounted molding that runs above the door. This molding can closely match or even contrast your existing building colors. The advantage is you have the reliability of the hard-wired system with an unparalleled level of access for service purposes. The biggest disadvantage to this system is it can take more time for installation.

In recent years, wireless door-alarm technology has advanced. Wireless systems come in two varieties: a complete radio network from the transmitter on the individual door and office; and a hybrid. By hybrid I mean a wireless connection from the door to a series of receivers on the facility, which are hard-wired back to the office. The wiring to the office works on a dedicated line or via a modulation on the buildings AC-power system, where information is interpreted by a device and fed back into the main system.

The primary advantages of a wireless system are obvious. First, you have a much easier installation once the systems backbone is installed. Second, it allows you to offer individual door security to the tenants as an add-on feature at a premium. On the other hand, when transmitting a wireless signal from point A to point B, there is always a chance the signal will be reflected, absorbed or otherwise corrupted. Because each of the door transmitters in a wireless system is battery-powered, you also have a perpetual maintenance obligation.

Door-alarm systems are reliable and can be a productive security and marketing tool. They are, however, dependent on the quality of the material used and proper installation. As with any system, preventive maintenance will ensure proper operation. Your vendor should provide you with a specific installation overlay on your site plan indicating conduit requirements, multiplexer locations and how each door switch is to be wired.

When deciding between a hard-wired or wireless system, the best approach is to request proposals for both. Only you can decide which will be most affordable and effective for your particular operation. Fortunately, door-alarm systems come in many variations that can be tailored to your facility.

Multiple Units

One highly useful alarm feature is multiple units, which allows you to link all units rented by the same customer. This means your tenant has only one code for entry and exit, no matter how many units he rents from you. The feature eliminates the problem of false alarms, which frequently occur when a tenant disarms one unit, and then decides he wants to access another without going back to the entrance to enter the additional pass code.

The multiple-unit feature has another advantage: Many system changes can be made through programming rather than physical alterations. For example, if you take two 5-by-10s and combine them to make a 10-by-10, the resulting unit will have two doors. Without the multiple-unit feature, youll have to wire both doors together or lock the second door so the customer cant use it. With the multiple-unit feature, its a simple programming change to designate the second door as a secondary and give the customer full use.

Ancillary Systems and Devices

There are numerous security devices and systems available today. The most commonly used in our industry are perimeter beams, intercoms, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and site-graphic displays.

Perimeter Beams

With perimeter beams (also knows as PIR beams), an alarm sounds if the line of sight projection of an infrared beam is interrupted (something gets in the way). These are commonly used along fence lines surrounding a facility but can be installed at other points.

PIR beams were originally introduced as a single-beam system. They were only moderately dependable, as almost anything (weeds, birds, dust, etc.) could interrupt the beam and cause an alarm. Dual beams followed and reliability increased, since both beams had to be interrupted at essentially the same time to cause an alarm condition. Quad beams (four) are now the most common and much more dependable.

PIR systems are priced on a distance sensitive basis, i.e., the longer the beam, the more the system costs. Many offer control and annunciating equipment that allow them to operate as an independent entity. Beam systems used in self-storage are more commonly connected to the site access-control system and operate under its control. They should be treated as ancillary security and used only when a specific need is identified. They have limited value as a general security system.


Intercoms are an easy and reliable way to provide voice access between the rental office and key points throughout a facility. Systems include a master station and one or more substationsin many variationsand are priced accordingly. The larger their capacity, the higher cost. Substations are relatively inexpensive, generally come with a plastic or metal face, and should always include a call button.

All primary self-storage security systems need intercoms. The substations are integrated into the primary systems keypad faceplates. In the past, intercoms were used as a matter of convenience. Today, theyre viewed as a safety requirement and are being installed throughout the site, particularly in inside corridors, multistory buildings, etc. The decision is not whether to install an intercom system, but how large a master station to buy.

Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV)

CCTV is available in black and white or color and, in its most simple form, consists of one camera displaying an image on one monitor. But few CCTV systems are limited to one camera, and since it doesnt make sense to add a monitor for every camera you use, the manufacturers have developed equipment to handle multiple placements.

Early systems used a switcher that would allow the office to select which camera image to display or switch from camera to camera at specified intervals. Switchers were commonly built to accommodate four or eight cameras. Next came the quad system, which split the monitor screen into four equal parts so the images from four cameras could be displayed at once. These systems could also display a full screen for a designated camera to enlarge an image.

Todays systems allow cameras to be multiplexed and recorded digitally through a DVR (digital video recorder). They also allow the monitor to view eight, nine or 16 different images at the same time. Single, enlarged images can still be viewed easily. DVRs have the ability to record video directly to a hard drive, and most can use the Internet to view live or recorded video.

There are a number of reasons to use CCTV. They range from wanting to see gate activity and having video of all entries and exits to having a comprehensive record of site activity, including what was stored and by whom. You can spend as much as you want on CCTV systems, but remember they have marketing value when monitors are prominently displayed in the rental office. You should also consider that these systems require some human intervention to be effective; therefore, their value is often after the fact of a crime, as opposed to electronic systems like door alarms.

Site-Graphic Displays

Site graphics provide a full-color view of your facility indicating units, buildings, corridors, grounds, etc. A units color changes as its status changes; for example, there are different colors to indicate a unit is rented or vacant, the tenant is on site, the tenant is in the unit, there is an alarm condition, etc. Site graphics often include activity messagesproduced by the primary security systemacross the display.

Some graphic displays only address the activities of the security system, while others also provide management information, such as the payment status of each unit. Some vendors give you the ability to customize your display according to your unit mix and other preferences. Display monitors are often placed in a cabinet with CCTVmonitors or on a flat screen monitor mounted on the wall. This creates a hightech control center in the office that makes a great impression on customers.

Management-Software Interface

These days self-storage management software has the ability to communicate with the access-control and door-alarm systems. This is important since it reduces work in the rental office and ensures the management and security systems are in sync.

The primary protocol for merging these systems is called interfacing, meaning the management software is downloading information to the security system, which acknowledges receipt in some way. Information commonly sent to the security system includes move-ins, move-outs, passcode changes, delinquent units, etc. New developments will allow for the assignment of time zones, access levels and multi-pleunit designation.

Security and software systems can be purchased and operated independently, but they can also be integrated if obtained from the same vendor. Integrated systems completely avoid the interface question since they are essentially a single program, written in the same code and sharing the same database.

In the End

A security system is a necessity for every self-storage operation, but you have countless options when it comes to customizing your access-control, door-alarm and ancillary systems. The proper equipment and well-executed installation will not only make your facility safe for employees and tenants, but more competitive in the marketplace.

Joell Reddick-Dalton is vice president of Lakewood, Colo.-based Sentinel Systems Corp., which has manufactured self-storage software and security systems since 1975. Mrs. Reddick-Dalton would like to thank John Suder, director of sales, and Joe Burt, international sales manager, for their collaborative efforts on this article. For more information, call 800.456.9955; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.sentinelsystems.com.

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter
ISS is the most comprehensive source for self-storage news, feature stories, videos and more.

You May Also Like