The Components of a Strong Self-Storage Security Plan

A successful self-storage operation needs a strong security plan that includes an honest and proactive manager, the latest security components, a solid rental agreement, effective management software and a good relationship with local law enforcement.

Rich Morahan

June 20, 2013

6 Min Read
The Components of a Strong Self-Storage Security Plan

A successful self-storage operation needs a business plan, and that includes a solid security plan to protect your investment. Your business will attract customers with goods to secure, but it should also deter and repel crooks who want those goods.

A strong security plan includes several components including an honest and proactive manager, the latest security components, a solid rental agreement, effective management software and a good relationship with local law enforcement. Implementing any or all of these measures is a great way to be proactive about the security of your facility and maintain its overall safety.

Crime at a self-storage property can make you the "biggest loser" for a number of reasons. If a tenant is robbed, he'll (hopefully) have insurance to help him restore his goods, but what will help you restore your reputation or reinstate your investment? You have more to lose than property from crimeyou can lose your livelihood.

Is Your Manager Your Greatest Asset or Greatest Threat?

A well-trained manager can sell your facility features, screen your renters and maintain visibility to prevent crime, dangerous activities and vandalism. A poorly-trained or dishonest manager can rob you and your customers, infiltrate your data and information, help his criminal associates and compromise your security. Your manager is the meeting point between your tenant and your investment. Select carefully, and consider employee insurance for liability and theft protection.

Access and Security Components

You need to create a security plan that runs like a road from curb to unit door. Begin at the curb by creating sight lines into your facility. Place barriers such as rocks and shrubs at the base of your fence, and place lights so they draw attention to your security components. Youre not only making intruders a target, youre displaying your security to prospects.

Think of your gate as an access-control point and assign gate codes to tenants rather than allowing them to create their own. Most customers will pick an easy code such as 1234, which is worse than having no code at all. Some will naively think the gate is secure when, in reality, it can be easily breached. Tell tenants you assign codes for their protection. This is true, but its also for yours. You dont want roamers on the site. Again, youre the loser when crime hits.

To further deter roamers, set both an entry and an exit point. You want visitors to know theyll be tracked going in and out of the property.

When you select video-surveillance cameras for your facility, focus on placement rather than quantity. Whos the key audience for your lobby monitors? Customers? Potential thieves? Your manager? Your online audience? Have an array for show that points outward to the lobby, and a screen that faces inward for the manager. Remember: Cameras record crime, they dont stop it.

Over the last few years, a number of facilities have been built around automated 24-hour kiosks that promise hands-free management. Such facilities use the Internet for remote surveillance and management, allowing new renters 24-hour access to move in and move out, while providing electronic eyes on the site. Electronic door locks and door alarms linked to management software allow remote access control for each unit. When exploring this option, keep in mind that you still need to provide some onsite protection against roamers with unlimited access.

The Final Line of Defense: Security Locks

In 2013, we still have facilities that promote your lock, your key, allowing customers to set the security level at your facility. The customer loses his goods when a cheap lock is broken. You lose your reputation and damage your investment. Would you stay a hotel where every guest used his own lock? Thieves would need to take a number to get in. Its to your benefit to require or offer locks and lock systems that stop thieves.

A pin-tumbler padlock belongs on a yard shed, not a self-storage unit. Dont be fooled by a round padlock. Thats a disk lock with the same cheap, jam-prone keyway found on inexpensive padlocks. In addition, all disk locks are not alike. Select one with a pick-and-drill-resistant keyway that complements sound design and manufacturing.

If you think a generic padlock can deter crime any more, just search bump key on Google or YouTube and be afraid. A bump key turns an amateur lock picker into a pro as long as you secure your units with cheap padlocks.

For high security, consider a cylinder-lock system. Cylinder locks secure a door with a flush-mount system integrated with the latch. Theres no shackle or lock body to cut. Theyre typically available with tubular or high-security keyways that are virtually pick-and-drill-proof. Because all units look the same, thieves dont have an easy road map to focus their work. A medium- or high-security cylinder lock just might send that crook down the road to the customer-friendly your lock, your key facility.

Is Your Computer an Asset or Liability?

Protect your assets and information by setting strict access levels on your facility computer. You can protect against hacking by ensuring your software is compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. Also verify it has Service Organization Control accounting controls, and consider a penetration test by simulating an attack from an external source. If you dont know what these terms mean, ask your software provider and demand a clear answer.

Dont become a headline: Self-Storage Computer Data Hacked. Invest in a good management-software package with computer-security features.

Protections in Your Rental Agreement

Discuss with your attorney how to set liability limits for renters in your lease, and then ask tenants to sign an acknowledgement that theyve selected or refused insurance. You can also restrict the type and value of property to be stored, or require a waiver of liability. Again, consult with your attorney for the exact wording and legalities of doing this.

A Relationship With Law Enforcement

Enlist someone from local law enforcement to review your security plan, recommends Jim Chiswell, president of Chiswell & Associates LLC, which provides self-storage consulting services. That review and approval could have an impact on an uncooperative planning board if youre developing a new site. A publicized relationship with local law enforcement will please your honest tenants and make the dishonest ones uncomfortable. Periodic drug and bomb training exercises, clearly posted as exercises, can have a positive marketing impact as well.

The End Result

A strong security plan benefits you more than your renters because it can be a powerful marketing tool. Dont forget that you risk more from poor security than your renters, so select your manager carefully, invest in quality security components and software, and consult with your attorney and local law enforcement to provide a liability firewall between you and your tenants.

Rich Morahan writes frequently about marketing and security for the self-storage, information-management and propane industries. You can contact him at 617.240.0372; e-mail [email protected]; visit or .

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