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Trends in Security Technology for Self-Storage: The Latest Features and Capabilities

Though crime may not ever be fully eradicated in the self-storage industry, technology innovators in the field are constantly devising new answers to ongoing problems. Self-storage security experts share insight on the latest system features, trends and benefits.

John Carlisle

April 18, 2011

8 Min Read
Trends in Security Technology for Self-Storage: The Latest Features and Capabilities

Most self-storage managers will say their second most dreaded phone call is to a delinquent tenant to collect late rent. Their least favorite? The police.

Although the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that crime in the United States has been slowly decelerating since the 1970s, self-storage operators know theirs is not a theft-free future. However, technology innovators are constantly devising new answers to ongoing problems.

Joe Dahlquist, product manager for Chamberlain Access Control, says self-storage operators often fall into one of three categories when selecting security technology: those with modern, newly built operations that demand the latest and greatest; those with middle-of-the-road facilities, who are budget-conscious and looking for reasonable solutions; and those with smaller facilities, who are looking for simple, basic equipment. Where they fall on that spectrum, as well as their size and location, determines what they buy, so trends vary.

Randy Johnston, national self-storage specialist for DoorKing Inc., says the current top priority for operators is cutting costs. Reliability and return on investment are key, especially now. When 2,500 to 2,600 facilities were being built each year, it wasnt as important, he shares, alluding to the domestic slowdown in self-storage development. Now suppliers must provide technology thats not only effective but efficient and beneficial to the bottom line.

John Fogg, general manager for Sentinel Systems Corp., has observed many facilities are bundling their access control, alarms and cameras into one security budget. He says as a general rule, a comprehensive security investment costs $100 to $250 per door, $1 to $3 per square foot, or 2 percent to 6 percent of the overall cost of building a facility.

So, what works to keep out thieves, desperate tenants and undesirables? Locks and gates keep honest people honest, Johnston says. Anyone wanting to break into a facility badly enough will find a way to do it, but good security measures can do much to eliminate crimes of opportunity and scare off a vast majority of would-be criminals. In no particular order, Johnston lists gates, keypads, alarms, locks, cameras and tracking systems as the pillars of today and tomorrows security products.

Access Gates

The day has come when even the most rural of facilities has at least considered installing an access gate. Dahlquist notes sliding gates outnumber swing gates 10 to one, with vertical-lift gates composing only a small percentage because of their high cost.

One of the most common gate-security issues is tailgating, where an unauthorized vehicle follows another into the drive-up area before the gate closes. To prevent this, Dahlquist proposes three options:

  • Anti-passback technology on gate keypads. This keeps one tenant with an access code from sharing that code with the driver immediately behind him. Anti-passback requires a certain amount of time to elapse before a single code can open the gate again.

  • Quick open and close times on gates.  Similarly, an accelerated close time at first, but a sudden slowdown as the gate gets close to latching.

  • Overlock systems tied to the gate-entry code.  Tenants or visitors cannot tailgate into the facility but must enter the code at the gate to disengage the overlock and open the desired unit door.

In addition, Fogg suggests requiring drivers to enter the appropriate code upon exit as well as entry. Even a driver who successfully tailgated into the facility would be forced to tailgate out, which is likely to thwart a drive-up thief. If the tailgater somehow acquires a valid exit code, the gate could be set up to honor only codes that have been entered twice (entry and exit) in a certain time span.

Johnston says gates of the future will be more compliant with UL 325, an industry-standard safety regulation that dictates how gates must function. He also envisions gates with embedded computers that sync with interior and exterior lighting, creating a unique lit path to each tenants unit when the gate is accessed.

Locks, Alarms and Keypads

Imagine a facility with no traditional lock and key locks where everything is fully automated. If it seems far fetched, it may not be much longer. Automatic doorsor facilities where each unit has a keypad instead of a traditional lockwill mimic the progression already happening with climate control, Johnston says. Many facilities will build or convert part of their facilities to this type of door, while the rest of the facility will have traditional locks. Cost, he says, is the greatest barrier now, but as time passes, equipment costs will decline.

Overlocking is already becoming more technologically advanced. Dahlquist describes an system where a wireless device mounts to outside of the door, adjacent to the hasp, allowing for simple, non-intrusive installation. If a tenant is late beyond a certain grace period, software synced with the device sends a wireless signal to disable the hasp automatically until payment is received.

Aside from convenience, this provides an ostensible theft deterrent. Thieves or dishonest and late-paying tenants will see the overlock device on each unit. It can discourage break-ins, as well as encourage on-time payments.

However, David Essman, vice president of marketing for Sentinel Systems, is a bit skeptical of the cost-effectiveness and practicality of automatic doors and unit-overlocking systems. Theres no doubt a mechanism behind the door may wear out sooner or later, costing you money in repairs and trip charges. Lastly, would any problems arise if your power goes out? Such a system can make overlocking a delinquent tenant easier and more automated, but does it justify the costs? That is a question for the property owner.

Fogg champions individual door alarms as the most effective and important component in thwarting theft. As soon as a potential burglar opens the door to a unit, an alarm sounds, he explains. This demands a response to the situation. Certainly cameras have a use for securing areas of the property, but they do not let the manager know when an attempted burglary is taking place.

Surveillance Cameras

Though quite a few security experts share Foggs view on cameras, they are still a necessary component of an overall security strategy. Earlier in the decade, 360-degree and dome cameras were all the rage. Now, theyre fairly commonplace. Whats on the frontier for cameras in the next five to 10 years?

I see a trend toward motion video, Johnston says. Motion-activated video works when a camera is triggered by a motion censor to capture a 10-second (or other short-term) video clip of the area where motion was detected. An off-site monitoring center then determines the threat level and notifies appropriate facility personnel if necessary. This type of monitoring can reduce the endless streams of videos managers might have to pour through to view footage of a potential problem.

Nowadays, everyone wants a wireless camera, Johnston says. The problem with wireless cameras, according to Dahlquist, is the balance hasnt been struck yet between cost and quality. Ten years in the future, Dahlquist says wireless cameras will be everywhere. In the meantime, some operators are heading to their local big-box retailer and paying as little as $300 and installing the cameras themselves, rather than forking over $1,000 or more for a quality system and installation by an industry professional.

RFID Tracking

The same tracking technology that allows travelers to scan onto a subway platform without a ticket or farmers to monitor their livestock is making its way to self-storage. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is in its infancy in the industry. Many operators were introduced to it this past March at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Las Vegas.

Its not hard to see how RFID could change the way facilities handle security. It works like this: A device called a reader (think in terms of a wireless router) receives signals from other devices somewhere within its range if any of those devices move at all. The reader then can communicate via the Internet through e-mail, text message or other electronic communication to let a manager, owner or tenant know something has been moved. Someone will be notified of the movement 30 to 60 seconds after it happens.

Katie Pavlasek, business development manager for PureRFid, says there are several different products self-storage operators might find useful. One is a motion-alert device, which resembles a key fob and can be attached to any item, such as boxes or furniture, inside a unit or even to bigger, mobile items such as facility golf-carts and rental trucks, as well as tenants stored boats, RVs and other vehicles. Whenever these items move without be disarmed first, the system engages and notifies a designated person with a text message.

If the security benefit werent enough, Pavlasek sees a revenue-generating potential. Once operators  purchase these devices, they can rent them to tenants as a add-on security product and allow the tenants to be contacted via text messaging when items are moved without being disarmed.

Weve gotten so much feedback from people that this technology is what they need, Pavlasek shares, adding that her company is still seeking  its first batch of self-storage operator-customers, though a facility in North Carolina is currently testing its products. Because almost everyone these days has a cell phone and sends text messages, especially the younger generation, we think its a good way [for operators] to market security.

Cutting-edge technophiles and slow-adopting luddites will agree on one thing, though: Security is something tenants wont compromise on. If they dont think their items will be safe, theyll store somewhere else. It may not make sense to put a bank vault-esque system in a self-storage facility, but some kind of modern, ostensible securityto go with statistics that back up a low-theft historycan go a long way in getting tenants to commit, keeping insurance premiums low, and keeping calls to the police to a minimum.

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