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Designing Self-Storage Sites for Maximum Security

A well-designed self-storage facility will be more secure and repel would-be thieves. Consider the following advice on building layout, office safety, lighting and other important security elements for your next storage project.

Ken Carrell

July 1, 2017

5 Min Read
Designing Self-Storage Sites for Maximum Security

When it comes to designing a secure self-storage site, there are many factors to consider including building layout, office safety, gate and camera placement, lighting and more. With just a few simple design changes, you can make your facility much better protected.

Building Layout

One of the biggest factors in designing a secure site is the layout of your buildings. Placing structures around the perimeter of the property gives you better security than simple fencing. A typical fence is about 7 feet high, whereas the back of a single-story building is anywhere from 12 to 14 feet high. By putting buildings around the perimeter, you get a fortress-style layout, which means any security breaches must occur at entry and exit gates.

If you can’t design your facility in a fortress style, it’s perfectly acceptable to use fencing around the perimeter. Just remember that most municipalities don’t like barbed or concertina wire, so using that on top of a fence is out of the question in most cases. A design I use on a lot for fences and even gates is a spear-point top. The top of the picket is flattened and shaped into a pointed tip. While the point isn’t very sharp, it makes it harder to climb over and provides an intimidating look.

One facility I designed in Newark, Calif., uses a combination of buildings and fencing on the perimeter. We installed 8-foot-high masonry walls where we didn’t have a building to secure the area.

Interior Elements

There are other security-enhancing design elements that can be used inside your self-storage buildings. For example:

  • Straight hallways vs. those with corners prevent hiding places for would-be criminals.

  • If your facility has more than one floor, require customers to use their key code to access their floor. This prevents people from visiting areas that don’t apply to them.

  • Large doors with windows create a greater sense of security, as they allow people to see the building.

  • Many facilities today also have wider hallways so the area feels spacious as well as safe. A typical 5-foot-wide hall has been replaced with a 7- to 10-foot-wide hallway.

More developers are also installing a facility-wide speaker system to pipe in music and create a two-way communications system. This allows customers to call the office if they need help or feel uncomfortable in any way. At a facility I designed in Fontana, Calif., we installed an intercom system in all the buildings with interior units. Customers told the owner it was one of their favorite features of the place.

Office Safety

It’s also critical to design the management office with safety in mind. As with any business that deals with cash, robberies are a concern. While you can’t totally prevent them, you can do your best to discourage this from happening at your property.

Ensuring that robbers see they’re being recorded is a first step, so make cameras easily visible in the office. The installation of a silent alarm is another good idea, so install a few office switches. Just make sure they’re easily accessible but discrete. If you’re in a high crime area, take a cue from banks and put up glass partitions. Also, consider adding a back door that only employees can access in case they need an alternative escape route.

Gates and Cameras

Make sure your access gates are as “scary” and durable as possible. Most are tubular steel and can take quite a beating. Remember to provide mesh near the gate operator and any pedestrian-gate doorknobs. This prevents someone from simply reaching through and unlocking the gate. Consider the tragic ending of a customer who knew how to manually operate the gate after hours—when reaching through to push the button, his arm got caught, and he was killed.

Today’s cameras have high resolution and definition, even at night and in low-light conditions. It’s important to have several placed around the property, with each camera covering two others. That way if someone tries to take out a camera, the others will record it.

All cameras should be connected to monitors in your front office. It gives customers a sense of safety when they see the action on the screen. The monitors also allow the manager to see what’s happening onsite without having to lock the office and drive around to check on things.

Lighting

Lighting is a critical element when designing a secure site. It discourages criminal activity and helps customers feel safe. LEDs are becoming the norm for exterior lighting. Although there’s a higher initial cost, they’re cheaper to run and last much longer.

Although a well-lit property is necessary, bear in mind that building codes prevent more than a half-foot candle of light to leave the site. This means you must have a focused system that provides good lighting that stays on your property and doesn’t “pollute” surrounding areas. To minimize lighting from leaving the facility, consider using wall packs mounted on the buildings.

The better the security at your self-storage facility, the safer your customers are going to feel and the more willing they will be to trust you with their belongings. If they see broken lights or minimal security, they’ll go down the road to your competitor. Site security isn’t just about adding a few cameras, it’s about a cohesive design that creates an overall sense of safety for tenants and staff.

Kenneth Carrell is the principal architect at ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif., an award-winning architectural firm specializing in the self-storage industry. For more information, call 949.305.4752; visit www.areassociates.com.

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