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June 1, 2002

7 Min Read
Individual Unit Alarms

Recent events in this country and the world have changed the way people think about security. A certain level of protection is now expected and deserved. Although this may not affect the self-storage industry alone, the consciousness of the public has been altered forever. People now accept that security is and should be part of their everyday lives--for their safety and the protection of their belongings.

The lesson to be learned, from an industry perspective, is cutting corners on the security design of a new self-storage site yields a less marketable project. A small-scale security plan jeapordizes your customers' peace of mind and, therefore, your own. In other words, do it right the first time.

The best way to secure your customers' stored property is with individual door alarms. Each renter is given an access code to the property, which he enters at the facility gate or entrance door. The gate or door opens, the individual door alarm for that unit is turned off, and the renter goes about his business. The tenant leaves the site by again entering his code. This re-arms the unit alarm on that particular door.

Controlled access to the storage area is a must. The security system that does not link entry with a door-alarm system welcomes the prospective thief. How? The burglar will rent a unit and is given an access code. He then begins spending time on the site, observing activity and the contents of any open units. All the while, he is making a mental inventory, planning which locks he will cut to steal belongings later.

When an opportunity presents itself, the locks will be cut, the goods taken and stored in the thief's own unit or moved to the front of the victim's unit for loading to a truck later. The burglar replaces the cut locks with new ones of his own. No one is suspicious until one of the victims comes to the facility and can't open his unit.

Individual unit alarms are an active form of security that lets the operator know immediately when a breach has occurred. As soon as a potential burglar opens the door to a unit, an alarm sounds. This demands a response by the onsite manager or monitoring company. While other security tools such as surveillance cameras serve an important function, they do not let the manager know an attempted burglary is taking place--unless he happens to be viewing the monitor when the attempt occurs. Individual door alarms eliminate the possibility of theft. The burglar has no choice but to go down the street to another facility where unit alarms have not been installed.


Each unit will have its own individual door switch. Several different types of switches are used depending on the type of door. Swing doors use a switch mounted to the door header while the magnet is mounted to the door. A bracket is usually not needed unless the swing door has no header.

Some applications will use this type of switch installation for roll-up doors as well. Floor switches are also common for roll-up doors. The device is anchored to the floor inside, at the front corner of the unit. The magnet is then mounted on the inside of the door with a bracket lined up above the switch.

The new Quick SwitchTM has taken the industry by storm. Designed for roll-ups, it is ideal for facilities where many doors need to be outfitted with a switch. The Quick Switch mounts on the door track by the opening that receives the latch. The device detects the metal in the latch when it is closed. Installation time is greatly reduced because just one piece is mounted instead of two. It can be put in with as little as two screws. Any popular door manufacturer should specify the proper metallic material latch. Just let them know you are using the Quick Switch.

Marketing and Accommodation

Unit alarms should be part of your marketing strategy. Advertising and signage can point out the site's doors are individually alarmed. Every time a prospect walks on-site, the alarm system should be demonstrated. Through this, your prospects will learn your facility is more secure than that of the competition, because you did it right and installed an alarm system.

Most door-alarm systems have the flexibility to accommodate various customer needs. Some tenants have more than one unit. Instead of having to punch several codes to disarm each door alarm, a multiple-unit feature allows a tenant to punch in one code and disarm all of his units. As usual, when he exits, his one code will re-arm them all.

Some facilities have units outside the perimeter, fenced-in area. Although unusual, these units can be alarmed as well. A keypad is mounted on a wall or in a central location. The renter punches in his code to disarm the door. Some users will forget or choose not to repunch their code when leaving the property. This requires a system that re-arms when the storage door is closed. A simple software setting accomplishes this.

Other devices can be used that do not necessitate the use of a passcode. Instead, a magnetic touchcard can be issued. This card is touched to a stationary touch plate at the entrance. Proximity cards are also available. These only need to be held near the reader for the access to open. All entry, egress and other activity is recorded just as with the code entry.


Adding door alarms one at a time as units are rented is not practical from a time-management or financial standpoint. Most of the groundwork installation will already be done ahead of time. To ask personnel to finish the installation and activation at the time of move-in can be time-consuming and interrupt the operation of the business. It also does not make sense to rent adjacent units for different amounts. A door-alarm system warrants charging higher rents. Take advantage of that from the outset.

Reputable alarm-system suppliers will recommend installing your system during construction. This allows the system to be hardwired, which many believe make it more reliable. Technology and outside signals can affect the reliability of wireless systems. Maintenance of equipment can also be an issue. Wireless systems can be used in some retrofit situations. You should speak to dealers offering hardwired and wireless systems and determine which works best for your particular application.

Things to Avoid

Stay away from generic systems not designed for a self-storage application. These systems have trouble supporting the number of doors on a site. They become wiring and operational nightmares. They also will not interface with self-storage management software.

Avoid new companies or those new to self-storage door-alarm systems. You need a company with the experience to supply a reliable system. A company also needs to be around in the years to come to help support its products.

Steer clear of inexperienced installers. Installation is crucial. Allow enough time at the end of construction, before opening, to have the system put in correctly. It is much easier to get it right before a unit is rented than after the fact.

More and more owners are building in an individual door-alarm system at the time of construction. The competitive edge and marketability make this a sound investment. If the site is ever sold, its state-of-the-art security will attract more high-dollar buyers. Be sure to budget the proper time and money to do it once, and do it right. It may cost more to get the proper system with the right features and have it installed professionally; but it will not cost as much as cutting corners and having to redo the site a second time.

John Fogg is the general sales manager for Sentinel Systems Corp. of Lakewood, Colo., which has been manufacturing self-storage software and security systems since 1975. Though he has worked in self-storage since 1986, Mr. Fogg has been with Sentinel for the past 10 years. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]; call 800.456.9955; visit www.sentinelsystems.com.

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