Individual Unit Alarms 5454

June 1, 2001

10 Min Read
Individual Unit Alarms

Individual Unit Alarms

Security, revenue opportunities and a marketing advantage

By Douglas Carner

Isyour self-storage facility secure? Are you sure? Any potential thief can rent astorage unit. This provides a convenient place for him to store goods he stealsfrom other units. If he replaces the unit locks once he cuts them, it can beweeks before his crime is detected. The thief can then vacate at hisconvenience, leaving you to guess who actually committed the crime.

This type of theft is increasingly common because it can't be stopped byvideo surveillance, guard dogs or perimeter beams. You can't be at every unitall the time, but door alarms can. Once viewed as a luxury item, individual dooralarms are now an industry security standard.

Most of your customers have some form of security at their home or office.They expect a high level of protection, even when the threat of crime is verylow. To remain competitive, your facility must offer the safest, least expensivesolution for storing customers' prized possessions. By incorporating individualdoor alarms into your security program, you can provide an effective crimedeterrent while simultaneously comforting nervous tenants.

At the same time, having door alarms will increase revenue and provide amarketing advantage. There are more than 15 million storage units in NorthAmerica and it's a buyers' market. Your customers want advanced security and canget it from your competition if you don't provide it. Individual door alarms area powerful marketing tool. If your competition has them, you can bet they'll beprominently listed in their advertising.

A reliable door-alarm solution requires planning. It should match yourimmediate needs and budget. It must adapt as your security requirements and unitmix change. Following is a collection of insights and advice from each of themajor door-security vendors in the self-storage industry.

Site Layout and Design

The planning and purchasing of security hardware and software requires anunderstanding of your specific site layout. How will your access keypads andsirens interact with the door activity? Will your door activity reach thesecurity panel by wires or radio signals? What path will the signal travel andwhat obstacles must be overcome?

Every door-security vendor has its preferred solution, but they all agree onone thing: They want to see your site plans so an appropriate security solutioncan be prepared. "The first step is to make sure all of your drawings areaccurate and all conduit requirements are in place," says Franklin Young,vice president of business development for PTI Access Controls in Scottsdale,Ariz. "Taking care of your site preparation from the beginning will ensureyou the greatest cost savings."

"Avoid hidden costs by asking about your security vendor," advisesJohn Fogg, general sales manager for Denver-based Sentinel Systems Corp."Do they include every part needed for installation? Do they offer qualityinstallation, clear documentation and knowledgeable support staff? Do theymanufacture their own boards and use waterproof enclosures? How long have theybeen making their products?"

According to Tony Gardner, lead security installer for QuikStor, "Yoursecurity vendor can run a comprehensive analysis to determine the properplacement and quantity for its equipment. Expect to see a timely quote withcompetitive pricing and very flexible options. The promised installation needsto be fast and simple, without disrupting your tenants or cutting pavement.Don't become an experiment. Your model/version of door alarms should have aproven track record at hundreds of sites."

"Look for a system designed to operate within the self-storageenvironment and made from scratch," suggests Steve Cooper, marketingdirector for Digitech International Inc. "It must be tamper-proof againstmagnetic force, entry into the unit or wall removal. Product installation andservicing are the most expensive part of your security system. Your main ongoingcosts are from maintaining the door contacts."


Thefewer the parts, the simpler the installation and the lower your maintenancecosts. The required parts must be matched to the construction and usage patternsunique to your facility. A one-size-fits-all mentality will not serve anyone'sbest interests. The same is true of how you promote your security. Your securityvendor should be able to clearly explain the system benefits so you can passthis information on to prospective customers.

While Fogg suggests using the Yellow Pages to promote your security features,Young ads that even before your facility is open, "You want to establish astrong security presence based on the competition in your area. Your securityvendor will help you from a competitive marketing point of view."

You will likely spend between $40 and $100 per unit for your door security,so make your money count. "Unit security isn't just an expense,"explains Quikstor's Gardner. "It can also be a thriving source of income.These door alarms can be rented individually to the tenants who value thisservice. Your rental rates remain competitive while you purchase only thesecurity you currently need. This marketing method has proven itself to be anamazing money maker."

But not all vendors agree this is the best approach. Fogg recommends alarmingevery unit and then raising rental rates across the board, not just charging apremium to those tenants who choose the security option. "By using a wiredsystem, you avoid the need for installing and changing batteries in yourequipment," he says.

Wired vs. Wireless

Theinitial cost of installing door security will depend on how much of yourfacility already exists. If your site only exists on paper, then you have theadvantage of running conduit during construction. If this conduit is properlyplanned, you will avoid costly change orders and licensing delays. If your sitealready exists or is difficult to wire, then wireless is an easy andcost-effective solution.

Wired door security has been around for decades. "Wiring is often donein darkened areas," says Darrell Hoblack, president of Demco Electronics."You can save time by ordering your unit wiring in pre-cut lengths withpre-installed connector plugs. Be sure to leave a few wire pairs free for addingfuture features like beams or motion detectors."

Wiring technology has advanced dramatically. Some electrical codes requireplenum-coated wiring to reduce the generation of poisonous gas during a fire. Ifyou live in areas prone to rats or lightning, you can buy specialized wires thatoffer environmental protection. Be sure to check your local code requirements tosee if you will need special permits to wire a low-voltage security system.

"Wiring units can mean a tangle of wires leading to each doorcontact," Young points out. "A system that uses one wire as a sharedcommon will reduce wiring confusion and cut wire costs in half. It also makestrouble-shooting much easier. By using contact leads exceeding 2 feet, you canalso reduce the number of connections and potential failure points," hesays.

According to Dan Webster, president of Wham Systems, "A matrix wiringscheme will dramatically reduce the amount of wiring required. Thisconfiguration lets a single wiring cable protect more than 500 doors."Digitech's Cooper adds, "Matrix wiring means fewer paths for staticelectricity to travel. Using a single common for a wired system is less securebecause a single wire break can disrupt many units at one time. Wireless is theproduct of the future for both existing and new construction. It is less proneto losing blocks of units from a failing wire."

Wireless technology comes in two varieties. Narrow-band systems are bestsuited for compact facilities with metal storage doors. Narrow band uses themetal surfaces as mirrors to enhance the range of the entire system. Repeatersare used to further increase area coverage. Each repeater will require nothingmore than a nearby wall outlet for its power. The primary benefit to narrow-bandsystems is their extremely long battery life, with some designs exceeding 20years.

Systems with a 900-Mhz spread spectrum work best in wood and/or cementfacilities where sheer force is required to reliably pass the message from adoor contact back to the management office. They are also suitable for expansivesingle-story sites that have limited access to electrical outlets. The trade-offis battery life, which is about seven years. Replacement batteries cost about $5plus a few minutes of labor. Security vendors that offer both wirelesstechnologies will help you evaluate which solution is correct for your facility.

"The security system must remain fully operational during adversecircumstances," says Gardner. "If repeaters are required, they mustinclude their own anti-tamper protection plus battery backup that can survivepower outages over 18 hours." Wham's Webster adds that the use of wirelessdoor alarms should be transparent to the user and be safely enclosed in awaterproof casing.

How They Work

"Some wireless sensors can be installed outside of the storage doorwithin a few minutes," explains Gardner. "These units are installedwithout ever requiring access into the storage unit. Because these sensors fitsecurely on the door frame, they can't be knocked out of alignment by carelesstenants. Each wireless door sensor acts as a visual crime deterrent, and a clearindication of your facility's level of protection. I have seen sites thatsuffered from perpetual break-ins become crime-free after theinstallation."

Door alarms work on a simple concept: When the storage door is opened, amagnet on that door is moved away from the security contact switch. These doorsare made of thin metal that is frequently being slammed and bumped by busytenants. Both wired and wireless door-security systems use a wide gap-magnetsolution to compensate for potential door wiggle and misalignment. A 2-inch to2.5-inch contact-to-magnet gap has become the industry standard.

"One solution is to embed the alarm contacts into the floor of the unitdirectly beneath the door," says Mike Skrentny, president of MSTC (MysticSystems Technology Corp.). "Another solution is to use a switch that reactsupon door locking." These methods eliminate the effects of door play, butcan be expensive to install.

Some problems do not show up until years after the installation. A small bendin the contact's mounting bracket can dramatically reduce the magnet gap you canrely on. Door contacts molded into a single-piece mounting assembly, andcontacts that don't require any mounting brackets at all, provide the mostreliable long-term protection from false alarms and expensive maintenance calls.

Sometimes extreme circumstances, such as violent winds, will cause the doorcontacts to briefly trip. The intelligence within your security controllerdetermines how the sirens and phone dialers will respond. A system withself-learning logic will detect sensors with a history of"trigger-happy" behavior and place less credibility on momentaryevents that occur with those units. The controller will then recommend a servicecall.

"PC-based security controllers offer the widest range of features,servicing simplicity and real-time self-diagnostics," says Webster. Gardneradds, "PC-based controllers allow facilities to customize cause-and-effectactions for almost any type or group of events. An alarm on the second floor maybe set to only sound the siren on that floor. A group of units covered by aspecific video camera can begin digital video recording when one of those unitsgoes into alarm."

Site Map or Graphics

All versions of security controllers accommodate a powerful marketing toolcalled "site graphics" or a "site map." These systems"show off" your security using a large colorful screen display of yourfacility you can strategically place in your front office for customers to see.The displayed color of each unit reflects its current status and the presence ofthat unit's tenant. The quality and size of this display is directly related tothe size of monitor or television used.

The electronic site map is seen as a natural extension of your door-alarmsecurity. It brings together all the elements of your access and door controlinto a dazzling visual report. Another display method is to have a large framedpicture showing an overhead view of the entire site. "Small lights areinserted into the picture at each unit," says Hoblack. "This providesa clear indicator of tenant access activity without relying on a second computermonitor."

Individual door alarms provide many ways of increasing revenue and securityas well as a marketing advantage. But most important, your system should bereliable. "If you want the best reliability, choose a company with a long-established record that offers software and security in a fully integratedpackage," Fogg recommends.

A well-planned door-alarm security solution will bring you years ofeconomical and reliable performance. Your system must be scalable and grow withyour business needs. If planned wisely, security becomes a powerful asset toyour overall marketing strategy. When it comes to security, individual dooralarms are your best return on investment.

Douglas Carner is a senior vice president at QuikStor, a security andsoftware company that has installed more than 100,000 wireless door alarms andaccess keypads since 1987. For more information, visit

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