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Door AlarmsThe hot new choice in security

June 1, 2000

6 Min Read
Door AlarmsThe hot new choice in security

Door Alarms

The hot new choice in security

By Steve Cooper

The bottom lineis the bottom line in any business. In today's self-storage environment, security sells.Building a safer and more secure facility from the ground up, or upgrading an older siteto better keep up with the competition, not only makes sense, but also adds revenue andprofit. Experience proves that what says, "You'll be secure here" to customersin the current marketplace is individual-unit door alarms.

General security is important. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)principles lay the foundation for a more secure facility, then the specific securitysystems add benefits for safety, better risk management and more thorough operationalcontrol. "Access control and surveillance systems play a major role in keeping anyestablishment safer, but the one single item that more customers pay attention to in youradvertising and in your facility is knowing there is specific protection for the unit theywill be renting," says Bill Hamilton, president of San Diego-based Price SelfStorage. "Individual-unit door alarms provide the protection our prospects andcustomers expect. They get real comfortable when they know the unit is alarmed."

Several security vendors serving self-storage have used a variety of approaches toprovide a secure solution for each unit. Dating back to the mid-1970s, some of theearliest attempts to adapt available alarm technology could have been more successful.Since that time, innovations in technology and improvements in installation-labor methodshave brought reliability and economy to the practice of alarming every door.

"If I were building my own facility, there's no question that I would put dooralarms on," says John Arsement, division manager with John E. Hall ElectricalContractors in Virginia Beach, Va. "Since we learned how to install them efficiently,we have installed more than 10,000 sets of door contacts. We're proud of our recordbecause the owners happily tell us that the systems are working well with no falsealarms." Arsement comments that in cases where alarms have not worked well, theinstallation itself is usually suspect. "Somebody didn't do something right, if theyhave a lot of false alarms. With today's generation of matrix wiring systems, the problemshouldn't be in the equipment from the major suppliers. We've worked with at least threeof the suppliers, and that gives us a basis of comparison."

The concept of arming a monitoring and alert device for each door is simple, but theengineering and execution can prove intimidating to most engineers, especially when thereare limits to the cost that self-storage operators are willing to absorb. "Thetraditional self-storage environment is just too harsh for a lot of electrical andelectronic systems," says Jon Loftin, vice president and systems engineer forDigitech International, a vendor of security systems designed especially for use inself-storage. "Components must be able to withstand and operate properly, regardlessof heat, cold, dust, rain, ice and anything else that nature throws at them. With thehardwired system we've been using the last few years, we were able to overcome all ofthat."

In addition to hardwired systems, a few companies have experimented with wirelessalarms, some with minimal success. According to Arsement, Loftin and others, the problemhas been in trying to adapt equipment designed for residential and light commercialapplications for use in the self-storage environment. "The difficulty has been tryingto take off-the-shelf parts and make them work for a use where they were not intended.I've tried similar equipment at my home that didn't perform that well, so I would neverexpect it to work at my facilities," says Hamilton.

According to Loftin, "The spread spectrum technology is a good idea, but most ofthe equipment we've all tried in the past is really about the same as what's used forgarage-door openers. It's subject to quite a bit of interference, but the main thing is,it's not designed to be used in or around an all-metal building. That's why we went allthe way to ground zero to engineer an all-new approach that does work. We went back tobasics and engineered a new device to meet all the specific demands we've encountered, theenvironmental factors, how to send and receive a radio signal when the transmitter issurrounded by nothing but metal, and how to easily retrofit an existing facility at acompetitive price."

Hardwired systems, though effective, can be labor intensive. "We useapprentice-type labor to pull all the wire and apply the contacts," says Arsement."Then we bring in the higher-priced technicians to do all the terminating andtesting. We have learned the hard way that doing it right the first time is the only way.Once the units are rented, having access to the unit to do repairs or testing makes ithard on everybody: the owner, the manager, and the customer."

According to owners, installers and vendors, the appeal for someone to present a viablewireless solution to the industry has been eliminating the need for working inside theunit and reducing both the amount of labor involved and the skill level of thetechnicians. According to Loftin, "We could have come to the market a long time agowith a solution using what's called high-security alarm contacts, but it was way tooexpensive. Now, we have a solution that will be price-competitive with our hardwiredsystem. Owners building new facilities will have a choice, and those with existingfacilities will have a new affordable option they've never really had before."

Regardless of the technology used, customers appreciate the assurance that the unitthey rent has the additional protection. "When I was in college," says WendyEarley, a typical storage customer, "I rented a locker for the summer in a place thatlooked nice and was well-fenced. Somebody apparently jumped the fence, even though therewas an automatic gate. My parents and I had to replace a microwave, a toaster oven andeverything else that seemed to have value. The next summer, we stored in a place that hadbetter alarms."

Arsement says, "Every door should be armed, even the vacant units. That way themanager knows, not only who is coming and going, but also whether or not they are actuallygoing to their unit. We've seen where tenants would come on site just to use thedumpster." He also mentioned that alarming the empties keeps them clean and ready toshow to prospects. "If even the vacant units are locked and alarmed, they're notavailable for people to throw trash into, or use as a place to relieve themselves, as wehave seen on occasion."

Crime-prevention experts talk about "hardening the target." According toRoger Austin, CPTED specialist with the Tempe, Ariz., police department, "Anythingyou can do to make it hard for a criminal to do his thing will help. We have instituted acrime-free program specifically for mini-storage. In the past three years since we startedthe program, we've seen a 50 percent drop in calls to storage facilities."

Each call saved is money in the bank. Industry surveys consistently showindividual-unit door alarms are the largest contributor to the feeling of securitycustomers enjoy. Surveys also show that alarms help justify premium rates in a competitivesituation. Owners and self-storage customers seem to agree. That makes individual-unitdoor alarms a win-win security solution.

Steve Cooper serves as marketing director for Digitech International Inc., asupplier of crime-proofing access-control and security systems manufactured especially forthe self-storage industry. For more information, call (800) 523-9504; www.digitech-intl.com.

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