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High-Tech Security for Storage: Self-Service, Innovation and Change

May 21, 2008

7 Min Read
High-Tech Security for Storage: Self-Service, Innovation and Change

About four years ago, we forecast the 10-year future of security in the self-storage industry. Less than halfway through, a few innovations have arrived on the fast track while others loom on the horizon. For the most part, the third-generation facilities coming out of the ground have more comprehensive and effective operations, and security and control systems than might have been expected.

Today’s Tech

Most developers still pursue the industry with traditional construction and operations methods. Security fundamentals don’t change, but the methods do. As we have noted before, advances in technology make it easier. The security industry definitely sees a trickle-down effect from the level of requirements and demands from military and government applications. Much of the acceleration in new and improved gadgetry is due to the concentration of upgrading virtually all security systems.

Many new inventions and adaptations find their way into more general usage as manufacturers gain from the increased volume and economies of scale that travel with the growth. Biometric devices may be a good example. In self-storage locations, fingerprint readers have been used primarily in high-security areas, like wine storage and art vaults. Capturing fingerprints is the reasonably simple level of gaining positive individual identification.

Fingerprint reading has yet to prove an exact science. The current generation readers prefer to live in an inside environment. The generation that is in development and testing now will be much more adaptable and effective. Look for improvements over the next few years. However, early adopters who plan for the current limitations have enjoyed the results with the fingerprint-reading devices.

The positive identification of tenants and prospects ranks high on the list with law enforcement agencies. In addition, owners have discovered that having better credentials on file makes it easier to find and communicate with tenants, especially those who fall behind in their rental payments. A system that gives better identification wins on both scores, resulting in better security and a better-run facility.

In the future, we expect to see some owners adopt the more sophisticated—and expensive—facial recognition devices, retinal scanners, hand and palm readers, and similar systems, all of which fall into that category called biometric devices. Not only has the technical capability improved, but also as acceptance filters through the Mil-Specs and GSA lists, there are more affordable elements available. For tomorrow’s facilities, the devices will ensure a more comprehensive system and more of a total solution.

Getting Connected

Convergence has been an industry buzzword for several years. The term describes the merging of different disciplines into a single solution or source. In particular it’s the combination of telephones, computers and connectivity. Here’s an example: In many parts of the country, the cable company serves to bring your TV signal, telephone service and Internet connection. As we move toward tomorrow’s solutions, convergence will set the foundation for other possibilities.

Even now, most of the more popular management software providers serving self-storage owners offer a "Web-based" application. Transporting information accurately and conveniently to multiple locations simultaneously streamlines corporate communications. Various decision-makers have the facts at their fingertips to move quickly. The possibilities will only grow as we go forward.

Our earlier forecast included an acceptance of a management-assist device that would help the dream of "space vending" become a reality. The combination of more versatile electronics, better information transport methods, and more intelligent user devices has proved itself in the installations of kiosks in facilities across the country.

Some see the capabilities of the machinery and electronics as a substitute for employees, especially in smaller facilities. Others see it as assistance to the management staff on duty and an automated attendant after hours. We mention it as part of the overall security package because the customer point of contact provides the opportunity to solidify the identification procedures for your firm. Even though it’s automated, the kiosk operations continue, or even enhance, the effectiveness of identifying prospects positively and thoroughly.

Levels of Security

Convergence leads to more integration, helping to fulfill the two roles that a well-planned security and risk management plan should cover. For the sake of discussion, asset protection and preservation comes at three different levels.

The basic systems should provide general property protection, controlling who has access to what portion of the facility and when. The access-control system provides excellent evidence through its record of user activity. Improvements will continue by making the management of the systems easier and the report information increasingly portable.

Moving up one level, displaying more concern for protecting the tenant’s property makes any facility more appealing to prospective tenants. They like feeling their goods are protected. Many owners have already adopted wireless individual unit alarms. Though wireless signals can be a bit unpredictable, the systems have proved effective in both small and large facilities, and improved signal communication will make the devices even more effective.

We can also expect wireless methodology to spread to other parts of the security package. The various keypads and readers will begin to sport wireless capabilities, which will be a boon to retrofit older facilities.

Also on the horizon (maybe wireless, maybe not), a more positive way to over-lock each unit automatically will help managers reach for ever more convenient management methods. Early experiments encourage further development and more viable integrated systems can’t be far behind.

In actual practice the use of automatic locking devices—already a possibility—raises a discussion of the issue of care, custody and control. Incorporating checks and balances in operational procedures, management practices, and language in the rental agreement describing the purpose and use of the automatic systems will preserve the foundational principle of "self-storage." Nevertheless, the element of controlling the door locks remotely helps to complete the positive security that will be available.

The dream of "space vending" that owners relish includes integrating even more electronics and controls that move the integrated security systems to their highest level. A fully integrated system will incorporate the latest innovations and improvements. Access control will be more thorough. Individual unit door alarms and automatic locks will free up management time and attention. Progressive gains in technology applied in the closed-circuit video industry will make coverage and remote viewing more affordable and prevalent.

Security camera technology changes as regularly as the seasons. Day-night cameras with infrared enhancement and automated light compensation are producing strikingly high-quality images. Digital video recorders process an endless stream of images, compress the data stream for more efficient storage on better hard drives, and have improved schemas for affordably transporting images over broadband connections. Continued improvements will further enhance capabilities for full convergence, resulting in better performance and full-time remote monitoring.

Tomorrow’s Facility

As the self-storage industry continues to evolve, especially with its newfound attention from the amazing growth it has seen, new opportunities will bring new demands. Along with that, regulatory compliance is more pervasive. Some jurisdictions are requiring better security systems as a condition in the approval process. Compliance also means keeping up with local, state and federal regulations and guidelines. A good example is in the mixed-use facilities that feature traditional storage spaces along with the operation of a marina. And, if it happens to be a seaside marina, the restrictions cover even more categories. Some jurisdictions have also adopted more stringent regulations for life-safety issues including gate systems.

On the way to tomorrow’s fully integrated self-service storage facility are incremental improvements in incorporating ancillary systems. Dovetailing into the total solution, controls and monitoring for lighting and HVAC systems will join others in providing an automated environment or a combination of systems that can be controlled remotely from virtually anywhere.

Most of the functional controls are already available and in use by progressive owners; more facilities will likely follow suit. Enhancements will arrive just in time to ensure that each owner can keep up with the competition and stay abreast of the demands for regulatory compliance.

High-security, self-service systems, remote operations and automation controls will continue to bring innovation and change. The fundamentals remain the same.

We watch. We respond. Access-control systems keep the bad guys out and let the good guys in. Alarm systems alert those responsible for the property when there’s a threat. Video surveillance systems help us keep an eye on things.

Tomorrow’s systems will do the same things, but they’ll do them better. Innovation will make it easier, or less expensive, or more convenient. Grab a handhold. It should be an interesting ride. 

Steve Cooper serves as part of the marketing and sales team at Digitech International, a Chamberlain Group Company, the home of security systems used to help tenants feel comfortable in thousands of locations around the world. For more information, call 800.523.9504; visit www.digitech-intl.com

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