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October 1, 2002

4 Min Read
When the Alarm Sounds

WHO WILL ARRIVE TO RESCUE YOUR SITE WHEN THIEVES BEGIN TO BREAK INTO STORAGE UNITS? What evidence can your security system provide for police detectives and insurance investigators? Can your security system defend your site and stop the criminal?

A classic cliché states a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This is especially true when it comes to securing your business. What thieves lack in morals, they replace with street smarts and an intuition for exploiting opportunity. Hidden sections of your perimeter fence and burnt-out flood lights provide an invitation to test the limits of your site's security.

In past columns, I have covered methods to strengthen a site's security. However, even the most impenetrable perimeter can't stop the "inside job": a tenant who rents a storage unit for the sole purpose of cutting the locks on neighboring units. The thief moves the stolen items into his unit and replaces the cut locks with ones of his own. Fencing and security dogs can't stop this type of crime, but you can catch the thief in the act and automatically summon help.

The best prevention is to install a door alarm on every unit. Any attempt to open an unauthorized unit activates the site's alarm response. The problem is, the typical alarm response is severely inadequate. By default, security systems are preconfigured to sound a single siren. Any thief can silence that siren by cutting the connecting wires or filling the cone with foam sealant. After that, his burglary can occur without notice. Even an on-site manager may be too far away to hear the thief's activities.

Newer alarm controllers boast of artificial intelligence that can modify the alarm response to match the alarm event. However, many of these systems fall short of their "intelligence" claim. For example, a break-in on the second floor of a climate-controlled building should also disable the elevator call button on that floor. Forcing a thief to take the stairs dramatically reduces what he can carry and which escape route he can use. Furthermore, the site's alarm controller should instruct every surveillance camera to record at the highest quality and at the fastest frame rate. Most controllers cannot do this.

It is important to understand all alarm controllers are actually small computers. The features available are determined by the sophistication of the software programs they use. Some companies offer the minimal feature set on an imbedded computer chip. That may be fine for an apartment building, but it falls painfully short for the unique needs of self-storage. You need flexibility and years of maintenance-free service. The best alarm controllers include components to automatically detect and repair issues before they can disrupt your security.

Once you have decided which alarm controllers offer the best quality, it is time to determine the features that match your business needs. The decision of which alarm response to use is determined by which door event just occurred. For example, there is no benefit to activating all of your interior hallway lighting as a reaction to an exterior unit being invaded. Furthermore, you may not want to sound the siren on floor two when something happens on floor one. A truly intelligent controller will allow you to customize the automatic response to match your needs on a per-door basis. For example:

1. Which sirens should sound? All, some, one, or is this a silent event?

2. Which lights should turn on? All, some or one?

3. Which doors, gates and elevators should become inoperative until the alarm event is over?

4. Which phone/pager dialers should activate their pre-arranged messages?

5. Can the system summon an armed response?

6. Which surveillance cameras should begin hyper-recording?

7. Which surveillance cameras should send real-time video to an off-site e-mail address and/or remote monitoring company?

8. What audio message should broadcast over your site's paging system?

9. Should your alarm system summon an armed response service?

10. What reaction should occur when a vacant unit or stairway door is opened?

Your security system needs to be stable and easy to use, and have the ability to expand with your future growth. Define which features you need today plus those you may want in the future. If one security vendor cannot satisfy your needs, thank them for their time and call the next company on your list.

Be aware the trade names and true usefulness of certain features can be quite confusing. There is no consumer agency that oversees the world of custom security controllers, and your neighboring storage sites can only recommend their personal security solutions. Your alarm controller is the brain of your entire site's security. It will define your tenant's security experience and should be the showcase of what is unique about your facility. That distinction can command higher occupancy and increased rental rates.

Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, video surveillance and call-center products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.quikstor.com.

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