Assembling a Well-Layered Security System for Your Self-Storage Property

There are security components every self-storage facility must have, plus optional ones that can further enhance your overall system. Combined, these tools can deter criminals while satisfying customer expectations.

There are many reasons why security is necessary at a self-storage facility. First and foremost, it’s expected by customers and increases marketability. People are willing to pay more for a place where their possessions will be safe. If your facility doesn’t feel secure, they’ll go to your competitors.

There are many self-storage security components available today to deter and capture criminals. Your system is likely comprised of layers, with “must haves” forming the foundation and some extras on top. The more layers you have, the more you can charge for storage in your market. Let’s learn about the basic tools you can’t do without plus some that can further enhance your overall system.

The Basics

Whether new or established, every self-storage property should aim to include the following essential security components:

Perimeter fencing is a facility’s first line of defense. It’s a visual deterrent that makes would-be criminals think twice about entering your property. It also takes time to penetrate and provides an opportunity to catch someone attempting a break-in. The stronger a fence is, the more of a preventive it’ll be. Fences come in many materials and sizes, but a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence with razor wire at the top is pretty basic.

Good lighting is a must for self-storage, as criminals like to work in the shadows. Your facility’s exterior should be well-lit when it’s dark, if not always on. You can even choose lighting that’s activated by motion.

Access control includes your facility keypads and automatic gate. These allow you to control entry and egress. They also provide a record of who comes and goes, and how long they’re on site. It’s important that you assign an individual code to anyone who accesses the facility so you can identify who’s on the property and when. It also allows you to disable a code if the customer becomes delinquent or moves out.

Video cameras are expected by any discerning customer. Most everyone is accustomed to surveillance these days, and they expect their valuables to have this protection. Not every unit needs to be covered, but cameras should be placed at facility entrances and main aisles. The goal is to capture clear video of people and vehicles as they move around the property. Positioning a camera near the gate can capture license plates, while a hallway camera can offer a close-up of people in the building. Camera systems offer numerous options, and a professional security designer can help you lay out a plan for ideal coverage.

An office-intrusion system completes a basic system. This protects everything in the office, including people, computers, retail items and other important equipment. If someone tries to break in, an alarm will sound. You can also tie your fire-exit doors to this system and monitor it all together.

A typical intrusion system includes a control panel (the keypad near the office door), door and window contacts, a siren, and a motion detector. More sensors can be added as needed. A good intrusion panel should be able to connect to at least a dozen devices. Systems are available with the connections hard-wired, wireless or a combination of both.

The Extras

Beyond the elements mentioned above, there are many additional options to help protect your site. These can be layered on as extra security.

Access-control systems can come with many enhancements. For example, adding a pinhole camera to your keypads provides close-up video of people entering and existing the site. Another option is an intercom system, which allows you to talk to people at the keypad, even if you aren’t on site. This two-way communication can help improve the customer experience.

Individual-door alarms are another option. They’re mostly hard-wired, but wireless is becoming more popular, especially for retrofit projects. Any hard-wired system should be installed during facility construction. There are many accessories that can be linked to an individual door-alarm system, too. Connecting a siren and flashing light can draw attention and scare off criminals. Some companies even offer alarm monitoring.

Unit alarms work in several ways. Some disarm the door when the customer uses his code at the entry keypad. Some are disarmed at the unit itself. It’s typical that the re-arm can be set on a timer to activate when the door is closed or when the customer uses a keypad to exit the facility.

A good way to beef up your perimeter is to run motion sensors along the fence. If someone is trying to climb over the fence, the system will notify you. These can often be connected to your office-intrusion system as a zone. They’re typically used in high-crime areas.

Photo beams can also be tied to your office-intrusion system. You’ll set up a beam between two points. Once the points are aligned, they’ll notify you if there’s any interruption between them. They’re often used along fences to detect intruders. You’ll only want to use these in areas that don’t get a lot of interference. For example, if an animal cross the beam or brush blows into it during a storm, it’ll set off the alarm.

Your office-intrusion system can be improved in other ways as well. A glass-break component will detect the sound of a window being broken and set off the alarm. Panic buttons can be installed so employees only have to push a button when they feel threatened. Portable panic buttons are also available. You can also set up electric door strikes on the office door so locking them can be done with the push of a button.

The Plan

When designing a security system for a new storage facility or upgrading an existing one, it’s worth consulting a professional. A lot of security providers will create a plan, including a quote and drawing, at no cost. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, there are a few things you can do to ensure you get the layered security you need.

First, research the companies that provide security to the industry and get references. Make sure any warranty will last and cover any issues that might arise. Find out what costs will be incurred for problems after the warranty expires.

If you know other storage owners, ask what products and vendors they use and why. They may use a huge, nationwide company just to keep their facilities uniform, or a local dealer. Ask how they’ve been treated when something goes wrong. Would they change suppliers if the cost wasn’t prohibitive?

In new construction, do as much planning as you can in the beginning. If you need to put anything off, try to plan for a later-phase install that’ll simply plug into the system you already have. For example, you may want to start with a 16-camera system, but you anticipate adding more later. It’ll cost less in the long run if you purchase a 32-channel network video recorder (NVR) now as opposed to a 16-channel one. When you add more cameras, you can plug them into the open spots.

Think twice about purchasing a camera system from your local big-box store. These products aren’t commercial quality and often end up needing to be replaced within a year. The re-install is usually more difficult as now the facility is occupied, and the cost of the original system is a complete loss.

You’ll always want your camera system to store about a month’s worth of footage, as customers visit their units infrequently. If there’s a break-in, it may be a weeks or even months before a tenant discovers a problem. Most NVRs can be set to record on motion or continuous, so your settings and activity levels will determine how much memory you need.

Finally, battery-powered cameras are never a good idea for commercial use. It’s just a matter of time before they lose power. There are so many options to power a camera and even send the signal back wirelessly.

Security is necessary for protecting your self-storage asset, and it’s expected by your customers. The safer they feel, the longer they’ll stay; plus, they’ll spread the good word about your business. So, create a strong foundation with a basic system and layer on the rest! The more layers you add, the safer and more profitable your facility will be.

Paula Swanson is the sales and marketing director for Stor-Guard LLC, which specializes in security for the self-storage industry. She’s provided security consults on numerous multi-million-dollar facilities and specified equipment for thousands of access-control and CCTV systems. For more information, call 800.651.3129; e-mail; visit Stor Guard.