By Steve Cooper
So, you have identified a piece of property and have determined that its highest and best use likely points to the development of a self-storage store. Feasibility studies show positive trends in the neighborhood and your bankers like the prospects. Even before the planning commission and zoning board have stamped their approval on your plan, you have the itch to start scratching the dirt.
Stop. Think. Plan. A successful self-storage venture must strike a balance between maximizing the use of the square footage available and providing easy, convenient usage for the eventual tenants. Design now for prospect interest and customer service. Plan ahead for the infrastructure that will result in your ability to show off a Class A property, know that your customers will find your property easy to use, and that you will have proper and adequate property protection. Make sure you have a security page in your design plan.
You probably know the acronym AHJ. If not, you will before you finish your construction project. The Authority Having Jurisdiction may have much to say about features and aspects of the details. A planner may specify requirements based on a building code. The fire marshal may demand a gate opening of a particular length or type. The time to discover the requirements and make provisions for the systems you plan to install is while your plan is still on paper. There may be changes made as your construction progresses, but unplanned additions can be quite expensive.
The key word is now. Plan now for the electrical supply wiring for all your low voltage security systems, conduit and raceways for camera and alarm connections, concrete standards and pylons for gates and gate operators, and equipment closets and cabinets to house the electronics that drive your security package.
Your security vendor will supply the specifications. In your planning conversations, be ready to pass along any requirements that you have become aware of, as well as your ideas on how you want each tenant to use your property. How they access different parts of your property can and should be planned. Those ideas translate directly to your construction and security plan.
It may help you visualize the construction requirements for your entire security and on-site communications system by breaking it into separate subsystems. Each will need consideration for power, data flow, and physical installation.
An owner in Georgia, trying to help a friend who has just started construction on a 500-unit drive-up facility says, I told him where to put the gate, but he had his own idea. Hes not going to get eighteen-wheelers in and out of there without knocking the gate down once or twice a year. Access control will play a large part in your day-to-day operations. You need to know you have control over the access to your property and easy traffic flow that protects your improvements. Properly planned, you will have plenty of room for access at a gate area, ample turn areas, and driveways made to accommodate easy entry and exit.
Some pieces of property lend themselves to easy access with a single gate and a straight shot in and out, so that no turning radius needs to be considered. Some sites must be configured for one-way traffic and multiple gates, like one store in Texas where the planning department requires entry from one street and exit to a back street. Wherever they need to be placed, each gate operator will need power and it will require a wire for data to vend the gate signal. Each keypad or other entry device will need conduit to the gate operator location or the main office. Each of the devices will need its own concrete pad as a foundation.
Climate controlled buildings present their own challenges. Your AHJ may tell you how many and what type elevators you must have in you r multi-story buildings, even if it is just two stories. You may want to control access to the elevator itself, or determine by valid code numbers the various floors designated for each tenant. If the controlling keypad is in the cab, plan ahead. The interconnection requires coordination between your security and elevator vendors.
Rollup doors at loading dock areas or for drive-through facilities will greatly enhance your appeal for some prospects, especially commercial customers. How the doors are controlled by code or card entry systems, how long they remain open, and whether or not they have alarm notification should be part of the construction plan.
Speaking of alarms, they may very well be the feature that helps your property stand above your local competition. Individual unit door alarms may be hard-wired or wireless. Either way, youll be looking at similar requirements. Youll need power and data connections, as well as a convenient place to locate the components of the alarm control and communication system.
You may choose to use your unit alarm components to double as lighting controls for each unit. Manufacturers of the contact switches now provide the capability, but that choice must be planned so that the security vendor and electrician can coordinate the wiring and dedicated circuits for the lighting contactors.
Your AHJ may require termination of your alarm notifications at a monitoring facility or the local police station. They may not allow an external siren because of community or neighborhood considerations. Each of those determinations will have an effect on your security plan, which in turn will translate to your construction plan.
Closed Circuit Television, CCTV, has proved it self in acting as a deterrent to crime and vandalism in virtually all locations. Especially with the sophistication, reliability, and functionality of the current generation of digital video recorders, video surveillance becomes a powerful weapon in your battle to protect your property and provide outstanding customer service. Each camera must be powered from a plug-in power supply within a few yards of the location or from a central power supply in the equipment room. For long distance runs over about 800 feet, a larger coaxial cable may be required, chewing up more conduit space. For even longer runs, some owners are opting for other technologies like twisted pair wiring or more expensive fiber optic backbones through the property. Inside structures, your requirement may call for plenum-rated wire.
Camera locations should be selected carefully to help provide evidence that will limit owners liability as much as possible. As the owner, you want to know you have protection for your investment. Watching traffic areas where vehicles will be entering, turning, and parking should be included. Having an electronic eye on building entrances, elevator lobbies, and loading areas will help you manage your property and provide excellent customer service.
If you make a refuse container available to your tenants or the public, you probably want to have an evidentiary record of what goes in it. With disposal restrictions that now exist in most jurisdictions, you may need to prove the reason you are sending a surcharge bill to a customer that left you with unwanted items.
Perimeter areas can be the most difficult to cover with adequate camera coverage because of the distances of the various views and the conduit distance from the front office. However, if you have a particularly vulnerable area, you will want to have the coverage. The requirements for conduit and power will be considerations in your overall planning.
Sound Systems and Intercoms
An enclosed maze of metal walls, the environment in many modern self-storage facilities intimidates some customers. Music soothes the nerves and softens the atmosphere with a bit of ambience. Each speaker in the system wires in a daisy chain for each floor or zone back to a centrally located amplifier. Generally speaking, that is a free run without conduit, but may require pre-planned transit locations through firewalls. The value of being able to provide the music background and proprietary promotional announcements over your PA system makes the effort and planning worthwhile. Your customers will appreciate it.
Your busy management staff needs all the assistance possible. A comprehensive plan for two-way communications helps. From a keypad or card reader location, from each elevator lobby, and from well-located call stations throughout your property, customers like to know they can press an intercom call button and speak to someone. Systems even exist that integrate the two-way calls to your office telephone for handling there or for forwarding to another location or call center. Wire connections make the communication possible. The wiring needs to show on your construction prints along with all your other planned amenities.
Your project plan has specifications. You have completed the estimates. You have assigned the task. Now comes the fun part that construction project managers enjoy the mostscheduling. If you have been fortunate enough to surround yourself with competent, quality vendors, and you have a comprehensive set of plans that shows where everything should go, how each conduit line should be finished off to accept equipment, and have all the possibilities labeled well, you have a shot at a smooth installation sequence.
Coordination and communication make things go smoothly. Otherwise, you may be like a friend who says, I planned for more conduit than anyone would ever need from building to building. It must have been too much, or we didnt get it labeled well. The electrician put high power into the low power conduits. The security guy used three different pipes instead of running all the camera coax in one, the way he was supposed to. Now, weve got no room to pull more wire and we still have three buildings to add on.
Fortunately, there are wireless devices available that will help to overcome most of those problems. Unfortunately, because of having to make the changes necessary, the project expense is climbing.
Stop. Think. Plan. Theres no reason you cant have a top-notch storage location that meets your prospective tenants expectations. You have the obligation to protect your property for their use and your peace of mind. Add the comprehensive scope of security tools to your overall construction plan at the outset. A page for security deserves its place in your set of site prints.
About the Author: Steve Cooper is part of the marketing team at Digitech International Inc., which produces comprehensive security solutions for various applications. Cooper can be reached at 800.523.9504 or visit Digitech at