Max Vallotton thought he’d done everything right to keep criminals away from Gate 5 Self Storage, the storage facility he owns in Hephzibah, GA. Gate 5 has a fence, security cameras and a locked gate with limited-access hours. Yet thieves still cut a hole in the fence and ransacked 18 units in January.
Local TV stations reported the crime as one more incident in a string of break-ins that hit other nearby storage facilities. Gate 5’s surveillance system caught part of the crime—that is, until the crooks disabled the cameras.
“You can add more cameras, more lighting, more fencing,” Vallotton said. “The crooks will find any method they can to break in.”
MiniCo Insurance Agency’s 2013 Self Storage Almanac noted that 8.9 percent of U.S. facilities surveyed had reported break-ins or thefts in 2012; the 2014 almanac did not include such figures. Of those that reported break-ins or thefts in 2012, the average number of incidents per facility was 2.2.
Is your facility prepared to deal with a break-in? Here are five guidelines for coping with any fallout and a few steps you can take to discourage crime.
1. Follow Policies Already in Place.
Call the police after a break-in happens, and notify tenants whose units were burglarized. It’s Gate 5’s policy to send emails to customers whose units were broken into.
“They come by, and we give them an incident report and phone numbers for the insurance claim. They fill out the incident report even if nothing was taken,” Vallotton said.
His managers walk the rows of units and touch the lock on every unit after any break-in to ensure there’s an accurate count of the affected units.
A burglarized tenant also should file his or her own police report, said Mel Holsinger, owner of Professional Storage Management in Tucson, AZ, which manages 52 self-storage facilities in five states. Make sure customers understand when they rent from you that your facility does not insure a unit’s contents.
“In most states, customers are responsible for the safety of their contents. We highly encourage customers to acquire insurance,” Holsinger said.
2. Consult With Investigators.
Law enforcement officers can help determine whether a break-in was internal, such as by a tenant, or was external, said Timothy Zehring, a security consultant specializing in crime prevention at self-storage facilities. “Once you determine where the weakness is, you can take steps to avoid it happening again,” he said.
You may need to upgrade your fencing or install new cameras. Some crooks rent a unit to gain access to a facility, Zehring said, so watch tenants closely. If an elderly lady rented a unit a month ago but all you see now at that unit are young guys coming and going, that could be a red flag. Find out where your weaknesses are before—not after—a break-in.
3. Consider Notifying All Tenants.
One tenant whose unit was spared told Vallotton that he would rather have learned about the burglaries from management than the local news. Now, Vallotton is reconsidering his policy of informing only those tenants whose units were broken into.
“My previous thinking was, ‘You were not affected, so why alarm you?’” he said.
Some facility managers may deny that a break-in occurred. Others try to intimidate tenants into keeping quiet about burglarized units. If you inform all tenants that there’s been a break-in, you’re giving everyone the chance to be proactive and buy a better lock or insurance, Zehring said.
If customers ask whether your facility has had break-ins in the past, be honest. Remind them that just like any business, your facility is not immune to crime. Then explain the steps you’ve taken to beef up security and deter future problems.
4. Counter Negative Media Attention.
Holsinger’s facility managers don’t discuss break-ins with news reporters, he said. A quote can be taken out of context or an important clarification left out, he said, or a TV station can sensationalize a few self-storage unit burglaries into a “rash of break-ins” story that most viewers will believe.
If you must respond to bad press, do it in a way that combats negativity, Holsinger said. You don’t need to portray your facility as an impenetrable fortress. Just emphasize what security measures you have in place, such as gate access controls and security cameras. If you’ve got extra security measures in place at your facility, let everyone know that not all storage facilities offer the same level of security.
5. Collaborate With the Cops.
Team up with local law enforcement agencies for training, and post signs warning would-be crooks about this. Local police departments train officers at many of Holsinger’s facilities regarding an array of crimes that self-storage facilities might encounter.
Cops cruise by Vallotton’s facility more often since he requested extra patrols. Instead of idling in the parking lot of a shopping center, officers might park behind Gate 5’s fence to catch up on paperwork. Give the local police department your gate code so officers can patrol your grounds. At night, allow officers to come in and exercise their police dogs.
“It’s a good way to keep bad guys out, when they know the police could show up at any minute with police dogs,” Zehring said.