Broken Window Theory - Keeping your self storage safe

Crime prevention and security measures are a hot topic in the self storage industry.

Thanks to popular self storage TV shows,  everyone believes that every single storage unit holds outrageous treasures like first edition comic books or gold bars.

That is also the perception of people who might want to break into your facility. It is up to you to make sure your security is up to par. Customers choose their self storage unit based on security, location, and staff. Keeping your property safe and secure is crucial to running a successful self storage business.

Having had the opportunity to be involved in law enforcement before self storage, Rick Beal will share some thoughts and theories with you.

When he was a teenager growing up in a small town, there was an abandoned high school. Since there wasn’t much to do on the weekends, Rick and his friends would sneak in late at night to wreak the usual teenage havoc. This high school had been empty for years and had provided many embellished stories of ghosts and adolescent bravery. Since the statute of limitations for vandalism has expired, he will confess to his fair share of spray painting and breaking a few items here and there inside the school. Sorry, Mom. While the intention of telling this story is not to “come clean” but to introduce you to a concept called the "Broken Window" theory. In short, the Broken Window theory essentially states that if a broken window or graffiti on a building isn’t taken care of, the overall environment will continue to encourage more and more damage. In the illustration of the abandoned school, they went to that school because someone already had started the process. Someone else had broken the window first. They did not go to a new well-taken-care-of school and destroy it. We went to a place that nobody was taking care of.

The Broken Window theory can be applied to any aspect of your storage facility. For this article, we are going to look at four key measures of crime prevention.

1.  The first measure in crime prevention is keeping your self storage facility well-kept.

Regardless of the location or class of facility you operate, your facility can always look well- maintained. If someone sprays graffiti on a fence, think in terms of the first “broken window.” If it is not taken care of quickly, soon it will invite more damage and more criminal activity to your facility.

If your facility is trash free, weeded, clean, and has the appearance of a well ran facility, that might give enough hesitation into the mind of the person looking to break in.

Think like a bad guy. If you wanted to break into your facility, how would you do it? What corners of your facility need more lighting? Where are your security cameras? How are they placed in your facility? Where are your blind spots?

2. The second measure in crime prevention includes having the right security hardware and procedures.

Not only does it make good business sense to have working functional security features, but tremendously helps reduce security issues. Give your customers an option to purchase good quality locks. Criminals cutting locks with bolt cutters cause many break-ins at storage facilities. The smart ones replaced the padlocks, so a manager doing a walkthrough doesn’t realize the lock was replaced. Several vendors can help you with this. Take advantage and ask questions or contact us for a FREE one-hour consulting call about how to increase security and reduce risk at your self storage facility.

Having reasonable gate hours will limit criminal activity and increase safety and security at your self storage facility. Usually, people don’t need to access their items at 2 in the morning. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule; however, the vast majority of people don’t. You want to find the right balance between excellent customer service and top-notch security. You don’t want to limit your hours so much that it costs business, but having wide open hours could invite issues. Make exceptions when it makes sense but stick to reasonable hours otherwise.


3. The third measure in crime prevention is watching for red flags.

The vast majority of our customers are decent people. Unfortunately, most self storage owners have experienced those who are not. If you do an internet search for self storage and crime, you see everything from drugs, stolen goods, Timothy McVeigh, to the first World Trade Center bombers. The unfortunate part of our business is that people use our facilities for illegal activities. While it is impossible to keep every criminally inclined person out, we can do things that can help.

  • If your facility is in a high crime area, talk to your attorney about a crime free lease addendum. This addendum to your lease will go into detail about illegal activities.
  • When checking a customer’s ID, look for the state hologram. Additionally, squeeze the ID. Most fake IDs are lower quality than legitimate state-issued IDs. 
  • Ask for additional ID if you are suspicious.  
  • Talk to the customer. Ask them questions about what they are storing, why they need storage, where they are moving, and how long they need storage.
  • Criminally inclined people are not the best with paying bills on time. Follow lien laws quickly or evict them as soon as you can. Always follow your state laws and talk to your attorney before you proceed with an auction. 
  • When they are in the facility, go and talk with them. Find out their story. Get to know them.  Of course, use common sense and never put yourself in a risky situation. 

4. The fourth measure in crime prevention is to get to know your local law enforcement.

Often law enforcement is divided up into geographical areas, so there are specific police officers assigned to your area. Send them a thank you card or a note to let them know that you recognize them as an important part of the community. Have you ever seen a police officer parked in the back of a parking lot by themselves? A police officers car is like their mobile office. They use it to eat, make calls, write reports, and do whatever they need to do during their shift. They choose their parking spot so they can be aware of their surroundings and be safe at the same time. I encourage you to get to know your area officer and offer them a 24-hour access code to your facility. That would accomplish two things:

1.  It would be an excellent place for them to do their tasks safely.

2.  It would be great for you to have a police car parked in your facility at 1 AM!

On a side note,  leave the capture of criminals to the people in masks or badges. You are not in the business of fighting crime, and you are not trained to do so. Many of the activities that you can do to help curtail crime at your facility go hand in hand with excellent customer service. Focus on making your self storage facility as safe and secure as possible, and you will also be performing your civic duty.

Atomic Manager Challenge: Make a goal to get out of the office and talk to a certain amount of customers in your facility every day. If you have ones that you are worried about, make sure to give them extra customer service! You have the power to make a difference in your facility. You are the person people come in contact with every day.


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