Self-storage facility owners and operators are not, strictly speaking, in the security business. In most cases, taking reasonable steps to ensure your facility is secure, such as installing an internal lock in the door of each of your facility’s storage units, satisfies the obligations you have to keep your customers’ belongings secure.

Yet it’s important to highlight that your customers care about their valuables, and they want to ensure that their personal effects are safe and secure in your facility. This means that adopting security measures that go above and beyond your base responsibility as a facility operator are practically a requirement. Internal door locks, in this context, are simply put, insufficient to provide peace of mind to your customers; you need to incorporate external locks into your facility, both as optional features of your individual unit doors themselves and on all your major entrances, if you want to put your customers’ minds at ease.

A Primer on Lock Security

Not all locks are created equal. If you’re going to be increasing the overall security of your facility, you need to expand your knowledge of the types of locks that are commercially available and how they function.

There are a number of common locks, including:

  • Cylinder locks – most commonly found in residential settings, and the least secure. These are often internal components of a given door. 
  • Padlocks – the typical “Master Lock”, with a key and a U-shaped shackle meant to be threaded through a latching hasp on the external side of a door, easily bypassed with a pair of bolt cutters or a bump key.
  • Combination locks – similar to padlocks, but with a combination dial instead of a keyhole, and shares many disadvantages with standard padlocks. 
  • Disc locks – these circular locks are designed to fit an external hasp and feature a shrouded shackle and a hard-to-bypass keyhole to stymie would-be thieves. 
  • Electronic locks – rarely on units themselves, these highly tamper-resistant locks are usually on doors or gates that lead to the interior of the facility as a whole. 

Cylinder Locks

The most common type of built-in security for self-storage unit doors is the cylinder lock, which is essentially identical to the types of locks you typically see on residential properties — and plenty of commercial properties that are converted residences. While these types of locks are ideal aesthetically because they can sit flush with a door and take up little in the way of room, these types of locks are, unfortunately, some of the least secure.

Cylinder locks are in fact quite easily defeated. The typical cylinder lock that is often inlaid in a doorknob, for example, truly can be bypassed with a strong enough piece of slim plastic — hence the old trope of such types of locks being picked with a simple credit card. Deadbolt cylinder locks are, of course, much more resilient, and they do serve as a median standard of security for residences and commercial establishments, but these types of cylinder locks are also susceptible to the dreaded bump key, the bane of self-storage owners and operators everywhere.

Bump Keys – The Bane of Cylinder Locks

Bumping a cylinder lock is relatively quick and easy because of the construction of the majority of cylinder locks, as they rely on standardized pin tumbler keyways. Similar to how skeleton keys can be used in a set series of locks due to its construction, bump keys work along the same lines by being generic enough to jostle the pins of a standard cylinder lock with a simple tap with a hammer — a “bump”.

Unfortunately, bump keys are incredibly easy to find. As these tools are used by locksmiths and law enforcement officers, they are commercially available over the internet from a variety of sources, and while there are state and federal regulations on who can or cannot purchase a set of bump keys for themselves, enforcement is difficult. This makes them the tool of choice not just for legitimate users but for those who want to gain unlawful access to your self-storage facility.

In fact, bump keys have become such a problem in the field of personal security that the industry has responded accordingly. While there are a few brands of residential cylinder locks that incorporate bump-resistant technologies, it is much less common to find cylinder locks that offer tamper resistance in this manner and that can be integrated into the standard latch of a self-service unit. Options that do exist are often not cost-effective, especially for high-volume facilities.

Padlocks and Other External Locks

Locking hasps, meanwhile, provide a much more cost-effective option for providing better security to your self-storage customers. This is because any number of different self-contained and portable locks can be used in conjunction with a locking hasp integrated into a storage unit’s door. In fact, the number of locks that can be used in this manner is exhaustive.

However, even though there is any number of external locks that customers can use, there are only a few that offer the highest in security. The old mainstay of the padlock is, unfortunately, easily defeated, either because of its simplistic pin and tumbler system. Even combination padlocks, which are obviously much more difficult to bypass using traditional cracking methods, are highly susceptible because the shackle on a typical padlock, regardless of whether it’s a pin-and-tumbler lock or a combination lock, can be snipped with a pair of bolt cutters, rendering these types of lock completely useless.

However, the type of lock with the best success rate in resisting picking or bypassing is still an external lock. The disc lock features a shape that makes it extremely difficult for a thief or burglar to use a pair of bolt-cutters on the lock’s shackle, thus defeating the usual brute-force approach usually taken when attempting break-ins of self-storage units. Disc locks can be susceptible to bump keys, however, which makes it important to ensure that any disc lock used to secure a self-storage facility needs to be designed using an alternative to the pin and tumbler keyhole.

Electronic Locks: the Ultimate in Storage Facility Security

The ultimate in storage facility security, however, involves taking steps well beyond the external lock on the hasp of an individual unit’s door. Securing your self-storage facility by ensuring all external gates and doors are secured by locks that are resistant to tampering is crucial; the most effective method for doing so is to ensure these external entrances are fitted with electronic locks that don’t even have keyholes to breach, as this increases overall facility security by a wide margin.

Electronic locks eliminate unauthorized access by removing the typical weak point of a physical lock and key and replaces them with keypads or even magnetic swipe cards. Time and energy necessary to target an individual customer to learn their specific keycode — or abscond with their magcard — is unreasonably high and will stop would-be thieves in their tracks. In this way it matters much less what type of external lock your customers decide to use, or even what type of run-of-the-mill cylinder lock is integrated into the doors of your storage units, though enhanced security is, of course, always a good idea.

The Final Word on Site Security

It’s important to provide at least some rudimentary education to your customers when it comes to the types of locks that can be used to secure their rented storage units. While providing appropriately secure external locks to each and every one of your customers may not be a feasible option for your own self-storage operation, providing information to your customers is a value-added service that will not only increase positive customer experiences but may also prevent a costly break-in.

The most effective method for securing your facility for your consumers, however, need not be as expensive as providing them with the highest-quality bump-resistant disc locks for their individual storage units. Transitioning to an electronic lock system on all outer doors and gates means that you will only need to secure a relatively small number of entrances. Additionally, you may be able to provide even higher levels of service to your customers, as many cutting-edge electronic lock systems created specifically for self-storage facilities integrate mobile apps that provide additional keyless entry.

These systems are a clear stand-out from the crowd, as they do not require users to memorize keycodes or fumble with magcards. Instead, users are provided heightened convenience through their mobile device as well as the heightened security of a keyless system that can’t be bypassed by traditional methods. If you’re interested in how an electronic keyless entry system on your facility’s external door locks can benefit you and your customers, be sure to visit PTI Security today.