The reception area at At-Your-Service welcomes people to the facility while also digitally recording traffic through cameras and onto a digital video recorder.
Mention the words "storage facility" and most people think of large, drab buildings with rooms and bins crammed with everything from furniture to income tax records. In many cases, that’s a pretty fair description.

But the At-Your-Service Self Storage and Business Park presents quite a different picture. Situated on 10 acres in scenic Bucks County, Pa., At-Your-Service includes two handsome two-story buildings configured to provide storage and office suites for individuals as well as small- to medium-size businesses.

Owner Joe Riggio explained that "We have indoor rental suites from 5 by 5 to 10 by 15 feet and outdoor suites from 5 by 5 to 10 by 20 feet. People use our climate-controlled suites to store and protect documents, photographs, legal papers, even x-rays and medical record. We can store RVs, boats and trailers. We also provide office suites, conference rooms and virtual office programs that enable small professionals to look like much bigger companies."

Security a top priority

Aware of the importance and worth of the materials stored and utilized at their facility, operators chose to install a high-tech digital video security system with technology usually reserved for high-risk facilities like banks and financial institutions. The high level of security becomes immediately apparent when stepping into the lobby of the main office, where visitors are greeted by a wall of eight Elmo (Plainview, N.Y.) ECM 2002 20-inch color monitors that announce the entire site is constantly under video surveillance.

"Security is our first priority," explained Riggio. "We go the whole nine yards to assure our customers that their valuables and property are safe with us at all times. We have digital video recorders, day/night cameras, access controlled areas and a range of other sophisticated devices that make this one of the most secure facilities of its kind. Before we installed the system that we presently have in place, we hired a security consultant to research and recommend products that would ultimately meet all of our requirements."

That consultant was Kevin Baisley, president of Techmark Design Associates of Brevard, N.C. He recommended a state-of-the-art digital video recorder (DVR) system to record activity taking place in the offices, storage facilities and surrounding areas. "It was important to convey to everyone coming to the facility that the entire site was under constant video surveillance," said Baisley. "The idea was to assure customers that their valuables would be safe at all times. At the same time, the system acts as a deterrent to anyone who would commit a crime on the premises because their actions would be recorded."

Digital video recording

Baisley explained that DVR systems are replacing analog VCRs because of the many advantages they have to offer over traditional videotape systems. "Digital video recorders deliver higher resolution images that are brighter, sharper, clearer and easier to identify. A big problem with videotape is that after it is used a few times, the image quality deteriorates to the point where it is useless when it comes to identifying individuals. Furthermore, videotape often runs out before it captures all of the sequence being monitored. Obviously, the recording is of little value if it does not provide a complete record of activity." He also explained that people often fail replace videotape cassettes when the tape becomes worn out or when it has reached the end, which renders the system useless.

DVR systems eliminate many of the problems associated with videotape. Modern hard drives are capable of storing many hours of digital video images. They continuously operate for long periods of time and can also be configured with motion detection devices that operate the cameras only when activity is detected in certain areas. There is no tape to replace, break, jam or deteriorate. Digitally stored images are also much easier to recover. Because there is no tape to rewind, the operator can quickly call up some or all of the images covering a specific time frame in seconds.

Remote observation and control

Many end users view networking capability as their primary reason for upgrading to DVR. This enables operators to log onto the system with a laptop or any computer on the network to observe security footage from any location. "Owners and operators can watch their premises from their homes if they want," Baisley added.

According to Riggio, the remote capability of the system will enable him to coordinate with his alarm company. "For example," he said, "if an access or fire alarm is triggered, I’ll be able to quickly check that location from my laptop. Each camera has a special designation which I can key in to view the location it is monitoring. I can also control the cameras with the laptop, to pan the area and zoom in or out when necessary."

The system that was installed at At-Your-Service includes two DLS-18 DVRs, approximately 30 cameras, and eight 20-inch color monitors. Each of the digital recorders is capable of operating up to 18 cameras, two more than multiplexers, which gives users the option of adding more cameras without the expense of an additional multiplexer.

"The interior corridors and suites are monitored by Elmo TND-4004 high-resolution mini-dome cameras that provide clear, color images even in low light. The low profile design of the mini-dome cameras makes them ideal for interior use in corridors, offices and storage areas," recalls Baisley. "We also installed Elmo TNC4614DN high-resolution day-night cameras that are used to oversee the areas surrounding the buildings at the site. These exterior cameras automatically adapt to ambient lighting conditions to provide clear, identifiable images day and night even in low light conditions." He went on to explain that in daylight, the cameras give sharp, accurate color images, automatically converting to black and white operation in very low light to give identifiable images, even in nearly total darkness. Another valuable feature is the automatic electronic shutter that makes it possible to capture fast-moving images.

The At-Your-Service facility also has a number of access controlled offices and climate controlled areas where audio communications systems have been installed. These systems allow security personnel to communicate with people wanting to gain entry to these areas. "Some access controlled areas are covered by both audio and visual security," Riggio explained. "Strategically positioned cameras let us see people who are trying to enter these areas while we communicate via the audio system."

Built-in motion detection

The DLS-18 DVR, which represents the heart of the system, also features built-in motion detection technology that operates the cameras and records only when there is movement in a particular area. "Everyone coming or going though the facility or entering the access-controlled suites is recorded by our system," Riggio explained. As long as there is no activity, the cameras are not recording. Motion sensitivity can also be adjusted so that wind-blown objects such as leaves or paper, for example, do not turn on the cameras. Riggio also noted that the cameras and digital recorder provide very clear, identifiable, high-resolution images, which are then stored on a hard drive capable of holding up to 320 gigabytes.

"I believe that security is a major factor when it comes to choosing a facility such as ours. Our clients appreciate the fact that we’ve gone all the way," said Riggio. "The wall of monitors in our main office tells prospective customers as soon as they come in that we’ve very serious about protecting their valuables and their equipment. When we show them our virtual offices and our storage areas, we point out the dome cameras and other high security features that we’ve installed. I think it’s a big plus in building business."

At-Your-Service has been nominated to receive a self-storage industry award for overall excellence, while the company is finalizing plans for two additional buildings to be added to the facility. "Of course," Riggio noted assuredly, "we’ll provide the same high level of security in the new buildings."