Prior to the 1993 World Trade Center and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, the perpetrators used self-storage facilities to hide explosives and briefly housed the trucks used to carry out the attacks. A 2004 FBI memo to self-storage facility owners warned, “Terrorist plots that involve IED’s [improvised explosive devices] have utilized rental storage facilities to house parts of the bomb or other supplies until the plotters have the time to assemble the weapon or prepare the attack.”
Because of this threat, LifeStorage, a self-storage facility based in Chicago, has more than doubled the money it spends on counterterrorism technology. Potential for covert, illegal activity is especially high at facilities capable of housing cars or trucks and those with 24/7 drive-up access where surveillance is minimal and entry unrestricted, said a company statement.
The company began working with Defentect, a defense technology firm, to install sensors that detect terrorist weapons such as radiological devices used to make so-called dirty bombs.
Storage facilities are attractive to criminals and terrorists because they are “inexpensive, accessible and anonymous for the most part,” Defentect President Frank O’Connor said.
LifeStorage has spent $135,000 to install Defentect’s chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threat-detection sensors.
Matt Clark, vice president of operations at LifeStorage, said “We’ve always been at the cutting edge of technology in our industry and we believe this is a real valuable feature to our facilities.”
Defentect is currently equipping LifeStorage facilities with its DM3 software, and gammatect sensors that “report threat level gamma radiation… and provide isotope identification,” according to the Defentect brochure. The DM3 software system allows for effective “management, monitoring, and messaging,” and it “enables customers to add radiation detection and other sensors to their security systems.”
Defentect was established about three years ago. It has contracts with 12 facilities, and with over 52,000 self-storage companies in the United States, there is room for expansion, according to O’Connor. The main hurdle is the technology’s cost.
“The problem has been that [self-storage] owners often do not work off of huge margins,” O’Connor said.
Clark added: “Hopefully, there will be a day when the technology is a little more affordable because we believe it should be in place at all storage facilities,” he said.
While LifeStorage had a previous security system consisting of burglar alarms, motion activated lighting systems and computerized key-pad access, its new investment “would scan and detect anything on the premise and it would also scan and detect around the perimeter of the building. In some cases we rent outdoor parking spaces so it would also scan any vehicles coming into the property,” Clark added.