By David Wilhite
In any given year, during the months of June through November, an average of three hurricanes will strike the United States. In 1995, hurricanes accounted for more than 100 deaths and caused billions of dollars in damages. National Weather Service experts are in agreement that science will never provide a full solution to hurricane safety. The question is, how can self-storage facility owners operating on America's vulnerable coastlines protect themselves and their business operations from harm?
Since coastal areas are vulnerable to storms, facility owners located in those areas should enter each hurricane season prepared. Aside from such basic safety issues as having an evacuation plan in place and stockpiling emergency supplies, you should be absolutely certain you have appropriate insurance coverage in place to protect your business in case of disaster. Don't gamble on luck to protect you--the price you pay will be much higher in the long run.
Your first step is to secure adequate insurance coverage. In addition to protecting your business from hurricane- and wind-induced damage, a complete insurance package should also include loss-of-business-income coverage and extra-expense coverage to protect your finances in the event of a loss. (Smart shoppers, take note: Your best bet is to purchase property coverage on a special form basis, which also protects against hail, smoke, explosion and other perils, unless the policy specifically excludes them).
Once your coverage is in place, there are a several other steps you can take to prepare against disaster. If you own a camcorder, you can videotape the interior and exterior of your facility, describing each item as you record it. Be sure to store the tape in a secure location away from your premises. Alternately, you can prepare a list of your valuables with Polaroid photos. Either method can save a great deal of time and trouble when making a claim.
Once a hurricane watch has been issued, precautions should be taken immediately to protect your facility. Board up windows or secure them with storm shutters, and brace all exterior doors shut. Secure any loose objects surrounding the area, such as trash cans, signs, etc., so they do not become flying missiles. Unplug electrical items and shut off gas lines. Remember: Hurricanes moving inland can cause severe flooding, which brings attendant risks of fire and electrocution.
Above all, play it safe. Monitor the progress of the storm through National Weather Service advisories and be prepared to evacuate the area immediately. Hurricane warnings may be issued only hours before a storm strikes, so plan your time accordingly. Avoid any last-minute rush that may leave you stranded if disaster threatens, and stay calm.
After the storm passes, call your insurance company as soon as possible to report a claim. Avoid the temptation to sight-see affected areas--you may be mistaken for a looter. Carry valid identification, along with proof of residency and your business license. Drive carefully through debris-strewn areas, and watch for fallen power lines, especially in areas with standing water. Enter your business with caution. Don't use matches in case of gas leaks, and don't use electricity until your business has been checked out by the proper authorities. Remember, if the area in which your facility is located is heavily affected, it could take two to four weeks (or longer) before local roads are cleared and the area opened to the public. A catastrophic loss can deliver a knockout punch that can devastate your financial future. Don't put yourself at risk.
David Wilhite is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Inc. Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry, including loss of income, employee dishonesty, comprehensive business liability, hazardous-contents removal and customer storage. For more information, contact Universal at Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 850067-0079; phone (800) 844-2110; fax (480) 970-6240; www.vpico.com/universal.