Self-Storage Industry Reacts to Hurricane Irene: Preparedness, Insurance, Keys to Dealing With Natural Disasters

By Amy Campbell Comments
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As natural disasters go, Hurricane Irene will clock in as one of the country’s worst. The storm, which pummeled with Eastern Seaboard last weekend with wind and rain, is reported to have accounted for at least 43 deaths and knocked out power for 3 million people.

According to an article earlier this week in The Washington Post, Hurricane Irene will likely be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history, totaling $7 billion to $10 billion. In addition, much of the damage might not be covered by insurance because it was caused not by winds but by flooding, which is excluded from most standard insurance policies. Some of the worst flooding struck Vermont, New Jersey and upstate New York.

Extra Space Storage Inc. owns or operates nearly 300 facilities located along Irene’s path. In the days before the storm, Extra Space Storage employees spent hours preparing for the worst. The company reviewed its safety procedures with everyone from the board of directors to individual property managers, who were also charged with boarding up properties where necessary.

On Monday, all but about 15 Extra Space Storage facilities were able to open to customers. “We were pretty happy about that,” said Clint Halverson, senior director of corporate communication and investor relations for Extra Space Storage, a self-storage real estate investment trust. The closed facilities were among the millions of businesses and homes without electricity. One facility, in Wayne, N.J., was not accessible as the roads leading to the property were flooded. By mid-week, the power had been restored at all but four of the facilities. Some facilities also experienced flooding, downed trees and other debris.

Universal Management Co., which oversees the operation of 34 facilities, several of which were also in the storm’s path, also spent much of last week putting its hurricane procedures in place.  “The pieces of our overall plan are set up in sequence, based on categories of storm intensity, and are placed in effect as they’re triggered when wind speeds reach targeted levels,” explained David Dixon, vice president of development for Universal Management Co. and area manager for all of the company’s facilities located along the East Coast. 

When generators are activated, lobby doors and elevators are deactivated, and managers evacuate the city if winds reach above maximum safe speeds, Dixon noted. “Our onsite managers, together with the plan we wrote, are quite capable in emergency situations because of the training we go through and because they are excellent first responders.”

One facility in particular, located in the Virginia Beach area, was prepped for the worst-case scenario, but was spared any serious damage. “We taped and boarded windows, raised boxes and computer systems high off the floors, locked down hallway doors, cleaned drains, pumped water out of the retention ponds, and evacuated the managers and their children,” Dixon said. “Raising water-sensitive items off the floor is an easy way to avoid some losses due to flooding, as even an inch or two of floodwater is enough to ruin a facility’s computers and box inventory. Additionally, cleaning drains and pumping water out of retention ponds are easy ways to help avoid unnecessary flooding due to increased rainfall and water run-off.”

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