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Disaster Planning and Recovery for Self-Storage Operators

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By Donna Edwards

No matter where your self-storage facility is located, it could face a natural disaster: blizzard, hurricane, tornado, ice storm, earthquake, fire, flood and even a volcano. Some events may give you time to prepare, but many will come with no warning. Each creates its own specific challenges, but roof and building damage are common in most situations.

Site managers need to be prepared before a calamity occurs and have a plan in place. We’ve all heard “proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance.” This is certainly true when difficult events require crisis-management skills.

Preparing for a disaster doesn’t happen overnight. It includes thinking about what could go wrong, and then putting procedures in place for how to handle it. The following information will help you prepare for a potential disaster and outline the steps to take after one occurs.

Educate Customers

Customer education is an extremely important part of the preparedness process. The following questions should be addressed with tenants periodically throughout the year so there are no surprises if disaster strikes:

  • Do customers understand that the business insurance for your facility doesn’t cover their unit contents?
  • If you offer tenant insurance, do your customers understand what is and isn’t covered?
  • If customers are insuring the contents of their units through their homeowners, renters or commercial insurance policy, do they know their deductible, and are they prepared for the claims process?

Create an Emergency Binder

Every self-storage operator should create and maintain an emergency binder containing key information for facility employees. If managers are unable to return to work following an emergency, or personnel from another facility or office step in to help, the binder can serve as a central point of documentation to help reopen the site. It should be wrapped in plastic, stored in a safe place and updated regularly.

In addition to procedures to follow, the binder should contain phone numbers and other contact information for the following (remember, the office computer might be damaged during a disaster situation):

  • Local fire and police departments as well as other emergency personnel
  • Any utilities your facility uses (electricity, gas, sewer and water)
  • Contractors (electricians, general contractors, glaziers, plumbers, roofers, security technicians, water extractors)
  • Temp agencies you can hire to help clean up
  • Maintenance companies that can assist in getting the site up and running
  • Government contacts (building inspectors, permitting and others needed to resume operation)
  • All customers

Your binder should also include “before” photos of the facility, including every building, the office interior and exterior, the parking areas, the roof, etc. Laminate a facility map or site plan, which you can use for preparations before and cleanup after an incident. Have additional building-map copies handy for noting damage or affected units.

Be Prepared

In the face of an imminent disaster, there are things you can do to minimize injury and damage. Your preparedness plan should include the following:

  • Back up the computer data to the cloud or download the information to a flash drive. If you’re using a backup device, store it offsite.
  • Board the windows.
  • Raise computers and other equipment off the ground.
  • Secure customer files.
  • Do whatever you can to protect gate equipment and security components.
  • If possible, purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio or otherwise ensure you have access to weather alerts and warnings.
  • Check all emergency lighting, fire extinguishers and other equipment that can help you clear debris and secure the facility.
  • Clearly mark the escape routes for every building.
  • If possible, gather any staff and customers who are onsite during the event in an interior room with no windows.
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