Lessons From Joplin, Mo., for Self-Storage Operators
By Matthew Van Horn
On Sunday, I was at a local comedy show with a few friends of mine. Comedian Lewis Black was performing in West Palm Beach, Fla. I was looking forward to this show since purchasing the tickets last December.
During the middle of the show I received a call from one of my facility manager’s, which at the time went directly to voicemail. Typically, if I receive a call from one of my facility manager’s on a Sunday night, or any other night for that matter, it’s because someone is ill or needs to rearrange his schedule for some reason. Well, this phone call wasn’t for either of those reasons; this manager lived in Joplin, Mo.
That Sunday night the residents of Joplin experienced an F-4 tornado, with wind speeds of 198 mph. More than 30 percent of the town was destroyed. By now, everyone has seen the devastation on television. I oversee the operations of three facilities in the Joplin area. Thankfully, all my facility managers and their families are safe. Luckily, just one of the facilities suffered cosmetic damage, but the threat of additional tornados is still very real. Take a minute and watch this video. It was taken shortly after the tornado from a helicopter. As you see the devastation, take a special look at the following time stamps:
- 2:23 to 2:29: The remains of a Home Depot. My managers and I have shopped there for supplies.
- 2:43 to 2:51: The remains of three competing storage facilities. One is just .30 miles from one of our facilities.
In addition, here’s a link to the British website, The Daily Mail, which gives an in-depth, overview of the disaster along with some before and after pictures. I have personally shopped at that Walmart.
As self-storage operators we should all take heed of this situation. It takes only minutes for a disaster to completely change our lives. According to one of my facility managers, the tornado sirens went off only 20 minutes before the tornado hit Joplin. In an instant your self-storage facility could be without power, phones, cell service and the Internet. Your buildings could be destroyed and your tenants could lose their homes. I live in Florida, so every year my Florida facilities and I live under the threat of hurricanes. So with these threats, how do we prepare for the unknown?
Let’s look at three ways we can better prepare for disasters.
Disaster plan. Each operator should have set procedures for what to do in any disaster situation. This is an extensive topic and should be discussed within your organization. Remember, the better organized you are, the more smoothly the situation will progress.
Facility insurance. Every operator should review his facility’s insurance policy with his provider on an annual basis. Make sure you’re covered for any unexpected situations.
Tenant insurance. Consider working with a tenant-insurance company to offer this vital insurance to your customers. Each program is different, so choose one that fits the needs of your customers.
This is a huge topic and one that I could write about much more. The Joplin tornado should be a wakeup call for every self-storage operator. It only takes an instant for your entire world to be turned upside down. Preparation and organization are the two things that will help you better handle these situations. Don’t wait. The next tornado, fire, hurricane or earthquake could happen at your facility. The last thing you want is to be staring at a self-storage building that used to be there, with a cell phone that doesn’t work. Everyone needs to prepare—now.
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, a full-service management company specializing in management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures within the self-storage industry.
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