Quick: What’s the first thing you would do if there was a fire at your self-storage facility? How would you handle a storm that caused flooding in your units or office? What would you do if you had a gas leak?
For self-storage managers, knowing how to respond swiftly and professionally to a crisis situation is imperative. You may not be able to avoid something catastrophic from happening, but you can take steps to ensure you handle these events in a calm, rational manner. Follow these guidelines so you’ll know how to react in case an accident, crime, disaster or other unexpected incident happens on your property.
Types of Crisis
When most people consider the definition of a crisis, they think of an earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane or tornado. However, a catastrophe can come in all shapes and sizes. Consider these incidents that happened recently at self-storage facilities:
- While visiting her unit, a woman was pinned and killed by her own vehicle after she failed to put it in park.
- A man committed suicide in a unit.
- Two vehicles collided in a nearby intersection, sending one into a storage building and causing thousands of dollars of property damage.
- A small plane collided with helicopter in mid-air, causing pieces of debris to rain down between storage buildings.
Each of these scenarios was unique and required a diverse response. When operating a storage facility, it’s important you’re prepared for anything that might come your way.
Have a Plan
The most important part of handling an emergency is to be prepared before it ever happens. Hopefully, you’ll never experience an accident, theft or natural disaster. However, it’s crucial to have a solid set of guidelines in place. Your written plan should include:
- Contact information for emergency personnel as well as other pertinent agencies, such as the local electric, gas and water companies
- An emergency escape route
- Guidelines for data backup and company information from your computer system
- Defined and assigned roles and responsibilities for all staff members
- Insurance information, including the name and phone number of your agent
- A plan for notifying tenants
- A response—and who will give it—for media, if warranted
Keep your plan in a place that’s easy to access, and make sure you and your co-workers are familiar with it. There won’t be time to read through all the pages if a fire breaks out or the roof caves during a storm.
A few times each year, run through a mock emergency to ensure you’re prepared. You may even find ways to improve your response, so update your manual as appropriate. Some communities host crisis drills to help businesses be better prepared. Check with the local fire department, Red Cross chapter or city government to see if they have a checklist, drills, training or anything else that will help you be better equipped.
Minimize the Damage
Part of being prepared for a crisis is knowing how to minimize the loss and protect facility staff, property and customers. First, evacuate everyone to a safe area. Next, secure the area where the damage occurred to the best of your ability. This can often help prevent injuries and further property damage.
If possible, take any reasonable steps to prevent additional harm to the facility. This might include turning off the electricity, gas or water, moving stuff from a unit that’s leaking, or restricting access to a building. But only take these steps if it’s deemed safe to do so. In the case of a fire or earthquake, for example, it’s better to wait for emergency personnel.
You also need to preserve the scene of the incident, so don’t remove any debris unless absolutely necessary to rescue someone or prevent further damage to a building or equipment. Take photos of the destruction and jot down some notes, including the time and any details you can recall. Also, collect names and contact information of any witnesses.
Communicate With Tenants
Communicating with your tenants, particularly those who’ve been directly affected, will be one of your most important tasks. Your customers should always hear about any crisis directly from you, not the media or another source. This helps you control the message and ensures they receive the correct information. In this age of fast and easy communication, there’s no excuse for failing to notify your renters. You can contact them via e-mail, phone, text, social media channels and your website.
Tell them the facts as you know them and your plan for allowing tenants access the facility and their units. For example, if there was a fire on the south side of the building, you can tell tenants who aren’t affected that they can access their units via the north entrance. If you must close the facility for a time, say when you expect to re-open. Also let tenants know you’ll provide assistance in filing insurance claims, if they will be doing so. You might suggest they bring a camera and document their inspection to ensure nothing’s missed.
Never admit fault or apologize to anyone. It could be construed as an admission of guilt. Express your regret that this event happened, but don’t indicate that anything that occurred was the result of an omission or failure on behalf of the business. For example, you never want to say, “We thought about adding a sprinkler system, but it was too costly.” Be empathetic, but maintain a professional demeanor.
Handle the Media
A crisis will often attract media attention. Your facility should designate a spokesperson who’ll speak with reporters. Many owners will prefer to be that person, however, anyone can be elected. The key is to get out in front of the story. Be honest, but don’t give away every single detail, especially if it involves an ongoing investigation.
Again, it’s important to be prepared. Before addressing the media, jot down some notes or an outline of what you plan to say. Reporters can be overbearing and rattle even the most level-headed person. Stay calm and don’t be afraid to say, “No comment.” If possible, craft a statement before something happens, leaving blanks that can be filled in with specifics of the incident. You can include this in your crisis plan.
Give the same message to all members of the media, regardless if they’re TV news reporters or from the local paper. Stick to the facts, and don’t elaborate, assume or make guesses about what may or may not have happened. You can offer information via a well-written press release or personal interviews. If you plan to do interviews, try to do them off your property, so reporters can’t take video or photos of the damage.
Keep in mind that when you go on record, it can be accessed by anyone. That means a tenant who’s angry that a fire spread to his unit and ruined his belongings can use your media interview against you if you made incriminating statements. You need to choose your words carefully.
Hopefully, your facility will never face a crisis. However, being prepared in case something does go awry will help you react swiftly and professionally. Responding quickly and with authority shows your owner, tenants and community you’re a true leader and can be depended upon, no matter what comes your way.