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COVID-19 Death Count Plus Winter Woes Equals a Lesson for Self-Storage Operators on Emergency Prep

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The recent weather-related happenings nationwide combined with the coronavirus pandemic surpassing half a million deaths in the United States is a stark reminder that we all need to be prepared for anything that might come our way. Self-storage operators should consider this advice on prepping for emergencies.

It has been a rough 12 months. As we reached the 500,000 mark of coronavirus deaths this week, many parts of the United States are still grappling with horrible winter weather. This was especially true for Texans, who suffered through days of freezing cold, with no power or water over the past few weeks. Some are still without.

As we now know, we can never truly be prepared for what might come at us. The COVID-19 pandemic was a complete shock and required us to drastically change everything about the way we live our lives. Weather this year has been harsh and totally unpredictable. Hurricanes, tornadoes, the occasional polar vortex, and heaps of snow, wind and rain are wreaking havoc. Individuals, businesses and even government officials have been overwhelmed by the events of the past year. Sadly, one factor that has become very apparent is most of us aren’t truly ready for an emergency.

As a self-storage operator, one your most important jobs is to keep your facility, tenants and yourself safe when disaster strikes. Because these can come from anywhere—a break-in, bad weather, flood or fire—it’s essential you have a solid plan long before you face any kind of calamity. There are some basics steps every storage operator should take to prepare and practice.

Prevention. The best course of action is, of course, preventing something from happening. While you can’t ward off a hurricane, you can take measures to minimize crime through a superior security system and vigilance. Similarly, most fires can be prevented by properly maintaining your site, and banning flammables and hazardous materials in units. Always keep safety in mind. What can you do to ensure people and property are protected?

Policies and procedures. If you have a map, you can follow it to your destination. If not, you might guess where you’re going, but you could be totally wrong. Same goes for your business. A handbook with policies and procedures will inform everyone on what to expect in most situations. Furthermore, it backs you up when you tell tenants that they can’t store a container of gasoline in their unit next to their lawnmower. Simply put, a well-written handbook tells you what, when and how. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to write one! Moreover, if yours was written before COVID-19, it likely needs a refresh.

Evacuation plan. Remember those bus and fire drills from grade school? They’re just as important today. If your access gate was inoperable, what would you do? If a fire started in your office, how would you get out? Where would you shelter if a tornado was headed your way? It’s imperative to know how you and your tenants will get to safety if the need arises.

Emergency supplies. While you’re not expected to have an automated external defibrillator on site (although you could!), you should have more than a handful of Band-Aids in your desk drawer. There are tons of premade emergency kits available online, or you can build your own. Include first-aid essentials such as bandages, safety pins, disposal gloves, sterile gauze dressing, adhesive tape and anesthetic wipes. Moreover, add in a couple of flashlights and extra batteries, a pre-packaged tarp, whistle, battery-operated radio, and water. If you’re facility is in an area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes, you might also have a backup generator and materials to board up windows and doors. Also, be sure to have working fire extinguishers spread out around the facility.

Communication. This is vital during any chaotic event. It applies to ownership, staff, tenants and even media. Much like your policy/procedure handbook, you should have a crisis-communication plan. It should include a general guideline to assist you in any scenario.

Also, have phone numbers at the ready for poison control, your electric and water company, your insurance rep, a local pest-control firm, and even your attorney. There’s no time to scramble for these important numbers when you need them ASAP. Many operators add this to the company handbook so they’re available to everyone, or print, laminate and post them in the office.

While you might think emergencies only come in the form of disasters such as fires, flood, hurricane, freezing weather or tornadoes, anything can happen at a self-storage facility. Consider the tragedy when a car crashed into Add A Space Mini Storage in Hendersonville, N.C., and killed the facility owner. Or bears ripping off unit doors in Haines, Alaska. Would you know what to do faced with a crazy or dangerous situation? Don’t get caught off guard. Take action now so you’re prepared for anything that comes your way.

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