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Establishing a Disaster-Prevention and Emergency Plan for Your Self-Storage Operation

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Eventually, every self-storage facility will experience some kind of disaster. The key to survival is establishing a prevention and emergency plan to mitigate the impact when crisis hits. Here’s a place to start.

Disasters happen. Even if you have a state-of-the-art self-storage facility and consider yourself a cautious operator, you can never be too prepared. Natural occurrences and unintentional human acts can damage buildings and tenants’ stored property. It’s critical to be proactive and create an emergency plan that’s easy to follow. If a crisis hits, you’ll be glad you took the time to prepare, as will staff and customers.

An Ounce of Prevention

There are many types of incidents over which we have absolutely no control, such as hurricanes, tornados, tropical storms, flooding and earthquakes. The list goes on. But natural disasters aren’t the only things that can wreak havoc at your self-storage property, causing damage and disrupting business. Even when you have proper precautions in place, the following can still occur; however, the right kind of prevention can minimize the damage when they do.

  • Pest infestation: Routinely spray for pests. Set rodent and bug deterrents as well as traps around your facility. Make sure tenants know not to store food in their units.
  • Roof leak: Have your roof inspected annually. Make sure your it can withstand a bad storm or high winds. Always watch for leaks after a rain, and make the proper fixes when necessary.
  • Fire: Tenants should be instructed to not store flammable items like propane tanks, aerosols, fuel cans, gasoline and paint. This should be in your lease agreement and reiterated upon move-in.
  • Burglary: You may not be able to prevent all theft, but there are ways to deter it. Gates with electronic entry and video-surveillance systems with noticeable camera placements are excellent in this regard. You can also install a tamper-evident sticker system. Perform twice-daily walkthroughs to monitor the property and occupied units.

Preparing for the Unexpected

Despite your best prevention efforts, unexpected events will occur, so you need to create an emergency plan for your self-storage facility and its employees. There’s often little to no warning when disaster strikes, so having a plan ready helps relieve stress and minimize damage. It could save lives and your business. Consider the following when organizing and implementing your strategy:

  • Emergency-contact list: Make sure your facility has one, stored in a safe place, in multiple formats. The list might include phone numbers for the local police and fire departments as well as your tenants, utility companies, insurance company, legal counsel and more.
  • Employee training: You may not be on site when disaster strikes, so make sure everyone on the team knows where to access your emergency plan and contact list. Staff should be trained and prepared to spring into action. Keep digital and physical copies of your plan and lists, so they can be accessed in all situations.
  • Important documents: Know what documents are critical to your business. These may include lease agreements, tax records, payroll and more. In case something happens to your computer or files, regularly back up all records to a cloud-based server. This will eliminate any worry of losing important information.
  • Passwords: Forgetting and resetting passwords is a headache, so make sure yours are saved in a safe, secure place. There are several password-management tools available to help with this. During a disaster, it’s important to have quick access to information.
  • Lease agreements: These should include a clause that protects you in the event of a natural disaster or unintentional act that could be harmful to your self-storage facility. Seek legal advice when updating your lease, and become knowledgeable about applicable local, state and national laws.

Communication Is Key

When one of these unfortunate events occurs at your facility, it’s vital to communicate with tenants as quickly as possible. After making initial contact about the incident, keep them updated about the state of the property. Sending a mass email is a quick, efficient way to alert customers. Posting to social media and updating the facility website are also great ways to spread the word.

When contacting tenants or posting notices, provide as much information as possible. This will help answer questions and reduce phone inquiries. Include when and how they can safely pick up their property. Though customers may be upset and want to retrieve their belongings right away, it’s imperative to ensure the site is safe first.

Goods Protection Helps

If your customers have purchased tenant insurance or a tenant-protection plan (hopefully, the have), recommend that they reach out to their company or administrator for information on how to file a claim. This kind of coverage provides self-storage operators and renters piece of mind in times of disaster. You don’t want to find yourself dealing with angry tenants demanding reimbursement for damaged goods. Instead of pointing to the lease clause that protects you from liability, you can simply instruct them to file a claim.

This is a surefire way to relieve tenant stress, as it’ll help them better cope with any losses. If you don’t have a program in place, there are several options in the self-storage industry. They are all different, though, so do your research and ask providers questions about which coverage options are best for your business.

Self-storage owners also have specific needs when it comes to protecting their facilities, too. Review your business-insurance policy to determine if it’s providing all the coverage you need. If you don’t have commercial property and general liability coverage, consider it. Upgrading your policy will provide better coverage in case of an unfortunate event.

Planning Is Important

While there’s no way to fully prepare for a catastrophic event, working to be as ready as possible is what matters most. Create an emergency plan, make sure employees are trained, openly communicate with tenants, and secure the right protections for your business and customers. By following these steps, you’ll be as equipped as possible when unexpected occurs.

Rachel Schest is a tenant-protection specialist at Easy Storage Solutions, a provider of Web-based management software for small- to mid-sized self-storage operations. She has more than five years of client-relations and marketing experience. She graduated from Indiana University Northwest where she earned a bachelor’s degree in applied science. For more information, call 888.958.5967; visit www.easystoragesolutions.com.

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