Dealing With Disaster

The devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina should act as a wake-up call for every business owner. Acts of God such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, flood or earthquakes, and man-made devastations like break-ins, acts of terrorism or vandalism, represent just some of the potential crises self-storage operators face. What would you do if a catastrophe hit at your facility? Do you have a plan of action to deal with disasterbefore, during and after?

Every facility should have a formal manual of policies and procedures that outlines steps for employees to take during an emergency. Discuss this plan with your staff at least once a year, and make sure everyone understands their specific roles. Talk through hypothetical scenarios, discussing possibilities and raising questions. Update the plan regularly as new threats or procedures are discovered.

Outside Training and Supplies

Does your staff know how to administer basic first aid or CPR? This could be critical in the event of an accident. Consider sending employees to one of several emergency programs hosted by the American Red Cross (for more information, visit The organization also posts useful information about emergency preparedness on its website.

Being ready for any urgent situation involves having the right supplies. These might include several key items:

  • A basic first-aid kit
  • Nonprescription drugs such as aspirin and antacid
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Flash lights, matches and candles
  • Batteries
  • Bottled water
  • Blankets and towels
  • Nonperishable food items
  • A portable radio
  • A gas-powered generator

A disaster is usually accompanied by little or no warning, so keep critical provisions on hand at all times and refresh them regularly. In addition to planning with staff in mind, remember tenants might also be on site at the time of an incident.


Check your insurance policies to ensure you are adequately covered for rebuilding or replacement. After a disaster is not the time to discover your coverage is wanting. Consult with your agent at least annually and upgrade your policy when appropriate. This will help you rest easy in the long run.

Also make sure tenants know their goods are not insured by your facility. You can offer tenant insurance through one of several programs available to the industry, or customers can check with their own insurance companies to see if their goods are covered while in storage. When a tenant signs his rental agreement, have him also sign a statement that he understands his goods are not protected by your business insurance and it is his responsibility to secure coverage. Keep this form in the tenants file and give him a copy. This will be important if the customer ever attempts to sue for damages.

When the Dust Settles

In addition to having a disaster plan, you need a strategy for coping with the aftermath. You must decide how you will handle tenant concerns and inquiries regarding their goods. You must also know who will handle facility clean-up, if you will hire temporary support staff, how current employees will be compensated for additional or lost hours, etc.

Most people are ill-prepared for calamity. Dont be caught unawares. Now is the time to make your plan of action, gather supplies, and be ready for disaster if it strikes.

Pamela Alton-Truitt is the owner of Mini-Management, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini- Management also offers full-service and "operations only" facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call 800.646.4648.



Plan for Disaster



Talk with staff about disasters that can occur in your location.

2. Agree on where to meet after a disaster, and consider possible escape routes from the facility.

3. Create a list of important contacts to be notified in the event of an emergency, and make sure each employee has a copy.

4. Every staff member should learn how and when to turn off utilities such as electricity, water and gas and how to use a fire extinguisher. He should also know the communitys disaster-warning signals.

5. Check and replace supplies every six months. Check batteries in items like flash lights, alarms and smoke detectors.

6. Conduct practice drills and review your plan at least twice a year.

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