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Self-storage operators should take a simple approach to disaster planning, building a plan that doesnt interfere with day-to-day operation.

Cary McGovern

December 1, 2010

4 Min Read
Creating a Disaster-Protection Plan for Self-Storage: Before, During and After

In most cases, a business disaster plan collects dust on a shelf and is only taken out once a year to prove to the auditors that the company has one. Few plans, if any, actually work. Why? Most are too complex and become quickly outdated. Self-storage operators should take a simple approach to disaster planning, building a plan that doesnt interfere with day-to-day operation.

Disasters come in many flavorsnatural disaster, equipment malfunction, human malice, error or accident. The cause really doesnt matter. In all cases, your disaster plan should include three essential parts:

  • Preparation: The thoughtful process of identifying, assessing and grading potential hazards that could put business continuity in jeopardy.

  • Management: The activities put into practice during and immediately following a disaster.

  • Recovery: The activities assigned to management and staff to ensure an orderly resumption of business.

Preparation: Before the Disaster

While in the preparation stages of your disaster plan, take into consideration the following essential elements: employee training, a written checklist and annual auditing. Heres what should be included in each.

Employee training. Employees need to understand what to do so they can make sure disasters that can be avoidedemployee foul play or accidents, for exampledo not happen. If a disaster does occur, each employee should know immediately how to react. Even if the disaster happens at night, on a weekend or a holiday, everyone should be prepared and understand their role and activities.

Checklist. The written checklist should fit your facility and operation. Each company has a different building structure with particular security elements. Flood, wind and fire controls can, in many cases, be foreseen by an attentive employee. Your requirements and protocol may differ based on local building and fire codes, of course.

Audit program. Designed by you, or an accounting or insurance professional, an auditing program provides you with pre-designed review practices. These should include:

  • Facility protection of the exterior of the building, property and the perimeter fences or enclosures.

  • Physical security components such as keypad door entry, video cameras, door locks, alarm systems, motion detectors, etc.

  • Data backup of customer and company information from your computer system, including a data-recovery test to ensure the backup plan actually works.

  • Procedural document review for the three stages of the disaster-preparation plan focusing on any changes to facilities, equipment and operations over the past year.

  • Action plan with checklists must be kept up to date and redistributed to employees during the annual training session.

  • Defined and assigned roles and responsibilities, including any updates or changes to your expectations for all staff members.

  • An annual insurance review by a safety expert from your insurance company. In many cases, the insurance company will provide the safety engineer to assist in the writing and training process.

  • An annual disaster drill. If you dont test it, you cannot expect it to work.

Management: During the Disaster

Since disasters can come from many sources, you seldom receive advance notice. However, self-storage operators should know what to do and understand their role regardless of the type of calamity.

Its also critical that facility operators stick to their pre-assigned roles. For example, one person should be designated as the contact with the emergency responders such as police and fire departments. That same person may also be the media contact during the disaster. In an era of cell-phone video and YouTube, you can guarantee the event will be posted within hours, perhaps minutes. You can control any panic or bad public relations by being prepared with a written script highlighting just the facts.

Another person could be responsible for assessing the damage and coordinating a technology and an operational recovery. Another employee should be responsible for contacting investors and customers. Having predefined roles ensures tasks are completed in a timely manner, and helps the storage operation recover more quickly.

Recovery: After the Disaster

Once the immediacy of the situation is over, its time to move into triage mode and predefined disaster recovery. This includes:

  • An assessment of the damage to your facility.

  • Recovery of client and business data and information.

  • Quickly moving into a place to conduct temporary operations of your facility to service your customers.

You probably have concluded these tasks will take time to plan and implement. Perhaps those assumptions are true, but think of the cost of not doing it. Remember, each facility will have different needs when it comes to disaster preparedness. Checklists should be adapted to fit your facility and operation.

Cary F. McGovern has been in the commercial records-management industry for 32 years. He has assisted more than 500 companies in 23 countries enter and excel in this unique business. He is a member of ARMA International and PRISM International, and is a speaker at numerous industry tradeshows and conferences. For an outline of checklists and procedures discussed in this article, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.fileman.com .

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