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First Thought, Best Thought: Self-Storage Operators Share Their Immediate Response to Crisis Situations

Self-Storage Operators Share Their Immediate Response to Crisis Situations
Self-storage operators never know what might come at them on any given day. There could be a break-in, natural disaster, onsite injury, cyberattack or any other calamity. Whatever it is, a crisis is nerve-wracking. You have think fast and be quick on your feet. In this article, fellow managers share the first thing they’d do in a variety of emergency situations.

When you operate a self-storage facility, every day holds the potential for the wrong kind of excitement. A crisis can strike at any time, and you have to be ready. It might be a break-in, extreme weather event, coworker with COVID, onsite injury, tenant crashing into a building, cyberattack … The list goes on.

In an emergency, what you do in those first critical moments can have a significant impact on the amount of risk, damage and cost generated. You need think fast and be quick on your feet! Inside Self-Storage reached out to a group of facility managers, supervisors and owners to discover what their immediate actions would be in a series of calamitous situations. Here’s how they responded. Now, ask yourself: What would you do?

You discover a tenant is doing something illegal in his unit.

I would remind them that we covered what is and isn’t allowed at the facility and in the unit. That they initialed and signed the lease, agreeing to all policies. I’d lock the unit down with a facility lock and gate code and, if bad enough, would call the police.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

I’d inform them that it’s against our policy as well as the law, and they must stop immediately and leave the premises for good. I’d also contact my boss and ask if he wants me to contact the police.
―Terri Friesner, Manager, Florida

Tell the tenant they aren’t abiding by our rules and regulations, and they’ll have to cease whatever they’re doing, or we’ll ask them to vacate. We would try to talk to the customer first, but depending on the severity of the illegal action, of course, we would call the police. With drug activity, we also need to protect our employees from retributions from dealers.
―Natolie Ochi, CEO and President, SKS Management LLC, Oakland, Calif.

My first step is to notify my regional manager of illegal activities or anything non-life-threatening and doesn’t warrant an immediate emergency-services call. If it needs to be reported to the police, I have a great relationship with our local department, and I’ll give them a call and see what they want us to do. If it isn’t something that needs to be reported to the police, I’ll serve the tenant an eviction notice at my regional manager’s guidance. Something important to note is to never confront the tenant directly if what they’re doing is dangerous. You want to make sure you and your coworkers stay safe.
―Erin Smith, Property Manager, Melrose Storage, Nashville, Tenn.

My first step would be to contact the police department. Depending on what they’re doing, you might not want to approach them, being they could be in “another world,” so to speak. Safety first. Notice to discontinue their lease would be sent.
―Tricia Zinke, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Bismarck, N.D.

Your facility is in the path of a fast-approaching hurricane, tornado or other significant storm.

I would immediately shut the facility down and close the big gates at the entrance. I’d keep it locked down until the threat was gone or, if there’s any damage, until city inspectors say it’s safe to allow tenants into their units.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

We follow procedures for locking down windows and doors, make sure everyone is off the property, and get to a safe area.
―Heather Hughes-Meek, Regional Manager, Absolute Storage Management, Rossford, Ohio

We would assess how quickly it’s moving, and if we have time, we would ask the manager to hire help to put up plywood on the windows, place sandbags in front of the drive-up unit doors, etc. We would close our property and make sure our employees are safe. We do have an emergency handbook and a phone tree for contacting supervisors, etc.
―Natolie Ochi, CEO and President, SKS Management LLC, Oakland, Calif.

We have a checklist that helps all of our stores prep for oncoming storms. Charge the tablet and TracFone; make sure battery backup is working on gate and computers (if you have); print blank leases in case of power outage; secure loose items/signage, etc.
―Roby Pait, Regional Director, Storage Asset Management, Wilmington, N.C.

Lock down the office and attempt to locate and inform any customers on site where to take cover, and then go take cover.
―Dave Tomforde, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Minneapolis

You discover a tenant is stealing from other customers.

Call the police and lock their gate code. I’d also review all related security cameras. If the tenant is around, they’ll be told why I’m doing it. If they threaten me, well that’s a nonstarter for them.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

We had this happen at a property. We overlocked the tenant in question, and the tenant whose items were stolen, and called the police. The police came in with a search warrant and retrieved the items, and the tenant went to court.
―Heather Hughes-Meek, Regional Manager, Absolute Storage Management, Rossford, Ohio

Let the tenant know that what he’s doing is not to be tolerated here. Let my boss know, and probably contact police.
―Terri Friesner, Manager, Florida

Contact direct supervisor, police and tenants involved, and then fill out an incident report. Then issue non-renewal to the tenant who was stealing.
―Roby Pait, Regional Director, Storage Asset Management, Wilmington, N.C.

Have the proof, whether it be on camera, etc. Contact the police to be the arbitrator in the situation. If it’s true, send out the release of contract to [the tenant], discontinuing their lease.
―Tricia Zinke, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Bismarck, N.D.

You find out a co-worker is stealing from the facility or tenant units.

I would immediately go through security-camera footage to see if I could find other proof besides what I know. I’d let the owner know what I find. I would also inform the employee that he doesn’t need to come in the next day.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

I’d speak with my supervisor for advice, then call the police to report a crime. I’d also contact the tenants affected, so they can be present to file a report if their belongings were stolen or vandalized.
Jason Beekman, General Manager, Pensacola Storage, Pensacola, Fla.

I’d call my supervisor to let her know what my suspicions are and watch countless hours of tape. After much research, we’d let the person go before his next shift.
―Heather Hughes-Meek, Regional Manager, Absolute Storage Management, Rossford, Ohio

Tenants place a level of trust in our facility to do our best to keep their belongings safe. If I find out a coworker is stealing from a tenant, I’ll immediately contact our regional manager and report what I believe is taking place.
―Erin Smith, Property Manager, Melrose Storage, Nashville, Tenn.

I would notify upper management immediately of the situation. I wouldn’t confront the employee.
―Dave Tomforde, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Minneapolis

Your business becomes the target of a cyberattack.

The first thing I would do is let my supervisor know of the threat. After that, I would get every computer off the Internet, and hopefully, that would slow [the hackers] from getting into the stuff on the computers. (With our software being Web-based, that would only protect against the information on the computers.) Next, I would get in touch with the software people to let them know what’s happening. Lastly, let the customers know what happened so they can be on the lookout as well. It’s best to catch that stuff as soon as possible.
―Ryan Strubbe, Manager, Five Star Storage, Fargo, N.D.

Contact IT immediately to figure out how to stop it as well as how to increase security to protect our customers and business. The authorities would be notified next to file a report. Customers would be notified of the potential security breach.
―Kelsey Koble, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Fargo, N.D.

Identify the type of threat. Contain the threat (disconnect affected device from Internet). Change passwords. Fix the breach with antivirus/other software. Notify employees and customers if data was stolen. And educate/put in place cybersecurity measures for the future. Report cybercrimes to FBI if necessary.
―Melissa Stiles, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Storage Asset Management, York County, Pa.

An employee tests positive for COVID-19.

The office would be locked down with a sign posted, “Closed until further notice.” I’d post the office number in numerous places for any help calls.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

Everyone who came into contact with the employee should be tested. The facility should be professionally disinfected. Tenants who came into the facility and in contact with that employee should be informed as well.
―Rebekka Kent, Manager, Storage On 9, Boiling Springs, S.C.

Without naming the person, we would let the other employees in the same office know that another person tested positive. (Sometimes everyone will know just because we have small teams.) We would ask everyone in that office to get tested and quarantine until they have their results back, unless they are certain they had no contact with the positive case in the last 10 days.
―Natolie Ochi, CEO and President, SKS Management LLC, Oakland, Calif.

That associate will need to quarantine for at least 14 days and until a doctor has released that associate back to work. They can choose to either work from home remotely, if available, or go on [Families First Coronavirus Response Act] leave. They don’t necessarily have to produce a negative COVID test, but really need that doctor’s note stating they’re OK to return to work.
―Roby Pait, Regional Director, Storage Asset Management, Wilmington, N.C.

I would send them home for the required amount of time they need to be quarantined and make sure they don’t have any symptoms before they return to work. I would also let the other employees know what happened and make them monitor their own symptoms to see if they also need to be tested.
―Ryan Strubbe, Manager, Five Star Storage, Fargo, N.D.

Someone is injured on your property.

Assess the injury and call an ambulance as needed. I’d also call the person’s contacts and get any insurance info. I have been trained in CPR and various forms of injury assessment, and will make the person as comfortable as possible.
Ron Basham, Manager, Vault Stor & Loc, Eugene, Ore.

Having been a licensed emergency medical technician, I have the knowledge to evaluate the patient to figure out if emergency services are necessary. If the client insists, then I would call 911. I would definitely do an incident report in case something further came of the situation.
―Terri Friesner, Manager, Florida

Make sure they’re OK, if possible. Depending on the severity of their injury or if damage occurred, either a call to 911 or file a police report. Document as much as possible and fill out an incident report. Notify human resources and provide them the documentation and incident report.
―Kelsey Koble, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Fargo, N.D.

Ensure the customer is OK first and foremost, and show compassion and that you care. If medical attention is necessary, contact 911 if it’s an emergency or the emergency contact they provide you. Afterward, contact your immediate supervisor and fill out an incident report.
―Roby Pait, Regional Director, Storage Asset Management, Wilmington, N.C.

If it’s life-threatening, the first step is to call 911. Their safety and well-being are the top priority. If the situation doesn’t need a call to 911 and they don’t require additional assistance, I’ll fill out a detailed incident report and send it to our regional manager.
―Erin Smith, Property Manager, Melrose Storage, Nashville, Tenn.

An upset customer targets your business with negative comments on social media.

Sometimes customers don't have a great day. While they aren’t always right, if there’s a way to appease them, then I would suggest doing it. They could always edit their review, especially if you give them enough reason to. That could be by killing them with kindness, bringing them bottles of water if you see them on the property or hooking them up with a nice deal. There are a ton of different ways to change a customer’s negative experience into a positive one.
―Rebekka Kent, Manager, Storage On 9, Boiling Springs, S.C.

The manager reaches out to see if a resolution can be made. The person in our company who monitors and responds to reviews would help write the response after hearing about the situation.
―Natolie Ochi, CEO and President, SKS Management LLC

Reach out to the customer off social media to resolve. Answer the comments—if they are on your store’s page—promptly and objectively, and ask to take the conversation offline.
―Melissa Stiles, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Storage Asset Management, York County, Pa.

My first step, in this case, is always to be proactive. I do my very best to make sure each tenant has a great experience at our facility, and if they don’t, I ask how I can fix it.
―Erin Smith, Property Manager, Melrose Storage, Nashville, Tenn.

This has happened. Best to apologize for them feeling the way they do. Always best to simply quote policies of the company and only explain and post facts. You can’t take it personally. The person feels the way they do; however, there’s always two sides. Keep it short, factual, polite and positive.
―Tricia Zinke, Area Manager, Five Star Storage, Bismarck, N.D.

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