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Busted! How a Broken Pipe at My Self-Storage Facility Taught Me to Prepare for Disaster

Any disastrous event that occurs at a self-storage facility, whether it’s a fire, flood, tornado, break-in or some other calamity, is stressful for staff and tenants. It pays to be prepared! This is the key lesson the author learned when a pipe broke at his facility in George, Utah. Read the story and get tips for managing your own emergencies.

Brad Nelson

February 17, 2023

3 Min Read

It was a Friday the 13th I’ll never forget. I got a call from a coworker at the self-storage facility I manage telling me we had water gushing everywhere. I quickly realized it wasn’t just a small leak and we were in big trouble.

Our five-level building is equipped with a fire-sprinkler system. A new tenant had been over-stacking items their space when they lost their balance and grabbed the sprinkler pipe on the ceiling. It broke, flooding our ground level. Within minutes, the floor was mostly under water, impacting 130-plus tenants.

I rushed to the office to find the fire department had shut off the sprinklers. I immediately contacted a disaster-service company to get them started on the clean-up. Then we began to call and email all our customers as fast as we could. I also phoned friends to ask if they’d help us move tenant belongings to dry areas or vacant storage units so we could salvage as much as possible.

We offered free boxes and packing supplies to our tenants to help in any way we could. We kept a map and marked off each unit as we communicated with the renter. That way we knew we were able to contact everyone. Some tenants had insurance, but many weren’t covered. I tried to keep everyone calm and comforted through this tragic time.

It was very stressful … and then it got worse! The day following the flood, my coworker broke her leg (away from work), causing her to be out of the office for two weeks. I was left alone to deal with everything. It was hard working every day and into the night helping customers, cleaning up the mess and so much more.

In the end, approximately 95% of the tenants who’d been affected stayed with us regardless of the hardship and damage caused by the negligence of one renter. They thanked us for the professional manner in which we handled a very stressful situation.

Lessons Learned

What happened at our facility wasn’t anything I or my self-storage company had previously experienced, so we learned from it. In the end, we know how to handle emergencies more efficiently. Following are some lessons we took away from the encounter. Perhaps they’ll help you deal with your own crisis.

  • It’s important to tackle one problem at a time and stay calm.

  • Encourage all of your tenants to have some kind of insurance or protection on their belongings. The more of them who are covered, the better.

  • Suggest that customers use waterproof totes or pallets in their unit to keep everything above the floor in case of a leak or flood.

  • As it’s difficult to call everyone quickly with limited staff, require all tenants to have an email address on file, so you can send a mass notice to get the ball rolling. You can even prepare an email or text template, so you’ll have one ready if you ever need it.

  • Have a disaster plan for property managers. They need to know what to do and in what order for a variety of possible scenarios.

  • Know your facility components well, including the proper shut-offs for water and power in the buildings.

When something catastrophic happens at your self-storage facility, be cool, collected and empathetic to your customers. Most will understand and even help. There will always be the few who are never happy no matter what you do. No one likes to hear that their unit was flooded and the contents damaged. But life happens, and there will always be something. We can better prepare ourselves and our tenants with a few simple steps.

Brad Nelson is manager at Monster Storage in St. George, Utah, where he helps oversee 1,300 self-storage and covered-RV spaces as well as a fleet of rental trucks. He’s been with the company for nearly 11 years, coming onboard about a month after the facility opened. He’s a graduate of Southern Utah University, where he earned an MBA. Brad enjoys learning and challenging himself in all aspects of life. He’s married with four kids.

About the Author(s)

Brad Nelson

Property Manager, Monster Storage

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