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Coping With a Traumatic Event at a Self-Storage Facility

Many of us will or have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event in our lives. While we can’t always prevent them from happening, we need to understand how to cope in the aftermath. The following offers guidance on what to do if an unthinkable occurrent were to happen at your self-storage facility.

Amy Campbell

June 2, 2023

4 Min Read
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I’ll bet every self-storage operator reading this blog has a story to tell. It could be an amusing one, like the time a customer pulled up to the facility with a fully loaded pickup truck and the expectation of renting the smallest unit. Then there are the customer conflict tales—the tenant who’s angry about a late fee or the one crying because they’ve failed to pay the rent and the unit is now in lien. Then there are the surprises left behind such as trash and leftover items from units. And the icky stuff, too, like jugs of pee, human feces, diapers and dog poop. All the above scenarios are true accounts from members of the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only events that seem to happen at self-storage facilities. Lately, it seems our industry has become a beacon for crime-related activity. And it isn’t just break-ins that are worrisome. It’s a bit more troubling. In recent weeks, ISS has reported on several incidences in which bodies have been discovered in units or at the property.

Just this week, the body of a man was found inside a vehicle at a Calexico, California, self-storage facility. A few weeks ago, a woman who may have been living in a unit at a Wilmington, North Carolina, facility was found dead after relatives reported her missing. And police are investigating another body that was located inside a unit at an Alexandria, Virginia, self-storage facility. Sadly, a member of SST recently suffered a shock when she found a tenant had hung himself inside his rented space.

When I was crime reporter, I saw my own share of this. The images still haunt me, even 20 years later. Seeing the aftermath of a tragic accident or violent crime isn’t something you ever forget. Beyond total shock, you might also be overwhelmed by your emotions, be confused or fearful, or even worried about your own safety. You’ll likely be sad for the victim and angry at the perpetrator or just the situation. Often times, there will be a sense of helplessness. You might think “if only I had …”

Unfortunately, you can’t really prepare for a traumatic event like the ones above. Of course, you should have policies and procedures in place to mitigate such incidents, but crime can happen anywhere. Drug overdoses and suicides do as well. Hopefully, none of these ever happen at your self-storage facility. If one does, however, here are a few ways to cope.

Talk to someone. Whether it’s a coworker, therapist, significant other, your mom or best friend, tell someone how you’re feeling about what happened. Just saying it aloud can help you come to terms with what you saw or experienced. If you need support, ask for it.

Give yourself time. This is particularly important. You certainly aren’t expected to “get over” it or move on immediately. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, or how long it’ll take for you to come to terms with what happened. Be patient with yourself.

Try to keep busy. Or at least resume some of your normal routine. There’s comfort in what’s familiar. If possible, try to avoid the place where the event happened.

Stop the spiral. It’s natural for your mind to wander to that moment over and over. There’s one particular accident I witnessed as a reporter that I’ve never been able to shake. Whenever it pops into my brain, for whatever reason, I acknowledge it, then quickly distract myself. Obsessively reliving a traumatic event will overwhelm you, so don’t do it. Easier said then done, I know. Find a way to refocus your thoughts and stop reflecting on what happened.

Recognize physical symptoms. It isn’t just your mind that’s affected by a traumatic event. Your body might also suffer. This can include feeling fatigued, changes in sleeping patterns, impaired thinking, stomach discomfort, over or under eating, and even panic attacks. Nightmares and flashbacks are also common. If any of these occur, you need to seek professional help.

Any kind of crisis can happen at any self-storage facility, big or small, urban or suburban. A recent article published on the ISS website highlights five common ones in the industry, including human misconduct or accidents, and how to manage them. You can find additional resources on our Disaster topics page.

It’s my sincerest hope that you’re never subjected to any traumatic event at your self-storage facility. If one does happen, remember to be kind to yourself and get help if you need it.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Editor, Inside Self Storage

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