ISS BLOG – A Devastating Self-Storage Facility Fire Serves as a Reminder on Being Prepared for Those ‘Just in Case’ Events

Self-storage businesses face a host of threats, from natural disasters to criminal activity. A recent fire at a Colorado facility is a reminder about the importance of being prepared for anything that might come your way.

Amy Campbell, Senior Editor

June 14, 2024

4 Min Read

A fire that ripped through a StorQuest Self Storage facility in Arvada, Colorado, last week destroyed dozens of units and grabbed national headlines. As often happens with a devastating event like this, media outlets rushed in to tell the stories of the tenants who lost their belongings in the blaze. Naturally, these renters are devastated by their loss, and some are confused about whether they’ll be compensated by insurance. Both are juicy angles for reporters, and they’ve jumped on this narrative.

These kinds of reports, paired with YouTube videos of the destruction, are damaging not to just the storage brand that’s been affected, but the industry as a whole. Although a multi-billion-dollar and thriving industry, self-storage still gets a lot of shade. Throw in a family who’s lost all their belongings in a fire, break-in or other event at a storage facility, and it isn’t hard to paint storage operators as the villain. Cue the mustache twirl and muh-ha-ha laugh as they rush to the bank with their bags of money.

In truth, storage owners are like any other business owner—they do their best to mitigate risk and respond appropriately when something goes awry. Whether it’s a fire, hurricane, flood, tornado, vandalism, burglary or some other event, few media outlets dig deep to tell their story, however. They don’t discuss the ramifications to the storage company, which are often devastating. Structures need to be rebuilt and can take months or even years. In the meantime, the storage facility is missing out on revenue from those units. Not to mention, the site becomes a construction zone. Cue the safety concerns, noise and other inconveniences that come with it.

Storage owners must also navigate their own insurance process. Filing a claim is convoluted. There could be a substantial deductible along with a premium increase at the next renewal even if the operator is deemed not at fault. There’s paperwork, inspectors and a lot of waiting involved. Even then, not everything might be covered, which means more money down the drain.

Then there’s the human factor—your tenants. No matter the cause, they’re going to be angry. Many will turn that frustration your way. Not only could you lose them as customers, your storage business’ reputation could suffer serious damage that’ll affect your occupancy. This is especially true if the incident was a break-in or other crime.

The threats to a self-storage company are varied. ISS has reported on facilities damaged by fire, tornadoes, explosions and hurricanes. Vehicles have crashed into storage structures, front offices and pole signs. Storage properties are often targeted by thieves. There have also been homicides on these properties (including a gun battle with police) and bodies stashed in units. Tenants have threatened and even injured storage employees. That’s a whole lot of risk that isn’t found in every industry.

While there’s no way you can 100% insulate your storage business from these negative events, you can prepare for them and possibly lessen their impact. Here’s how.

Review and understand your insurance. You should know what’s included, your deductible, how to file a claim and when to report new information to your agent. Find a reputable company and choose your coverages carefully. Property damage is one of the most problematic for storage operators. Members of the Self-Storage Talk online community have shared tons of stories on tenants breaking the front gate, ramming a bollard, or backing into a unit door or side of the building. It happens. Be prepared for what to do when it does.

Offer insurance to your tenants. There are many options and some will even earn your business revenue. You can make it mandatory or allow tenants to opt in. It’s critical that your customers understand your business will not compensate them if something happens. All too often, renters just assume the storage company will hand over a check. Make sure this is clear in your lease and your sales presentation.

Have an emergency plan. It’s imperative to have a written plan of action that provides guidance on how to act in a variety of scenarios. It should include phone numbers for key individuals in the company and community (police, fire, utility, poison control, etc.), evacuation instructions, staff protocol and responsibilities, location of emergency equipment, basic first aid, and other pertinent information. In addition to a written guide, make sure you conduct drills with your staff. Another facet of this plan should be who’ll handle the media inquiries and what the message will be.

Of course, you hope these occurrences will never happen to your self-storage business. But won’t you feel a bit better if you know you have a plan just in case one of them does? Take some time to assess your risks so you can determine what you’ll do to minimize the impact to your self-storage business, tenants and staff.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Senior Editor, Inside Self Storage

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