Crises can come in many forms and can strike at any time; and any one of them can have a devastating impact on your self-storage business. This article provides an overview of the types of incidents that can occur at a facility as well as general advice on what to do about them before, during and after.

Melissa Huff, Owner

March 14, 2024

5 Min Read

Dealing with a crisis is never easy. And though you may not want to admit it, as a self-storage operator, you’re always susceptible to risk. Our industry faces a variety of threats that can disrupt business and create challenges for owners, staff and tenants. Some can be quite devastating and costly, while others are just messy and inconvenient.

While difficult situations can make us feel powerless, many catastrophes can be made more manageable by creating and following a simple crisis-management plan containing guidelines on what to do before, during and after the incident. Let’s look at some of the unfortunate scenarios you’re likely to encounter and how to remain operational and competent through the process.

Potential Threats

Let’s begin with an overview of crises self-storage operators might one day face.

Natural disasters. These can include hurricane, tornado, flood, fire, earthquake, winter storm, and excessive heat or cold. Hurricanes bring strong wind and heavy rain, potentially causing structural damage, power outages and flooding. While these storms may be forecasted, flowing water often hits quickly and with a force that catches many people by surprise. Structures in areas where hurricanes and tornadoes are common are often built to withstand high winds but might be unprepared for a deluge of water. Even a region that isn’t prone to flooding can suffer simply because the drainage systems are too easily overwhelmed.

Fire can also devastate a self-storage business. It might be the result of faulty wiring, electrical malfunction, arson or accident. Tenants might willingly or unknowingly store flammable materials or attempt to live in one of your units, burning candles or using appliances that are unsafe for such an environment.

Theft. This might come in the form of a physical facility break-in or a data breach. It might even come from within your own team.

Legal issues. These can range from contractual disputes to wrongful-sale lawsuits. You might have to deal with the death of a tenant or being served with a search warrant. Problems may arise if you aren’t adhering to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act. The legal side of the self-storage business can be rife with risk.

Equipment or technology failure. This always seems to happen at the worst possible time. It could be that your gate, keypad or cameras malfunction. Your HVAC system stops working, or you lose power altogether. You could lose internet, which can impact your self-storage management software and website, impacting your ability to process online rentals, take payments and interact with customers.

Before the Crisis

While the above is hardly a complete list of the possible crisis situations that can occur in a self-storage environment, there are a few key prevention strategies that can help you mitigate a variety of emergencies. The following may even help you avoid an incident altogether.

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment of your site, then sit down with your staff to develop a well-defined crisis-management plan for a wide range of scenarios. Don’t forget to arrange for communication with tenants, staff, emergency personnel and the media, if necessary.

  • Watch your self-storage property the next time it rains heavily. Evaluate the water flow from the roofs and gutters all the way down to the detention pond to ensure everything is moving as it should. If not, invest in improvements.

  • Regularly inspect and maintain your facility’s electrical systems as well as your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Make sure all exit signs are working, and clearly post the site’s emergency-evacuation plan where people can see it.

  • Implement robust security measures. An advanced system is crucial to crime deterrence and response. The key is to work with reputable industry experts who can help implement the right components and cybersecurity measures for your unique operation.

  • Regularly review and update your self-storage rental agreement, and keep up-to-date on industry laws. Seek legal counsel to preemptively address potential issues.

  • Join your state self-storage association, which should be able to help you understand your local lien laws and may be able to provide a rental-agreement template as well as other educational resources.

  • Create a contingency plan for potential system failure. For example, there should be a plan to maintain property access if the gate malfunctions and manual processes for handling rentals and payments. Communication with tenants during any such interruption is extremely important.

  • Ensure you have comprehensive insurance coverage tailored to your operation and review it with your agent annually.

During the Crisis

You’re more likely to maintain calmness and order when you have a pre-established crisis-management strategy on which to rely. When tragedy strikes, activate your plan immediately! Collaborate with emergency services and relevant authorities to address the incident quickly and effectively. Continuously assess the situation, adjust response strategies as needed, and maintain the flow of communication. Manage media inquiries through a designated spokesperson, ensuring a consistent and accurate narrative and appropriate response to public concerns.

After the Crisis

Post-crisis recovery can be a lengthy process depending on the extent of the damage. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the situation and prioritize your efforts. Keep all self-storage tenants, staff and stakeholders informed about progress, timelines and any changes in facility operation. Ensure compliance with legal or regulatory requirements related to the event, including any reporting obligations and necessary documentation.

Depending on the severity of the crisis, there may be a need for additional action. For example, consider the potential impact on the mental and physical health of your staff and customers, and provide access to support services as necessary.

This is also a good time to carefully review your crisis-management plan and identify areas for improvement based on the lessons learned. Continue to conduct regular training sessions and drills to keep your self-storage team well-prepared for potential emergencies.

Understanding the diverse nature of potential disasters will equip you to develop a comprehensive crisis-management plan tailored to your specific risks. This proactive approach ensures a more resilient and responsive self-storage operation, capable of navigating challenges effectively and minimizing the negative impact on people and property.

Melissa Huff is co-owner of Lighthouse Storage Solutions LLC, which provides tailored consulting services to help self-storage owners enhance their operations. She also serves as the director for the Louisiana and Tennessee Self Storage Associations. To contact her, email [email protected] or connect with her on LinkedIn.

About the Author(s)

Melissa Huff

Owner, Melissa's Management & Consulting LLC

Melissa Huff is the owner of Melissa's Management & Consulting LLC, a management and consulting firm that specializes in serving state self-storage associations. Her experience with state associations and previous role at Affordable Storage Guys has fueled her passion for the self-storage industry.  She currently manages the Louisiana and Tennessee Self Storage Associations. To reach her, email [email protected] or connect through LinkedIn.

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