Disaster Preparedness and Self-Storage

What You Need to Know

While the sheer force of nature is a huge part of the reason, lack of preparedness only further aggravates the destruction perpetuated by natural disasters. In 2015, 376 natural triggered disasters were registered, and this doesn't include local problems like floods, small storms, and fires. If you're not prepared, your family is at risk.

Disasters can range from an unexpected fire in your home to a widespread hurricane damaging thousands of homes in your area. Some of the types of disasters you should be prepared for include:
  • Blizzards - If you live in an area where snow is common, think about the danger of a blizzard strong enough to keep you locked at home for days.
  • Ice storms - Ice storms are dangerous because they have tendency to take out power from fallen limbs that hit power lines. They also can trap people at home when roads are impassable.
  • Tornadoes - Tornadoes are quite destructive but typically only directly hit a few homes in a community – completely destroying them. However, the debris and disruption to infrastructure can cause plenty of negative secondary effects.
  • Flooding - Flooding can take out services, destroy property, and provide new avenues for microbes to travel, creating thousands of dollars of damage and widespread disease.
  • Fires - Fires can be isolated in the case of a home fire or widespread in the case of a wild fire. Direct damage from the flames and smoke, as well as weakened buildings, disruption to utilities, and damage to the local ecosystem can cause all sorts of lingering effects.
  • Mudslides or landslides - A more common risk in hilly communities, these can destroy homes completely by washing them away while also eroding the landscape.
  • Earthquake - The devastation from an earthquake can be quite far-reaching.
In the United States, the type of disaster you're most at risk for depends largely on where you live. Those in coastal areas are at higher risk for hurricanes, while those in the plains are at higher risk for tornadoes. Fires can happen anywhere, as can earthquakes, but mud and landslides occur primarily in areas with a mountainous terrain. Of the types of disasters possible, floods are often the most underestimated. They can happen anywhere that water exists, and cause more deaths than the other types of natural disasters. All of these natural disasters can have long-lasting effects beyond the initial strike, as varying extents of damage may linger.

Regardless of the disaster you're most at risk for, you need to know what to do to protect yourself before one strikes. A storage unit and proper storage techniques can be one of your lines of defense. This guide will look at how you can use a storage unit to protect your items as you make sure you're as prepared as possible for a potential disaster.

Packing and Storing Items to Prevent Damage

Disaster preparedness involves storing items you can use in the event of a disaster, but it also involves planning for the storage of the items you use every day. Here are some tips to help you pack and store your items to prevent damage as you work to ensure you're as prepared as possible for a potential disaster.
  • Choose the right storage container. First, you need to choose the right storage container. Consider factors like water and air tightness, ability to withstand fire, and ease of access. Also, consider whether you're going to need to be able to see in the container, or if it would be better to have one that's not see-through. The right container may vary depending on the      type of item you're storing.
  • Choose the right storage facility. In addition to choosing the containers, you may wish to store some of your items at a storage facility. Choose one that's built to withstand weather and fire well.
  • Choose the right packing material. Choose a packing material that will provide enough cushioning to your item, without damaging the item. Newspaper, for instance, is a great cushion, but it can leave print on delicate items. Butcher paper, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts can all be helpful.
  • Pack everyday items logically. Everyday items that you wish to store can be packed in a logical fashion. Pack them in boxes or bins with heavier items on the bottom, stacking where possible and cushioning to prevent damage. Avoid packing bins or boxes too full, but keep them light enough that you can carry them if needed.
  • Label things clearly. In a disaster, you aren't going to want to spend hours digging through crates to find your canned food. Label boxes clearly on all sides so you can easily find what you need.
  • Protect jewelry properlyWrap each piece of jewelry in a layer of acid-free tissue paper, raw silk, or untreated cotton to prevent scratching. Stick brooches or earrings onto a board or cushion, and then place this in a padded bag. Store necklaces over hooks, and then place the board with the hooks in the storage container. Use a secure storage container or even a fireproof safe for particularly valuable pieces.
  • Protect your electronics. Electronics can be hard to pack because they take up so much      space, but if you're going to protect them from a disaster, you must protect them. Moisture control is particularly critical for electronics, so look for storage containers that are watertight. Choose a self-storage unit that is temperature controlled when storing electronics long-term. Don't wrap electronics in plastic, which can allow moisture to get trapped inside. If possible, store electronics in their original packaging, then place that packaging in a long-term container.
  • Back up data. No matter how carefully you protect your electronics, chances are something will be damaged in a natural disaster. For this reason, you need to backup your data several places, and make sure one of those places is in the cloud. This will ensure that you always have your valuable data, even if you lose everything.
  • Store paperwork in an organized fashion. In a disaster, you're going to need to have extra copies of many important papers, like your bank contact information or your children's birth certificates. Before storing paperwork, organize and file it so you can easily find what you need. Then, place critical papers in a watertight storage container to protect them from damage. Make sure all paper storage materials are acid-free.
  • Use care when storing art. Art can be hard to store, but if you have a valuable collection you won't want it damaged in a disaster. First, make sure the artwork is protected by covering with a blanket, bubble wrap, or felt before storing. Then, after wrapping it carefully in these soft      materials, place it in a plastic bag and tie or seal the bag. Then, place the art in a box made specifically for packing paintings. Stand your art on end and store it side-to-side, rather than stacking it on top of other pieces. Choose temperature and moisture controlled storage facilities for safety.
  • Protect clothing, shoes, handbags, and other cloth items from moisture and insects. The main risk to fabric items is mold and mildew, but insects, like moths, are also a concern. To store, fold these items and place them in a sealed, moisture resistant container. Consider using cedar to help protect your items further. For particularly valuable pieces, like handbags or shoes, place them inside a bag or box within the sealed container. Use forms to help bags and shoes keep their shape while stored.
  • Prevent dust accumulation on baby items. If you're storing baby items, like your old crib, take measures to prevent dust accumulation and debris that may be stirred up in a disaster. Wrapping baby supplies in plastic and storing smaller items in a sealed container is helpful.
  • Store cars and other vehicles properly. If you have a car you aren't using, you can store it in a storage unit to help prevent damage from wind and hail storms. Consider covering the car with a protective wrap to prevent scratches. The same process applies to motorcycles, boats and other vehicles.
  • Hang bikes. To store a bicycle, inflate the tires, and then hang it from a bike rack. Hanging the bike keeps the weight off of the tires and prevents flat spots, so your bike is ready to go when you need it again. Keeping it off the ground helps prevent moisture damage if you face a minor flood or rain event.
  • Protect the finish on furniture. When storing furniture, don't place items near it that could transfer color onto the upholstery or finished surfaces.
  • Protect furniture from moisture. In a disaster, moisture may get into your storage unit. Place furniture on pallets so it's not on the floor to prevent damage.
  • Cover furniture to prevent dust accumulation. Cover furniture with cotton drop cloths to      keep dust off while still allowing for airflow.
In addition to these storage tips, you need to know what not to store. Here are some items that shouldn't be stored in a storage unit:
  • Combustible or highly flammable items
  • Gun powder or loaded guns
  • Medical or pharmaceutical supplies or equipment
  • Biological or toxic waste
  • Perishable foods, including pet foods
  • Non-operable or non-registered vehicles
  • Plants
  • Preserved animals
For more information about packing items safely, visit:

Choosing the Right Storage Facility

Not all storage facilities are created equal, and you want to be sure you get the right one when you're shopping When looking for a storage facility, you need to keep disaster preparedness in mind. While some tips are universal, some will apply specifically to the type of disaster in your area. For instance, if you live in Illinois, you don't need to worry about mudslides or hurricanes, but you will need to be concerned with tornadoes and hail. In addition to these area-specific considerations, here are some general and disaster-specific tips to help you choose the right storage facility.
  • Temperature Control - Temperature control helps keep your items at a comfortable temperature to prevent damage from freezing or overly warm temperatures. This is particularly important if you're looking to store electronics, items that may melt, artwork, paperwork, or other items that are sensitive to temperature changes.
  • Humidity Control - Humidity control helps reduce the risk of warping and mold damage due to unnecessary and unwanted moisture.
  • Earthquake Protection - If you live in an area at risk for earthquakes, you'll want a single-story facility that has a structure designed to protect against earthquake damage.
  • Lighting - You will want lighting to ensure you can see into your unit if you visit after dark. A well-lit facility is also less tempting to thieves.
  • Pest control - While not a natural disaster, pest infestations are a disaster in your storage unit. Look for a facility that practices pest infestation control.
  • Locks - Storage facilities all have locks, but make sure you like the one offered to you. Combination locks are opened with a set of numbers known only by you and the storage facility. Padlocks require a key to open. General purpose locks also require a key and are made from brass or stainless steel. The best locks are high or maximum-security padlocks, which have multiple pins and are made from an extremely hard metal. Some storage facilities allow their customers to bring their own locks, while others provide locks as part as the storage agreement. Find out what lock options are available.
  • Size - Choose a storage facility that has enough size for all of the things you need to store. For reference, a 10x25 storage unit will fit the contents of a three-bedroom house, including furniture and appliances.
  • Floor - Most storage facilities have a simple concrete floor. This is fine, but check to make sure the floor drains well. It should have a drain inside or be angled outward to allow any moisture to drain away. This will be critical if there is a flood to prevent stagnate water from ruining your belongings.
  • Additional Security - In addition to the lock on the unit, make sure the facility you chose has good security. Computerized gate access, 24/7 surveillance and an on-site manager will all help keep your belongings secure. While some of these things will not function in a disaster, you want to be sure your items are safe in normal circumstances as well as disasters.
  • Seals on Doors - Not all storage facilities have properly sealed doors, and in a water disaster, your items are vulnerable. If you're concerned about flooding or hurricanes, make sure that the storage facility has doors with tight seals.
  • Elevation - If you live in an area where flooding is a concern, look for a facility that is elevated. This will provide the best possible protection in the event of a water problem.
For more information about choosing storage units, visit:
In addition to these features, you will want to consider insurance. If a disaster happens and your items are damaged, you need to know that you have the right coverage. Some insurance considerations include:
  • Commercial Property - Commercial property insurance covers the storage facility's building      and its contents in the event of a natural disaster. This will not cover the items stored within the facility.
  • Liability Insurance - Liability insurance is critical because this is the insurance that covers damage to your property in a natural disaster. Make sure the facility you choose has this coverage. Read your lease carefully, however, because you may be signing a "store at your own risk" clause that releases the storage facility from all liability. Make sure you know      what is covered before you sign, so you can get the right supplemental coverage.
  • Business Income Coverage - This coverage pays the storage facility for income lost when a      disaster causes a temporary closure of the business. While this doesn't directly affect you and your stored items, it is a helpful type of coverage, because it ensures the facility doesn't have to close altogether in a serious disaster.
  • Your Own Insurance - Your homeowner's insurance may cover items stored in a storage      facility, but it may not. You will need to read your coverage carefully to ensure that your items are covered. If not, you'll want to buy a supplemental policy. Check the personal property coverage portion of your policy to see if it covers items stored away from your home.
  • Supplemental Storage Insurance Policies - Supplemental policies are designed to insure items stored in a self-storage facility, specifically against natural disasters. Find out what types of disasters are common in your area, then choose a self-storage insurance product that protects against those disasters. Your storage facility may even offer an insurance option you can purchase along with your rent, but make sure it covers the types of disasters you're at the most risk for in your area.
  • Flood Insurance - Unfortunately, floods are often not covered under the types of insurance that are available for storage units. If you're at risk for flooding in your area, you will want to purchase an additional flood insurance policy that covers your storage unit.
The key is to ensure that your items are covered in some way, whether through your own insurance products or through the insurance coverage the facility has. In the event of a disaster, insurance will be essential to replace your lost or damaged items. For more information about insurance and storage facilities, visit:
As you're considering these features, keep a few specific disaster-related tips in mind.
  • Some features, like temperature and humidity control, may only be functional when electricity is present. Consider looking for a facility with a backup power source if these features are      critical to you.
  • Make sure locks are not dependent on electricity. While electronic keypads are convenient in normal circumstances, you don't want your items vulnerable to looters or inaccessible to you if the power goes out.
  • Even if a unit is well sealed, water can get in during a flood or hurricane. Use pallets to keep your items off the ground for added protection.
For more information about storage items and natural disasters, visit:

Using Self-Storage Strategically After a Disaster

Packing items and storing them is a great way to protect them in the event of a natural disaster, but after a disaster you can use your storage unit strategically as well. Here's how.
  • Use a storage facility in a non-damaged area to store the items you salvaged from your home. If you'll need to move in with relatives, stay in a hotel, or stay in a disaster housing site, you don't want to leave your items available to looters. Short-term rental options will give you the chance to keep your items safe while you recover.
  • Keep items accessible even when you can't have them on hand. For instance, use a self-storage facility to store extra clothing, and it will be accessible to you during open hours      whenever you need a fresh set or a new season of clothing, without having to lug your entire wardrobe around with you.
  • Store a disaster kit in an off-site storage location. This will give you an extra stash to grab if you have a disaster and the disaster storage kit you have at home is inaccessible. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of coming away from a disaster without serious problems.
  • Protect valuables you won't be using. Artwork and heirloom jewelry, for instance, can be stored off-site so you don't have to worry about it in a disaster.
  • Store valuables while in transition after a disaster. With the right storage facility, you won't have to worry about keeping your treasures safe while figuring out a new place to live and all      of the other concerns that come after a serious disaster.
  • Store important contact numbers in your self-storage facility. This ensures you can get this information even if your home is destroyed.
You can use some strategies to save money as you search for a self-storage facility for help after a disaster. Here are some tips to consider.
  • Look for a facility that will prorate your lease if you aren't going to use the unit for the entire month. Most leases are month-by-month, but some facilities will discount the lease if you move your stuff out before the end of the month. Saving money is critical after a disaster, so this type of discount is helpful.
  • Watch out for scammers. While it's technically illegal in most states for companies to raise prices to unreasonable levels when a state of emergency has been declared, many will      increase their prices. Even though you're in an emergency, shop around to find a reasonable price.
  • Go small to save. Try to pack your items as tightly as possible so you can get the smallest possible unit. You may be able to save by getting a slightly smaller unit if you pack well.
  • If you have access to transportation, take your items a slight distance away from the disaster area or any big cities. Self-storage is a supply-and-demand type pricing structure, so if you can store items farther from the areas where demand is high, you may get a better price.
For general information about disaster preparedness, visit these resources: