Fire is one of the costliest causes of loss for property owners and insurance carriers. In the western United States, wildfire is a serious annual concern. In addition to the potential for injury and loss of life, a single wildfire event can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The National Park Service reports that only 10 percent of wildfires result from natural causes such as lightning, volcanic eruption, and sparks from rockfalls. The remaining 90 percent are caused by humans. The leading causes of wildfires are unsafe fires, arson, sparks from equipment, power arc lines, and accidents.
It is important for self-storage business owners to address the risk of wildfire by planning ahead and taking steps to mitigate the risk of damage and loss from a fire event. Detailed checklists are available from several online sources to include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (www.ready.gov), the U.S. Fire Administration (www.usfa.fema.gov), and the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org).
In addition to checklists, consider some basic risk management principles to assist in preparing your facility.
- Develop a Written Plan – Your facility’s written fire preparedness plan should be easy to understand, accessible, and updated on a regular basis. The plan may include property maps and diagrams, tenant information, building construction data, insurance policy numbers, and contact information for key personnel, tenants, insurance agents, local police and fire departments, utilities, and contractors.
- Practice Your Evacuation Plan – Implementing a facility evacuation plan can help avoid confusion and prevent injuries. Even with a small staff, provide documented training. Schedule periodic practice drills to ensure that your managers are ready in the event of a fire emergency to execute the plan including limiting tenants’ access to the property and mitigating the spread of fire.
- Mitigate by Communicating – Address fire prevention with your tenants on a regular basis. Flyers stuffed into monthly bills, e-mail, and signage placed throughout the facility are effective methods to remind tenants that the storage of flammable materials and use of items such as candles and heat lamps is prohibited at the facility. Signage also may be used to alert tenants to areas where smoking is prohibited. This step is critical if your facility is located in an area surrounded by brush and trees. You don’t want your tenant to be the cause of a wildfire.
- Get to Know Your Fire Department – During a fire, the fire department’s knowledge of your facility’s layout and buildings may help save lives and minimize damage. Invite your local fire department to visit your property for an inspection and consultation to discuss any issues they may identify during the walk-through that require remediation.
As with any risk that may affect your self-storage property, the key to preventing and managing the risk of fire is awareness. Educating yourself and your employees about fire preparedness, creating a written plan, and taking the appropriate steps to maintain the property to reduce the risk of fire are effective strategies to help minimize the risk of costly property damage in the event of fire. In addition, your insurance agent can advise you regarding insurance coverages and limits for your property.
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