Earlier this year my storage facility in Anchorage Alaska took the unfortunate brunt of a mudslide that caused extensive damage to my buildings and required a large number of repairs.

The cause of the mud slide was a water main break in the condominium complex adjacent to my property. The break caused tens of thousands of gallons of water to pool in the condominium’s crawlspace and then pour out into a channel, creating a 30-feet-wide slide that pummeled my property with four-feet of frozen mud.

The force of the slide pushed two of my storage containers, one of which slammed into my main building.

Fortunately, no condominium resident or any of my employees were hurt during the incident. However, the mudslide was not an easy situation to overcome and an unprepared owner may have been unable to recover their business.

My experience inspired me to share my story on how I quickly fixed my business after the mudslide. Here are a few helpful tips to get your storage facility back into shape after an environmental disaster.

Support your people

When I first heard about the mudslide from my manager the first thing I did was check on my employees. I employ two people to run my storage facility and I wanted to make sure they were both doing fine physically and mentally after the incident.

Everyone was okay, but the mudslide caused my manager to have very high levels of stress. He was worried the rest of the mud on the hill was going to come down bringing the entire condo complex down with it. He was also worried about potentially angry tenants who had their possessions damaged.

Stressed employees are not going to help you repair your storage facility so it is important to give them the support system they need to get back to a comfortable and effective state of mind.

As an owner take control of the situation and show your employees how to deal with an environmental disaster. Take an owner’s interest in your storage facility and tell your employees you will handle the work of calling the insurance company and dealing with upset tenants.

The safety and well being of your employees should always be a top priority.

After the mud slide at AAA Muldoon Mini Storage in Anchorage Alaska.

Ensure the safety of your facility

When the mudslide happened we didn’t have any idea if the area was safe and secure. If you can’t ensure the safety of an area then you should keep everyone away from it.

Public peace officers such as the fire and police departments will handle most of the situation, but you as the owner of your facility should ensure your business is safe and contact the building inspector.

Your local building inspector will let you know if there are any public hazards such as a broken gas line or electrical issues. If you have any of these issues, then call your electric and gas companies right away.

The building inspector should be your first call after a mudslide or similar event because confirming that the foundation of your facility is secure is your responsibility.

Take photos and know what happened

 Insurance is of vital importance after dealing with a mudslide. Disasters like this are the reason I pay for insurance in the first place; however, many insurance companies are going to do everything they can to keep from fully paying your claim.

Don’t just trust the insurance companies to process your claim, take your own photos and understand what happened so you can argue any discrepancies in coverage.

For example, my insurance company initially told me they would not be covering any of my claim because they said the damage to my property was caused by flooding. However, I was able to show them some of the photos I had taken of the damage to my property and give them the fire departments and building inspector’s reports on the incident.

Taking my own photos and understanding how public safety officials had recorded the event prevented me from having to cover a heavy repair bill out-of-pocket.

Don’t wait for insurance

If you can afford it then I would recommend not waiting on your insurance company to file your claim and send the necessary contractors to repair your business. I wanted to get my business up and running again as quickly as possible, so I initially paid for a landscaper and excavator myself so I could quickly move all the dirt and debris that had damaged my storage facility.

Paying for my own landscaper allowed me to quickly restart my operation. I then called my insurance company insisting time was of the essence unless they could move quickly to act.

In the long run, the move saved me money and I would recommend it to anyone with the financial stability to pay property damages out of pocket.

Tenants need insurance too 

Our company does not personally insure any of our tenants’ stored property, but I do require them to either take out insurance or deny it as part of our lease contract before they store valuables in my facility.

No one can guess when the next mudslide or earthquake is going to occur and properly insuring their valuables can put a tenant’s mind at ease.

If a tenant is unwilling to insure their possessions, then the owner of the facility should make sure to have the tenant sign an addendum acknowledging they do not wish to purchase insurance. I will not rent storage space to tenants who refuse to acknowledge they lack insurance without a signature confirming they understand we only provide storage and not insure their belongings.

A mudslide or any other environmental disaster is a stressful and difficult situation for you and your employees to deal with, but it does not mean your business is finished.

Look out for your employees and understand your situation and you and your business will recover.

Mark Nelson is the owner of AAA Muldoon Mini Storage in Anchorage Alaska and Wasilla Mini Storage

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Mark Nelson