Three Letters Re: Storing Food in Commercial Storage Spaces?

Mr. Rawles,
I have a small follow up question/suggestion to your response regarding commercial storage spaces. In my area, I have a solid 4-to-6 hour drive in good conditions to get to my safety location from my greater metropolitan area home. After having to do this drive last year with the chaos of an incoming Hurricane, I decided to take advantage of your “Doug Carlton” suggestion from your novel “Patriots”. I decided to rent a small storage unit (5’x5′) at what I considered the half way point between my city and my objective location. I pay $20 per month to store a small cache which consists of 20 gallons of stabilized gasoline (ventilated), 7 days of freeze dried food, and bottled drinking water. All in all, it consists of about $100 in supplies.

I do not consider this a long term solution, but at $20 a month it is an insurance policy that almost guarantees I will not have to be walking to my retreat. I’m sure you can find many testimonials online from people who had to evacuate Houston and Brownsville last year due to increased Hurricane activity in the Gulf. Many places were completely sold out of gasoline, food and water with in the first six hours of evacuation activities.

Do you consider this a good stop gap solution when it comes to utilizing self-store units? I understand that this is no excuse for procrastination or apathy. I am not diluting myself into thinking it has long term security for more than 24-to-48 hours of storage pending a catastrophic event or break down of civil service. Thank you for your time and advice. – Matt in Texas

Mr. Rawles,
I am the resident manager of a small self storage facility, and have been for over seven years. And yes I am a prepper and a woman.

Among my tenants I can count about a dozen or so who are also preppers. They consider this a safe place to store their preps while they are finding land to move to. I am always happy when one comes in to give notice that they are moving to the country (as they say).

We (my staff of two, and I) have a written plan in case of a situation and after practicing it and working out the bugs; we can lock this place down in less than five minutes. If I am here by myself it takes about 7 minutes to secure the premises and have my weapon and clipboard in hand. I realize that my tenants will want to come get their possessions as quickly as possible and that is part of our security set up, thus the clipboard with tenant info.

If any of your readers are thinking about storing their goods at a self storage facility here are some suggestions to make sure their items are secure.

1. Check out the location: in person and check with the local police force to see if the facility has had break-ins.
2. Is the property well lit and well fenced? (first step in security)
3. Only rent where there is a resident manager (a layer of security)
4. Gated with an electronic gate and limited hours. 24 hour facilities have more break-ins than those with limited hours. Electronic gates usually record the gate activity. (more security)
5. Is there video cameras recording the activity on the property? (security again)
6. Talk to the manager and staff – get to know them – you can do this without telling them what you are storing. You would be surprised how many people will tell you exactly what they are storing.
7. Does the staff make themselves present on the property?
8. Is the facility clean and well-maintained?
9. What types of locks are on the doors? Round locks for which only you hold the keys to are the best. Are the empty units locked also? (this is a sign that manage takes security seriously) Is there an extra lock on the door? Ask the management why. Most facility requires only one lock so they can lock out a tenant that doesn’t pay their rent.
10. Speaking of rent: Do you pay with credit card or can you set up a continuous pay with your bank or can you pay in advance with the Self Storage sending you an invoice the month you prepaid is up?
11. Read the rental agreement and understand it.
12. Check on your goods frequently.
13. Remember most self storage facilities do not allow food stored in any type of container that a four-legged critter could chew through. Canned goods, and round plastic food grade buckets are good. Make sure when storing food or clothing that you have clean hands. Residue of that hamburger you ate on the way will leave traces that will attract that four-legged critter.
14. Store in Rubbermaid plastic totes, well labeled on all sides including the top and bottom.
15. As far as extreme temperatures; yes it can happen, but if the units are well insulated you should not have any more of a problem than storing at home. You can do the insulation yourself by choosing the containers you store in.
16. Pallets are a great idea and I whole heartily recommend them for everyone.
17. If you don’t want people to know that you are storing your preps, choose totes and containers that will not give you away.

Mr. Rawles, thank you for being a guiding light for so many of us. You and your family are in my prayers. Blessing to you and yours. – N.J.

You have a great site, I watch it carefully.

In the recent article on storage spaces you answered a question about storage units being used to keep your food for a time. I run over 3,000 units of storage in a climate that has burning heat and freezing cold, and the answer to this problem is: climate controlled units. For only a few dollars more per month you might be able to find a unit in a climate controlled space. There temperatures will usually be held somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees. Perfect for storing food. These units are less likely to be broken into as they are interior and usually have higher levels of security covering them.

The drawback is that still just an emerging market, and hence climate-controlled units are not available in may rural areas. However, they are much more common the past few years. I just added climate control to a facility right here and though the facility in an area that is mostly farmer’s fields. I also know that the little town of Haley, Idaho has a storage company with climate controlled space. I also know of climate controlled storage scattered [in small numbers] across across Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Readers might not be able to find one right where they are going, but for the general public’s knowledge – climate control is out there and becoming more available all the time

As for losing your stuff for non-payment, yes it happens – all the time. I am constantly amazed at the valuables that people lose just because they didn’t pay their bill. But any reputable storage site is going to offer automatic payment options, either by credit card or checking withdrawals. That can make life much easier.

Yes, plan for possible water damage, and a possible rodent visit. Both are easy to handle. And lastly have some spare keys made for your lock. That one issue has tripped up too many people too many times. Thanks, – Luke H.

JWR Replies: I wholeheartedly agree about spare keys! In addition to the key that you keep on your daily-carry key ring, put one in each of your main bug-out bags, and one in the glove box of each of your vehicles! Someday, you might have to hurriedly depart for your retreat in unusual circumstances.