Using a Commercial Self-Storage Rental Unit
We’ve seen several writers recommend keeping some of your prepping supplies in a regular commercial self-storage rental-unit, instead of – or as well as – at your retreat. They suggest you should choose a storage locker facility that allows you 24/7 access and which you can secure yourself and access externally.
People advocating this strategy say that using a commercial storage unit may be more secure than filling up your ‘cabin in the woods’ with everything you have accumulated, and they are half correct about this.
The part they are half correct about is that at present, with life as we know it continuing on in its normal fashion, your retreat is probably unlived in for much/most of the year, and therefore is vulnerable to attack.
It is close to impossible to make any type of structure totally burglar-proof. Assuming your retreat is out of sight of the main road and neighbors, there’s nothing to stop burglars from using a crow-bar or chain-saw or in any other way, forcing their way into your retreat, at their leisure; and loading up anything and everything they want, completely undisturbed and unseen.
Your retreat is vulnerable not only to professional burglars but also to casual vandalism. If people get the sense that there’s a little used mainly vacant house, they might decide to break in just for the sheer devilry of doing so.
On the other hand, commercial storage units are moderately secure and it is uncommon for individual units to be broken into. The more secure storage units have individual alarms on each unit that will sound if the person renting the unit does not enter a personal access code prior to opening the door.
The least secure units have their doors secured by padlocks. The reason this is insecure is that most padlocks can be defeated in only a few seconds by a pair of bolt-cutters; furthermore, after the thieves have cut off your padlock and entered your unit to take whatever they want, they can then re-secure your unit with a replacement padlock, leaving no obvious external sign of unauthorized entry. Even worse, they could return the next day and simply open the padlock with their key, and for all anyone else would know, they were the rightful owner of the locker. You’d not know anything about this until returning to the locker yourself to find an unfamiliar padlock on your door.
Issues and Risks of Storage Units
Some of the issues and risks to do with storing your supplies in a storage locker can be mitigated and reduced by prudent action on your part.
For example, if the storage facility you are considering does not have security that monitors and alarms any time a locker door is opened without an appropriate access code being entered, you could probably set up your own internal alarm at the storage unit so that when your unit’s door is opened, a disarm code needs to be quickly entered into an alarm unit, and if not done so, it will either sound a very loud alarm to alert the management and scare off the intruders, and/or dial a phone number to alert your or someone else about the unauthorized access (Use a Google phone number that will ring simultaneously to multiple numbers). Clearly you want a storage unit with a power outlet, and an alarm with a battery backup.
There are two further vulnerabilities of a commercial storage unit. Both are fairly small vulnerabilities, but one should not lose sight of them.
First, it is possible that the police or some other law enforcement body might get a search warrant to search an entire storage unit complex due to some part of it being suspected of being used to store something illegal (we are aware of this happening in a slightly different context with safe deposit box facilities). If you had anything potentially embarrassing in your storage unit, it could be discovered in such a case, and while there would be a debate subsequently about if your items could be seized or not under the terms of the warrant the police were acting on, it would be at the very least an embarrassment and probably would require some time, trouble, and attorney fees for you to retrieve whatever it might be that the police seized.
Even if you had nothing embarrassing present, it is possible the police action could make everything unavailable for some time while they worked out what belonged to who and so on.
The other vulnerability could be the storage unit operator/owner breaking in to your unit – either illegally or legally. Perhaps you set up some sort of regular auto-pay for the monthly rental, and maybe something changes to invalidate the payments, and maybe you don’t realize this, and the next thing you know, the owner/operator has broken in to your unit and is auctioning off its contents to recover lost rent, and has done something to everything else that you had stored there.
This happened to us. We used a technique to obscure our actual identity when hiring the locker, but unfortunately, when the regular auto payments failed (unbeknownst to us), the facility manager couldn’t contact us, and we arrived one day to find our unit double locked by the manager, and about to be opened and the contents auctioned off. Just as well we turned up when we did.
There’s another consideration to keep in mind as well. It is a remote and unlikely risk, but it is also a risk that wiped out everything I had stored at a storage facility, some years ago. This is the risk of fire (or any other sort of external ‘natural’ peril such as flood or who knows what). You’ve probably seen pictures or video of floods, and I’ve definitely seen storage facilities suffering from flood waters the same as other businesses around them. But in my case, the problem was fire.
A huge fire destroyed the large warehouse/storage facility, and its entire contents too. There’s actually a weird ending to that story – I discovered that my regular homeowner’s insurance would cover me, and lodged a claim for what I’d lost. The insurance company immediately paid out, but then almost as quickly, told me it would not renew my cover for the future, due to my having an ‘unexpected loss’.
Isn’t that what insurance is all about – protection against ‘unexpected losses’? Apparently some insurance companies don’t realize or don’t accept they are in the business of covering for unexpected losses! They are happy to accept your premiums, but don’t like to ever then pay out.
If you have your insurance cancelled/not renewed, you will find it very difficult to get alternate insurance at normal rates from anyone else, because all insurers tell each other when they blacklist a person.
So make sure you specify to your insurer that you are covering goods at both your primary residence and at a storage locker too; that way there will be less risk of your insurance company giving you a hard time if/when you make a claim.
Of course, there’s probably no way you’ll be able to effectively claim on insurance WTSHTF, but you could have a loss prior to then, and in such a case, you could indeed file a claim and get reimbursed. And after life returns to normal after a major event, you may have some ability to get some sort of reimbursement from whatever remains of the insurance company – there’s a likelihood that whatever sort of government survives, will choose to help out in such cases.
The Moment at Which a Storage Locker Ceases to be a Good Strategy
So, while life continues normally, a storage locker is probably a good place to securely keep supplies.
But what about WTSHTF? At that point, your retreat becomes comparatively more safe because you have people living there, and at the same time, your storage locker becomes massively less safe.
Our guess is that storage lockers will quickly become a high priority target for any roving hoards of looters. If you’re not able to quickly – and safely – get to your storage locker and transport its contents to your retreat, then you run the risk of losing whatever you stored there. Either the items will be stolen or it will become impossible/impractical/unsafe for you to journey to the storage locker and collect whatever you have stored.
This also indicates an important consideration when choosing a storage facility – its location. You don’t want to use one in the center of a major population concentration.
You want to choose a storage facility on the outskirts of the population concentration, and on the same side of it as your retreat is, meaning that to travel between your storage facility and your retreat, you only need to go to the outskirts of the city, not into the center, and -worst of all – not through the city to a storage facility on the far side.
Op-Sec and Storage Lockers
If you are using a storage locker, you need to consider some simple ‘Op sec’ issues.
Assume that your every move is being watched whenever you are on the facility premises/grounds, and avoid doing anything unusual or ‘interesting’. Move only nondescript things in and out of your unit. Buy some packing boxes – plain brown cardboard boxes – and put whatever you are moving into these outer boxes. That way, all any observer would see is you carrying generic cartons in and out of your unit. That is much less tempting than seeing you carrying in boxes of food and ammo and whatever else.
Needless to say, if you are storing long guns – rifles and shotguns – either break them down so they too can fit in normal dimensioned cartons or choose cartons that have unnecessary extra width and/or depth to them so as to make it less obvious what is inside them.
We’d also suggest you don’t go to your storage unit too regularly, that you don’t load or unload too much stuff each time you do go, and that you generally go at semi-normal times of day or night, so as to seem totally ordinary and boring and not arouse any interest whatsoever.
But maybe do make a point of visiting once a quarter or so, and also make a show of taking things out of your locker as well as placing them in. They can be empty boxes that you are moving, but just show some signs of using your locker for ‘ordinary’ purposes – ie as an overflow storage facility for a regular household where you sometimes put spare stuff into storage and sometimes take stuff out of storage to use.
If you had a taste for the theatrical, you could even do something like make a big show of carrying a box with part of an artificial Christmas tree sticking out of it in and out of your unit each Christmas season.
And, of course, try to minimize the potential for casual passers-by to see into your unit whenever you have its door open, and if there’s a possibility, try to keep stuff looking boring and ordinary inside your unit.
There is good sense in storing your supplies in more than one location. If something might cause the supplies at one location to become unavailable to you, you still have your alternate location(s) too.
A storage locker can be a good place to keep supplies, but if you use one, you need to be careful at what you let people know and see about your stores, and will need to be able to quickly and safely clear out your supplies WTSHTF.