By George Skidis
Disaster Preparedness was on everyone’s mind recently as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in the Southern U.S. Hurricane season runs June through November and it’s always prudent to know how to deal with the aftermath as well as what important steps to take beforehand. Obviously, safety should be our greatest concern whether we’re sitting in Illinois, Texas or Florida.
Having spent 30 years as an insurance adjuster, I would offer and encourage everyone to follow these safety tips to protect themselves and their property in the event of any natural disaster. If you are not capable of performing any of these tips hire someone who is, and then thank me later.
What to do if an evacuation is ordered.
- Board up your windows and doors or cover them with protective shutters.
- Turn off the water either at the shut-off in your home or, if you have the utility’s permission, an even better place is at the meter pit outside.
- Turn off the electricity at the electrical service panel in your home. People are electrocuted after every flood when they go wading into their home with the power on and the water level is higher than the electrical outlets.
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter.
- Unplug all electrical appliances and if small enough move them to the highest place in the room.
- Empty your refrigerator and freezers. That rotted odor is one of the worst smells you can come home to.
- If possible, place your vehicles in a garage. If flooding is anticipated park them on high ground with a tarp over them. Remove all personal items including proof of insurance. Locking is optional. If someone wants in, they will get in.
- Eliminate Unidentified Flying Objects. UFO’s become airborne and can damage property as well as possibly killing/injuring others. A patio umbrella can become an urban cruise missile. A good rule of thumb; if you can lift it, bring it inside.
- Move all patio furniture, garbage cans, toys, awnings and other objects in your yard inside or anchor them securely. Things that blow away are harder to prove to your insurance company.
- Tie up boats securely or if possible place them inside a building. Auger type Mobile Home anchors can be used to tie down a boat if you cannot get it into a garage.
Two items for Disaster Preparedness
Take digital photos of everything readily in view both in and outside of your home before leaving. This will help document your claim for FEMA in a flood or your insurance company for wind damage.
UNCHAIN your pets. Take them with you. If you have too many pets and cannot save them all, you have too many pets. At least let them loose and give them a chance at survival. Pet hoarding and disaster are not compatible. Remember to spay or neuter your pets.
When the storm is over
Here are some things to consider after you are allowed to return to your property that will help you submit a claim for damages.
There are three types of insurance adjusters you will deal with. There are Company adjusters who work directly for an insurance company. Then there are Independent adjusters, who contract with insurance companies and serve for a limited period of time. The third type of adjuster is a Public Insurance Adjuster and they work for you. However, they do not work for free. You pay them a fee, normally 10 percent of the total loss, to assist you.
Company and independent adjusters will volunteer to work in your disaster zone for four to eight weeks. In the insurance industry, this is known as “Storm Duty”. They work 10 to 14 hour days and are mentally and physically exhausted when their time of service has ended. Be prepared to deal with a series of adjusters if your claim takes three or more months to settle.
Document everything and destroy nothing. You may just need to start all over again because the new adjuster sees the claim differently.
Then, remember to:
- Wait until it is safe to return to your home. Be cautious upon your return. Snakes, vermin, wildlife, alligators and human predators may be lying in wait for you.
- Once you are safe and secure make temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your home or property.
- Save receipts if you purchase items such as tarps, plywood or other supplies to make repairs.
- Take digital photos and if possible videos of damage for claim documentation
- Do not throw anything away until your insurance company gives you permission in writing. If you hire a professional restoration service, do not let them throw anything away either.
Dealing with the Mess
Strangers will arrive at your home promising to handle everything for you. These will be Contractors, Public Insurance Adjusters, Loss Mitigation Companies, Roofers and more. There is nothing wrong with hiring one of these professionals. The problem is how do you figure out if they are professional with no phone service or internet?
Give your insurance company a chance to do it right before running off to hire assistance you may not need. During this period of time check the references of the individuals claiming they want to help you. You don’t lose anything by doing it slow and correctly.
Be wary of signing an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) Get the contract reviewed by your lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer, consider joining LegalShield a pre-paid legal service. Go to www.Skidis.Biz for more info about this service.
Preserve all building materials removed by any contractor or vendor until you speak with your insurance adjuster. It is very difficult to document a claim when the evidence is gone. Keep everything until your adjuster tells you to dispose of it and the settlement draft has been in your account over 10 days. Take digital photos of everything and don’t be in a rush to dispose of anything. Yes it stinks and needs to be outside. Rent a storage pod.
Remember; President Trump said it best on September 10, 2017 when he was asked by a reporter what the dollar value of the damages from Hurricane Irma would be; he replied, “Today it is not about the money. It’s about saving lives”!
Be prepared, Stay Safe and give these suggestions some thought.
Good Luck and Good Investing!
George Skidis is President and Founder of Illinois REIA