As hurricane season heats up (September is prime Hurricane month!!), please be as prepared as possible for the safety of yourself and your property. As a former Catastrophe Adjuster, I have been through numerous natural disasters throughout the country, first as someone working in the affected areas, and secondly, as an emergency responder, helping others to recover their residential properties and possessions. While people were trying to get out of town, we were driving INTO town to prepare for AFTER these storms. It is a very chaotic time and stressors are running HIGH for all involved. Know that recovery efforts can take from a few weeks to YEARS, depending on the seriousness and destruction from the storms. The immediate availability of contractors, supplies, terrain and navigable routes to safely get the needed supplies into affected areas become choked up from storm debris, or worse, blocked/damaged/washed out roads, etc.
Also know that many emergency responders are working 12+ hours away from their families to make sure things are safe for the public, as well as their coworkers that are also helping the public. This is paramount to everyone's safety. Some areas will be cordoned off to prevent looters, or to simply make sure the terrain is safe enough for people to pass (flooded out roadways, exposed electrical lines, etc). My very first storm I worked was in North Carolina. It took over 10 hours to go from Charlotte to Raleigh just because of the roads being impassable and trying to find ones that were drivable. THAT was my introduction to hurricanes and their aftermath.
If you are able to evacuate, please do. Yes, your house is your castle, but it can also be rebuilt, you can't. You cannot escape your house during the storms. In my mind, I can still hear the screeching, howling winds and see things flying through the air, and wish I wasn't in the path of some of these storms. Sometimes just making it through these monsters was the easy part. The aftermath, not so much fun. Trying to find a hotel or a place with water, much less food or gasoline, will become a real challenge. If you can drive somewhere, there is no guarantee of the road being passable (Think: flooded out, trees and electric poles being down, dealing with snakes and other animals that are also displaced and in a daze)
What can you do to prepare yourself and your home for a major catastrophe?
Considering that storms knock out power and water, sometimes for weeks at a time, be prepared to live 'off the grid' for a while, sometimes up to weeks at a time.
- Take pictures and/or video of EVERYTHING and upload these to a secure location (Exterior and Interior of Home). Better yet, prepare these things before a storm hits and give a copy to your insurance agent. The agent, and adjuster, will thank you!!
- Make a list of all the furnishings in the house. To make it easier, take a picture of each room and list out these items rather than to try to remember after a damaging storm. Include where you got it, how old it is and the approximate amount you paid for the item. Keep it all organized in a notebook and on a computer, if possible. People in shock will not remember as much, if at all.
- Put important documents such as licenses, insurance papers, medical items, certificates, etc., into a waterproof bag/container and keep in a safe place so you can get to it easily
- Gather any prescriptions or medical items you need
- I cannot emphasize this enough: Stock up on water, batteries, flashlights, food, matches/fire-starters, gasoline, ice, canned goods/non-perishable items, walkie-talkies, etc. - your life could depend on these simple items. Gas up any cars, RV's or boats if you can. If you have any camping equipment, know where it is and have it available to use.
What can you expect after a major storm??
Be prepared to have no electricity, available food or viable water for a minimum of two weeks.
If you have any generators or BBQ's, especially with liquid propane tanks, triple chain and lock them up to something sturdy/secure so people do not steal them. (It is very common and I have seen this happen!!)
Keep the windows and/or doors open for ventilation after the storm, if possible. Because many of these places are so hot and humid, DO NOT turn your A/C on if you can!! I know this is tempting, but this is for health reasons. This will release more mold spores into the building through the duct work. If you are prone to allergic reactions from mold spores, you may start to develop symptoms, like asthma, or worse, pneumonia (ask me how I know this)
Insurance Agents and their Adjusters are typically already in the area, or on their way into the area, and are aware of the dangers. BE PATIENT. They are being updated on critical situations, such as dangerous areas to avoid, police/fire activity and rules and local codes that must be followed within a certain timeframe to help you out. Their workloads alone may be doubled or tripled. Phone lines may be down and communication with your insurance company may be slowed down due to the volume of calls. I promise, they will get back to you. If it is an extreme emergency, there should be a mobile claims center near your agents office to go to for help. These mobile sites are usually RV's or motorhomes set up as remote offices, and have satellite phones and communications. They will try to help as many people as humanly possible. Remember, these people have also been through the storm with you and are there to help you.
Many contractors watch the news and converge on areas hit by these storms. We called them Storm chasers, because, well, they chased all the storms. Some of these people are NOT legitimate building contractors!!! They come into a disaster area and start telling everyone they have damage, even if they don't. Please be careful of anyone knocking on your door telling you that you have damage. Roofers are notorious for doing this. Ask if they climbed the roof to see damage. This is a multi-point challenge: Did you give them permission to climb your roof? And if you did not, how do they know there is damage up there? Did they have a ladder with them, or on a truck? A roofing company was caught (on the homeowners video) tearing a roof off THE WRONG HOUSE in Texas last year. The kicker? The roofing company was not licensed and the workers ran off as soon as they realized they had torn off the incorrect roof, leaving the homeowner without a ROOF. Nice, huh?? Check their license to see if they are legitimate. DO NOT give anyone money without checking on them FIRST!! Many states have laws that make it illegal for an out-of-state contractor to start working without an in-state license!! (California is one state that makes it a felony for someone to do this once a disaster is declared!!)
Realize that, by law, most insurance companies cannot make any recommendations for contractors, especially during catastrophes. Too many variables and the legitimate contractors will be overwhelmed with work.
Utility companies are already on standby just outside the impacted areas. Many are from out of state to help with the infrastructure that has been damaged. They will typically be lined up alongside the interstate with their work trucks, waiting. With storm debris sometimes piled higher than the buildings themselves, it will be a challenge to see damages. This is where patience is a must.
There are many, many challenges that come with huge, destructive forces, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, firestorms, earthquakes, etc. This is serious business. If you have trusted family, friends and neighbors, consider yourself lucky. If possible, try to contact your tribe at least once each day. Hearing someone's familiar voice, or better yet, seeing them, makes a difficult situation just a little bit better and bearable.
Once the Dust Settles
There are many people in the area to help you, but also note that these same people are dealing with the same things as you are. Contractors will be overwhelmed, and in many cases, materials will not be able to get into the area fast enough, effectively making a serious backlog of needed items, like drywall, lumber, roofing and other necessary supplies. Insurance companies are triaging the most serious needs first, just like hospitals do for patients. Heart attacks take priority over broken pinkie fingers, as painful as it is. Houses with roofs blown off take priority over a blown over fence. Mitigate as much damage as you can, yourself. Take pictures of all the damages and save them. Tarp the roof/window/door properly, so as not to create more damage before someone can come out and inspect. (By the way, tarping a roof properly DOES NOT include nailing down every available surface with furring strips every 12 inches over the entire roof for a patch that has been blown off - that is lazy and ultimately costs YOU more money!!) Keep any and all receipts. Keep all estimates in one place and realize it will take many weeks, months, or years, to get your place back to where it was before a storm damaged it. And most importantly, just take a few deep breaths...you're still alive!