During the past two weeks, I spent many hours helping Dave Elliott and his team at WGUF-FM (98.9) radio here in Collier County, FL. Stephen Johnson (control room) and Scott Fish (101.9 - Gator Country radio, simulcast with WGUF) rounded out the team.
While my focus was weather, I also did some research and reporting on preparedness and post storm recovery matters. I also listened to discussions among our team and calls from listeners. I'd like to start sharing some these here to help Irma victims (and also those in Texas affected by Harvey).
This article will address a few hurricane-related insurance matters. Before beginning, let me note that I am not an insurance adjuster or a structural engineer. The items described here are simply to get readers to think things through before they either ignore insurance or go crazy about dealing with it. Always, get professional advice before addressing any matters involving insurance.
(1) Read your insurance policy BEFORE contacting your agent (Fig. 1). If you don't have a clue about policy coverages and exclusions, I predict that you will get frustrated quickly.
(2) Take pictures BEFORE cleanup. Make sure you show water levels and the wrack (debris) line, tree damage, roof tiles or shingles lying on your lawn (where they fell) with your house in the background of the image. These pictures can help your adjuster piece things together long after the storm's visual impacts disappear.
(3) Call your insurance agent, but, be prepared for long wait times. Insurance companies typically have agents available to help you. However, when the number of potential claimants becomes large, agent access can become difficult. Some companies are setting up mobile customer support centers in affected communities. Check with your insurance company, if they haven't already e-mailed you information.
(4) Find out what you can do to mitigate further damage, even before your claim is approved. Often, putting blue tarp on a roof and covering damaged windows are encouraged. Be sure that anyone you contract with is a reliable, certified and bonded contractor. In Florida, you can contact the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (850-487-1395). To report unlicensed activity, call 1-866-532-1440). In Texas, you can contact the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation or American Contractors - Texas; however, not all contractor and building licenses seem to be listed here.
(5) File a claim with FEMA for either uninsured or uninsured losses online, or by phone (800-621-3362). While the focus is on homeowners, there is a question that should direct your application to the Small Business Administration for possible small business coverage.
I filed this morning and it takes less than 20 minutes to do this online. You can also call FEMA directly to file a claim. Even if you don't qualify for assistance, you should still file a claim.
If you have a FEMA flood insurance policy, check the policy for filing procedures.
(6) Remember that if you don't file a claim and do things to facilitate its successful conclusion (in your favor), the answer will always be "denied."
I hope this helps some people get a better handle on their insurance matters in the wake of these two destructive storms. I will update this article as I come across additional insurance information.
For those in disaster areas, please take care and recover safely and quickly.
For those in any area, please think about contributing to reliable and effective charities. Remember, that after the initial rush to get utilities restored, cleanup begun, properties secured, and finding water, ice and food, people will need money to put their lives back together.
H Michael Mogil is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (M.S. Meteorology) with over 40 years of experience, nearly 30 of them with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition to working for the National Weather Service as a forecaster, researcher, and severe storm program manager, he also provided satellite training to many governmental agencies and hundreds of TV meteorologists.
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