You’ve got an emergency plan for your family in case extreme weather or a natural disaster forces you to live without power, or worse, evacuate your home. (If not, learn how to create one at Ready.gov/make-a-plan.) But, what about planning for your pets?
They’re likely to be frightened and in need of some special care. Here are four tips for helping your furry friends weather an emergency:
- Set aside emergency pet supplies. Include bottled water, medications, vet records (a boarding facility may require them), a carrier, a blanket, food and a food dish, and other items, depending on your pets’ needs. Don’t forget newspapers in case they are unable to go outside to do their business. For particularly scared pets, investing in a Thunder Coat or doggie chill pills may save them unneeded stress.
- Plan for their shelter. If the safest place for you during a severe storm is the basement, then that’s the safest place for your pets, too. Don’t leave them outside or corral too many pets into a small area. Even if they typically get along, the stress of the situation may cause them to act out.
- Identify places to go in case of evacuation. Think of hotels that accept pets, or of friends and family who are nearby. Make a list of their phone numbers and addresses, as well as those of a local boarding facility in case you need to stay in a shelter that doesn’t allow pets. Work out a buddy system with neighbors to see that animals are evacuated in the event one of you is not home. Remember, dogs can’t sweat if the air conditioner is out, it means you and the family are sweaty, but for a dog, the heat could be more dangerous.
- Don’t let pets roam freely, even after things calm down. Fences could be down, as well as power lines, and there could be other hazards on the ground. Pets may still be frightened enough to run off, so keep them close and keep an eye on them. Furthermore, changes in their environment and routine could cause them to act unexpectedly. For more specialized or larger pets, talk to your veterinarian about their needs during an emergency. And be sure all pets have proper identification. Your current phone number and/or address should be on their collars or tags, as well as on microchips. At O’Connor Insurance, we love our pets like family, so let’s keep them safe.
When a big storm hits in St. Louis, you hunker down inside, relying on your home to protect you and your family. Once that storm passes, though, it’s time to repay the favor – identifying damage and protecting your home from further issues.
The National Storm Damage Center has a number of resources and tips for homeowners. Here are four major things we recommend checking after a storm:
- Your roof: If you see holes, split seams, or missing shingles on your roof or if you notice leaking inside or out, it’s a good idea to have a qualified inspector come assess the situation.
- Your exterior: Siding, brick, and stucco are all vulnerable to storm damage. You’ll want to look for cracking, chipping, or dings and dents in siding, and for holes in stucco. Look closely and at different times of the day. Some homeowners don’t notice damage until it’s too late to file a claim, and different lighting can reveal damage you didn’t see before.
- Driveways and walkways: Cracking and splitting can create safety hazards, as well as reduce the lifespan of the concrete.
- Trees: According to the National Storm Damage Center, fallen trees and limbs cause more than $1 billion in damage annually. Check roofs, vehicles, fences, and machinery for fallen limbs that may have caused damage or could pose a risk. Clean up what you safely can and rely on a reputable tree removal service to handle the rest. Depending on the circumstances, your homeowners insurance policy may help with tree removal and damage repair costs – if you experience a covered loss, that is.
A few more helpful tips:
- Keep trees well maintained and trimmed. Also notify neighbors if you see any overhanging branches on any of theirs. Remember, just because it is their tree doesn’t mean it can’t fall on your power lines.
- Know your insurance. Take a look at your policy so you know what’s covered and what your limits and deductibles are; this will prevent any surprises during the claims process.
- Take pictures. Photographs can help you show the cause and extent of any storm damage that occurs.
Of course, if you’ve suffered through a major storm, don’t hesitate to call us at 314.434.0038 for help with an insurance claim or with finding a professional property inspector.
Missouri summers are magical – fireflies, floating on the rivers, and those captivating summer storms. But what happens when those storms knock out power? St. Louis is no stranger to rolling summer power outages, and what’s worse is they usually come at the hottest part of the year. While we can’t prevent the outages from happening, your friends at O’Connor Insurance can help you curb your losses in the kitchen.
Obviously you want to err on the side of caution here. And, since you shouldn’t taste food to help determine whether it’s safe (harmful bacteria doesn’t always have a rancid smell or taste), here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help you decide what to keep and what to toss once the power is back on:
- Throw away meat, poultry, and seafood once it’s been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. Almost every home goods store sells internal read thermometers (most for less than $10). Not only are they good for instances like this, they are excellent tools to have year round.
- Discard milk, sour cream, yogurt, and soft cheeses after four hours at 40 degrees or higher. Butter and margarine, as well as hard and processed cheeses, should be OK.
- Toss mayo, tartar sauce, horseradish, and creamy dressings after eight hours at 50-plus degrees. Vinegar-based dressings, along with ketchup, barbecue sauce, peanut butter, and soy sauce are likely fine. One obvious tip to simply read the label – if it says “refrigerate after opening” and it is hovering at 70+ degrees for a day or two, the best practice is to throw it out.
- Refreeze food that still contains ice crystals, or is still below 40 degrees.
- Dispose of all food that has come in contact with flood waters or firefighting chemicals. Even if it looks unharmed, it could still be unsafe and – to a lesser extent – taste terrible.
We know it’s frustrating to have to throw out food, so try this simple trick to potentially help preserve it for longer: When the power goes out, keep the fridge and freezer doors tightly shut. The longer you keep them closed, the cooler they stay. If available, get a cooler and ice and salvage what you can, being careful to make sure the cooler stays cold.
Having appliance thermometers in your fridge and freezer, as well as picking up a food thermometer, will help eliminate some guesswork. Additionally, maintaining a nonperishable food supply in a safe place – somewhere cool that’s not susceptible to flooding – means you’ll have something to eat no matter what. Be sure to replace items as they expire or get used.
As for the cost of all that spoiled food? Your homeowner’s policy may help. If the value of the damages you claim is less than your deductible, you won’t have any coverage. However, if you have both home damage and spoiled food, filing a claim is the way to go. Give us a call at 314.434.0038 to discuss your options.
Here is a handy card we received from one of our vendors. Complete and put in your wallet or glove box. You may want to load the information into your cell phone, as well. Remember, though, cell phones may not work in a catastrophe, so having a hard copy with this information is still very important.
If living in the Midwest has taught you anything, it is that the weather can change in an instant – a gorgeous spring day can turn to risky storms in a matter of minutes. Even if you live in an area that you think isn’t at risk of flood damage, preparation is just as critical as with other types of emergencies.
Before we get into how you can prevent, limit or react to flooding, it’s important to note that flood damage is typically not covered by your homeowners or renters insurance. There are separate flood policies available to everyone, whether or not you live in a flood plain. If you do not live in a flood plain, the cost is much less. Your agent at O’Connor Insurance can provide a quote and discuss this with you. Just give us a call at 314.434.0038.
Preparing for a flood
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a number of steps to stay safe during emergencies and limit damage from flooding. You should:
- Build an emergency kit for your family with drinking water and nonperishable food for each member of your family (two-week supply), flashlights, a radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, necessary medications, personal hygiene items, and copies of important documents.
- Create a communication plan so family members can reach one another, and practice that plan before an emergency (especially for families with younger children).
- Elevate your furnace, water heater, and electric panel in your home if live in an area with a high flood risk.
- Consider installing “check valves” to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
- If possible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering your home and seal basement walls with waterproofing compounds.
Acting during a flood
If a flood is likely in your area, quick action may be necessary to protect your family and property. You should:
- Get information from the radio or television.
- Move immediately to higher ground if there is any possibility of a flash flood. Do not wait for instructions to move.
- If you need to evacuate, secure your home and move essential items to an upper floor. Turn off utilities if instructed to do so, and disconnect electrical appliances. However, do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
- Do not walk through moving water – it can make you fall. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If you are caught in your vehicle in floodwater, abandon your car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely.
- If you have evacuated your home, do not return until authorities give you permission.
Coping after a flood
Flooding can cause emotional stress along with physical hazards, so be mindful of your own well being and temperament. After the flood clears, there are a few things to consider and resources available to you:
- Floodwater can be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or sewage, so avoid contact as much as possible.
- Make sure your city’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Clean and disinfect everything that was in contact with floodwater.
- The Red Cross has a free book available called “Repairing Your Flooded Home,” which contains useful information as you clean up. It’s available at redcross.org.
- If you have flood insurance, contact the claims center of your provider as soon as possible.
Flooding is one of the most common hazards in the U.S., both in the flood plains and out of them, as we sadly learned last December when record-breaking floods swept through the St. Louis area after 6-12″ rains. So make a plan for it. Don’t be caught off guard when the water level starts to rise.
Storms and fires disrupt thousands of businesses every year. Although you can’t change the weather, you can minimize the effect of such disasters on your business.
You have to plan ahead, though. People don’t like to think about disasters, but if you develop a catastrophe plan now, you’ll be able to recover quickly from an emergency. And that could save your business.
The Insurance Information Institute has identified four key elements of catastrophe planning. First, minimize the damage before an emergency occurs. Limit storm-related damage by making sure your place of business conforms to building codes. Limit potential damage from fire by practicing fire safety measures and modernizing old wiring.
Second, develop a disaster recovery plan. Keep duplicate records, back up computerized files, and make an inventory of equipment you own or lease, including model and serial numbers. Compile a list of important phone numbers and addresses. Store these items off the premises.
Identify your critical business activities and what you will need to support them, so you can get back to business quickly. Find alternate facilities, equipment and supplies.
You need to know where you can rent computers of other equipment quickly. Think about how much space you will need, and where you can go. Write out your plan and keep a copy with your other duplicate records – off the premises.
Third, review your insurance program. Disasters can cost your business much more than the price of office equipment or a building. Consider the potential loss of income while your business is closed, or the additional expense of setting up shop temporarily somewhere else. Call your insurance agent for a detailed review of your policies to be sure there are no gaps in your coverage.
Fourth, review all the parts of your plan regularly and update it as needed. Be sure to share the plan with your employees. You’ll probably take a vacation sometime, and you never know when a disaster might strike.
What if your home was devastated by a fire, wind or other natural disaster? Are you certain your insurance would cover enough of your home to rebuild at today’s construction costs?
Sure, thinking about the aftermath of a catastrophe is no fun, but consider the alternative. If you don’t plan ahead and consult with your insurance agent to make sure your home is adequately covered before the catastrophe strikes, you could find yourself having to pay $50,000, $100,000 or more to make up for shortcomings in your homeowner’s policy afterward.
Every insurer offers its own coverages, its own limits and its own pricing. That’s where an independent agent can help you…we can shop around for you and find the best and most comprehensive coverage for your money. Plus we have experience dealing with all sorts of claims, so we can advise you on what types of coverage best suit your needs.
Some suggestions to consider when evaluating your homeowner’s policy – some companies offer guaranteed replacement costs. This helps because the insurer promises to rebuild the home at today’s building costs. Also, you should take into account special features of your home like hardwood floors, a newly-renovated basement or a pool in the backyard, as well as all other improvements you have made over time.
Another tip – some insurance companies offer “ordinance-and-law” coverage at an additional cost. That means if your house is damaged, the new construction of the damaged portion of the home will meet current building ordinances in your area, even if the home wasn’t built that way initially. Without this coverage, some companies may only pay to rebuild your house the way it was, which in many instances may no longer be legal accordingly to current building and municipal codes.
There are many things you need to consider when you evaluate your homeowner’s policy to make sure you have the right coverage. When evaluated properly, your coverage will give you the peace of mind to know you won’t be left out in a storm after a disaster.
If you have questions about your homeowner’s policy, please call your independent insurance agent here at O’Connor Insurance Agency. Our number is 314-434-0038.
The Insurance Information Institute posted $1.5 billion in insured losses so far this year due to the near-record snowfall and prolonged extreme cold weather throughout much of the United States. There have been more than 175,000 claims paid for losses such as burst pipes from freezing, ice dams on roofs, roof collapses, downed tree limbs and power lines. Still, the premium increases seem harsh to unsuspecting community associations.
Condominium and attached-home Master Insurance Policies have been taking big premium hits at renewal due to severe weather in our area – going back to before the Joplin tornado.
Weather across the nation has been severe this past winter with the Polar Vortex, and claim costs continue to rise. Insurance companies have paid out millions to replace roofs at just one association, which in turn affects pricing for other community associations.
That is what insurance is for, right? Not in our neighboring states. Just look west to Kansas and Oklahoma, where there are 1-2% Wind and Hail deductibles, where roof claims are settled on the depreciated value of the roofs rather than replacement cost. This might hit Missouri at some point, but right now the premiums seem to be the punishment for our storms.
On the bright side, most detached home subdivisions will not have to worry about large premium increases because they do not have much property to insure, other than a clubhouse or monument. However, the owners may have noticed higher individual homeowner premiums for the past three years.
Solutions are often sought by shopping for a lower-price insurance company. There are occasions when a better premium can be found, but be certain it is apples to apples comparable coverage with a quality insurance company. It is not the Board’s fiduciary responsibility to save money at the loss of protection.
Often, there is no good solution to offset premium increases. Associations shop their Master Policies only to find there is no other insurance company offering a better price for the same coverage. This means many Associations will breach their budgets.
While avoiding insurance premium increases altogether is most likely impossible, there are practices that can help.
A higher deductible will lower the premium and also serve to avoid small nuisance claims which could increase the premium next year. Proactive initiatives such as obtaining reserve studies and adhering to the results creates a well-maintained association. Roof replacement schedules will keep the structures sound and more resilient to the storms.
Have you considered the hail-resistant roofing systems? They cost about 20% more up front, but look down the road at the potential high wind and hail deductibles.
Understand that your original budget may not have anticipated the events that will impact pricing in 2014 and beyond. An additional assessment of your prior budget may leave you better prepared for pricing and deductible increases that may result from historically high property damage and resulting claim costs.
Who Ya Gonna Call?
While our customers are always welcome to call us – and we do have an emergency number – the FIRST call you should make is to a mitigation team. Insurance contracts specify that property owners must act swiftly to keep damage from becoming worse. The best way to maximize your insurance settlement and minimize the cost to your association is to get professionals on site quickly to ensure tarps are stretched over damaged roofs, water is removed from flooded floors, and that every necessary stopgap measure is taken. Be sure to store the number of a disaster recovery firm on your cell phone – this should be the first call you make.
|Choose Your Contractor
The simple step of choosing a damage mitigation company ahead of time can make all the difference in the world in the event of a big mess. A good company has the experience to act as a general contractor, coordinating various trades, including plumbing, electrical, and drywallers. Choosing a contractor ahead of time will also protect you from unscrupulous storm-chasers who do shoddy work, preying upon unprepared property owners.
|Be a Preferred Customer
Many such recovery companies will make your property a “preferred customer.” Just like being a preferred customer gets your streets plowed first in a snowstorm, as a mitigation contractor’s preferred customer you will see the trucks and workers first when there is an event that affects the entire area. There are many great companies in the area that our adjusters respect and with whom we have great relationships. We can help you find one.
|Gather Everyone’s Contacts
In the event of an emergency where residents are displaced, it is important you have obtained residents’ cell phone numbers and email addresses before they go to a hotel. Don’t limit yourself to just the resident’s phone, either. Ask them to share the phone number of friends or family with whom they might stay.To do their work, recovery contractors and insurance adjusters have to coordinate with homeowners and condo owners in order to assess the damage and begin mitigation and repair. You would be surprised how recovery efforts can drag out due to problems with communication. In past disasters, email has proven to be a reliable way to keep residents informed of progress, and the contractors will be glad to be able to reach out to a resident when needed.