With the clean-up from Hurricane Sandy still ongoing in New Jersey, New York and several other states, these coastal areas are bracing for yet another potential disaster: a winter Nor’easter The Weather Channel has named “Athena.”
Forecasters are warning of up to 6 inches of snow in some regions with winds gusting in excess of 65 mph. Even more threatening is the expected storm surge of 3 feet along the New Jersey and New York coast—an area that is especially vulnerable.
As Public Adjusters, property owners who have experienced a loss turn to us to work on their behalf to obtain a fair settlement from their insurance companies. We perform an on-site analysis of the damage, prepare a detailed report with photographs and present an itemized claim package to the insurance company. We are experienced at deciphering the language within an insurance policy, and we know that when you have experienced a loss, you need a reasonable settlement so you can begin to rebuild your life as quickly as possible.
In the 118 years we have been in business, one thing has remained constant: Few people, if any, are really ever ready for a disaster. And, although it is difficult to properly prepare for the unknown, there are a few things you can do to ready yourself and your property:
• Visit FEMA’s website www.ready.gov/be-informed to learn about potential emergencies that can happen where you live and the appropriate ways to respond to them. By clicking on “Natural Disasters” and “Hurricanes,” you will find a complete list of things to do before, during and after a hurricane. There is similar information for floods, tornadoes, winter storms and extreme cold—all natural disasters that have been occurring more frequently and with greater intensity.
• Visit FEMA’s website www.ready.gov/business to learn about the five steps in developing a preparedness program at work: Program Management, Planning, Implementation, Testing and Exercises, and Program Improvement.
• If you have experienced flood damage, download a copy of the book Repairing Your Flooded Home, available free from the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4540081_repairingFloodedHome.pdf It will tell you how to enter your property safely, how to protect your structure and its contents from further damage, and how to record damage to support insurance claims and requests for assistance (such as FEMA). In addition, it will tell you how to check for gas and water leaks, how to have services restored and how to clean up appliances, electronics, furniture, floors and other contents.
• When the storm has passed and you have had a chance to assess the situation, report any damage and loss of contents to your insurance company and/or your insurance agent. You are required to do this under the provisions of your insurance policy.
• Photograph the damage immediately after the storm and only when it is safe to do so. Storms can produce a variety of damage to many different parts of your property. Take a lot of photos—interiors and exteriors. Photograph the water level to illustrate the extent of the damage. Place a yardstick against a wall to show the height of the water. (Tip: Photos are better than videos, because they show more detail and can easily be included in a report.) Give your insurance company’s adjuster—who works on behalf of your insurance company—printed copies as well as electronic copies of all photos so that they can include them in the report to substantiate the damage.
• Your insurance company will offer you a settlement based upon the claim you have submitted and their adjuster’s report. If you feel as though you are not receiving a fair settlement from your insurance company, you have the right to dispute it in an arbitration hearing. You also have the right to sue within a year.
If this seems overwhelming, you could consider hiring a Public Adjuster, a licensed professional who will represent your interests in this process. A Public Adjuster is paid a percentage of the settlement and does not charge any money until you are paid by your insurance company. A reputable Public Adjuster will more than earn his or her fee by obtaining a settlement far in excess of what you would receive on your own. The goal of the Public Adjuster is to ensure that you receive everything you are entitled to. This lets you focus on rebuilding your home and business without the stress or hassles of dealing with your insurance company.
Being prepared for a natural disaster and becoming informed about the process can turn a nightmare into a manageable problem.
Photos courtesy of Helen Cielinski Lazar.