Safety Report: Managing a Disaster

Posted: Updated: Nov 29, 2011 11:23 PM EST

Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster in your home can be downright frustrating, but recovery can happen quicker if you prepare before a storm strikes.

"Protect life and limb first. Protect your personal property second" is Otis Amory's mantra for managing a disaster.

The independent insurer with Risk Protection of Virginia says as soon as you and your family are safe, start the clean-up to be recovery ready.  "Get someone to remove tree limbs or trees from roofs or other structures. Make sure to prevent further damage," Amory said.

Board up windows and patch holes.  If burst pipes soak your home, "one of the first things you want to do, obviously, is get the water turned off and then call one of the service contractors that deals with water restoration," said State Farm Agent Greg Leffler.

When a disaster strikes, call your insurance agent immediately to start the claims process. They have 10 days to respond, but don't expect a quick payout to replace your belongings and repair your home if you're not alone dealing with damage. 

Amory stated, "100 houses in Albemarle County with trees sitting on top of them - they're the priority, getting those people safe."

Most insurance policies cover quick repairs to protect your property. You can get estimates from contractors, but don't sign off on complete repairs until your insurance agent agrees on a total.  But why not prepare for a disaster to limit the loss in the first place? 

"The anticipation of a storm coming in with high winds - you need to look around your property and see what could happen, what trees are in jeopardy," said Amory.

Insurance agents recommend you take a camera and walk around your home, snapping pictures of belongings in each room. That makes it easier to list your losses after a disaster.  

George Lyle with the Bureau of Insurance stated, "Take pictures - open up the cupboards, open up the closets - to help you recall what's there."

Most insurance policies pay what is called actual cash value. That's how much an item was worth when it was damaged - not when you bought it. Also, keep receipts for everything you replace.  

"It is the insured's responsibility to prove their loss. They can't just say - pay me my policy limits," Lyle said.

Remember: understand your policy's coverage and know your responsibility as a homeowner before it's too late.  "Usually worst case scenario planning is probably best," Amory stated.

The State Corporation Commission's Bureau of Insurance investigates complaints and claims disputes.  The bureau says the number of problems with insurance companies has gone down over the years because technology allows agents to respond to claims faster.

For more tips on dealing with a home disaster, click on the following links:

When Disaster Strikes Guide to Insurance Claims

State Farm Disaster Recovery Tips