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Prevent clients from being their own worst vacation enemies

10/15/2018 (Permalink)

Water Damage Prevent clients from being their own worst vacation enemies While global hot spots like Paris and Tokyo remain popular destinations, travelers are increasingly choosing off-the-beaten path destinations as their

The most popular form of entertainment for high-net-worth clients is travel, especially after they stop working. No matter where they go, however, travel includes some element of risk. Although most associate that risk with violence, travelers are much more likely to run into exposures of their own making — whether it’s an unexpected issue back home or unknowingly exposing personally identifiable information.

Vacation hot spots

If your clients could go anywhere in the world, do you know where they would go? And how they would get there — by plane, tour bus or cruise ship?

According to AirBnB, global hot spots like Paris and Tokyo remain popular destinations, but travelers are increasingly choosing off-the-beaten path destinations as their vacations of choice. Some are traveling with well-established tour companies but others are venturing off on their own or with more local, less-well-known groups.

Bookings are up by more than 250% in Da Nang, Vietnam, for example, as well as more than 200% in Matinhos and Guarapari, Brazil, and 175% in Zagreb, Croatia.

As your clients prepare for the summer travel season, here’s what you need to know in order to protect them.

Out of sight, not out of mind

When on vacation, the worries of everyday life should be far away. Nevertheless, failure to take certain actions before departure can end up hitting clients like a literal beach wave.

According to a 2017 study by Chubb on home protection behaviors, the majority of Americans lock their windows (85%) and deadbolt their doors (77%) before heading out on vacation. Just 22%, on the other hand, shut off the water main.

Why does this matter? Many clients incorrectly assume that theft is the most common and costliest form of property damage, especially while their homes are sitting empty. It’s neither. Water leaks should instead be their primary concern as data from the Insurance Information Institute suggests that water leaks occur four times more frequently than theft claims. Additionally, the same data shows an average water-related loss costs more than $8,800, as compared to $3,990 for theft.

More concerning is the fact that the time between when a leak occurs and when it’s discovered directly impacts the severity of water damage. For clients on vacation — even for a long weekend — this makes them vulnerable.

So how can you help your clients keep their everyday worries at bay while on vacation? Here are some tips:

  • Insist that they turn off their main water supply before traveling.
  • Advise they check for any leaks prior to departure.
  • Encourage them to ask a trusted neighbor or friend to stay or check in on their home while away.
  • Counsel them to install a water shut-off device, if one isn’t already in place. If it is, remind clients to replace all batteries and set the device to “away mode” before leaving.

Handle with care

Although agents and brokers should always advise that clients leave their jewelry at home, there are ways to help keep valuables safe(ish). Start by ensuring your clients have worldwide coverage for valuable articles and no deductibles for most causes of loss. This assumes they’ve already taken the important step of purchasing a valuable articles policy, as opposed to solely relying on their homeowners’ policy, which often has a $5,000 cap on valuables.

Beyond ensuring they have the right policy in place, the safety and security of valuable items is largely dependent on client behavior. In other words, help them make smart choices. Clients should never pack their jewelry in checked luggage, for instance. Instead, they should keep it in a carryon — ideally one that they will have on them the whole flight.

Upon arrival, encourage your clients to keep their jewelry in the hotel’s main safe. Individual room safes are easily accessible to hotel employees and codes can be overridden. Jewelry should remain in the hotel’s main safe unless clients are physically wearing it. That means no putting it by the nightstand and returning it to the safe in the morning. While it should go without saying, remind clients that they should avoid heading to the beach or pool when wearing their jewelry.

Live in the moment

Clients might want to share pictures of the historical landmarks they’re visiting or white sand beaches they’re relaxing on, but posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social media site puts them at risk.

The concern is three-fold. First, they’re alerting local thieves who might be monitoring popular hashtags or location “check-ins” on social media that naïve tourists are nearby. Potentially more concerning, however, is that it could alert criminals back home that their property is vacant. (Even though I mentioned water leaks are more common than theft above, this behavior could certainly tip the scale!)

Finally, if a client uses an unsecure Wi-Fi network, which are common at hotels, bars, restaurants and other tourist destinations abroad, hackers can gain access to a treasure trove of personal information. Reminding your clients that vacation is a time to relax and subsequently “unplug” is the best thing you can do to help keep them safe.

The concern doesn’t end when clients power down their smartphones, unfortunately. Payments and cash withdrawals also present ripe opportunity for identity thieves.

Whenever possible, encourage your clients to pay for vacation purchases, including meals, lodging and excursions, with cash they brought from home. If they must pay with a card, credit cards are preferable to debit cards, as the latter link directly to client bank accounts.

As clients prepare to make the most of summer travel, don’t let an unexpected accident or mistake detour their plans. Take these steps ahead of time and you’ll ensure that your clients do what they’re looking forward to most — relaxing.

What Ice Storm Accumulations Mean and How to Stay Safe

10/4/2018 (Permalink)

At a Glance

  • Just a thin coating of ice can result in a travel nightmare, and heavier amounts will severely damage trees and power lines.
  • Here's how to prepare for an ice storm and stay safe.

You may hear forecasters talk about ice accumulations this week and wonder, "Will I lose power, or will the roads just be slippery?"

 

Just a thin coating of ice can result in a travel nightmare, while heavier amounts will severely damage trees and power lines. Strong winds can add extra force to already weighted down tree branches and power lines, increasing the likelihood of significant damage.

Ice Storm Facts

  • Ice can increase the weight of branches by 30 times.
  • A 1/2-inch accumulation on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight.
  • An ice storm in 2009 centered from northern Arkansas to the Ohio Valley knocked out power to 1.3 million.
  • In 1998, an ice storm in northern New York and northern New England damaged millions of trees and caused $1.4 billion in damage. Accumulations were as much as three inches thick!

These ice accumulations are caused by freezing rain. Freezing rain is a result of snow falling through an above-freezing warm layer in the atmosphere above the surface of the earth, which melts the snowflakes into rain. The rain drops then move into a thin layer of below-freezing air right near the surface of the earth, allowing them to freeze on contact to the ground, trees, cars and other objects.

While accumulations of sleet can also make roads treacherous, sleet does not accumulate on trees and powerlines, so ice events with more sleet than freezing rain pose a greatly reduced threat for tree damage or power outages.

(MORE: Difference Between Freezing Rain and Sleet)

 
The type of precipitation we see at the ground depends not only on the temperature at the ground, but also several thousand feet above the surface.

What kind of impacts and damage do different amounts of ice cause? 

'Nuisance'

A nuisance ice event is usually one of 1/4 inch or less of ice accumulation.

Even though these lighter accumulations are considered nuisance, travel can be extremely dangerous even with a light glazing.

 
Typical impacts of "nuiscance" ice accumulations - one-quarter inch or less.

'Disruptive'

A disruptive ice storm is typically one of 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice accumulation.

This amount of ice starts to damage trees and power lines.

 
Typical impacts of "disruptive" ice accumulations - one-quarter to one-half inch.

'Crippling'

Widespread accumulations of over 1/2 inch.

With widespread ice accumulations of over 1/2 inch, there is severe tree damage and power outages may last for days.

The most devastating storms contain ice accumulations of an inch or more.

(MORE: Winter Storm Central)

 
Typical impacts of "crippling" ice accumulations - one-half inch or more.

Be Prepared

  • Avoid driving on icy roads for your safety and the safety of emergency personnel.
  • Be sure to charge cell phones and laptops ahead of time. Make sure you have several ways to communicate with others. Consider landline phones, social media, and texting.
  • Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets. Plan for pets to come inside, and store adequate food and water for them.
  • Children should never play around ice-covered trees; they may be injured if a branch breaks under the weight of the ice and falls on them.
  • Think about safe alternate power sources you could use if you lose heat, such as a fireplace, wood/coal stove or portable space heaters. However, be sure to exercise caution:
  • Follow manufacturers instructions when using portable space heaters and other devices.
  • Never use portable generators, camp stoves and grills inside your home or garage; they should only be used outside. Keep them at least 20 feet away from your home's windows, doors and vents to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Use flashlights during power outages instead of candles to prevent the risk of fire, and keep plenty of extra batteries on-hand.  

Before the Power Goes Out: Food Safety

  • Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0 degrees and the refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees.
  • In case of a power outage, the appliance thermometers will indicate the temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer to help you determine if the food is safe.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will also supply drinking water.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Purchase or make ice cubes in advance and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

 When the Power Goes Out: Food Safety

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
  • A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if it is unopened.
  • Buy dry or block ice (or freeze containers of water) to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.
  • If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 degrees for two hours or more — discard it.
  • For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.

Lack of flood insurance heaps misery on homeowners slammed by Hurricane Florence

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

The drenching rains and massive flooding caused by Florence are expected to inflict a high financial toll on homeowners in North Carolina and other states, as only a small percentage are covered by flood insurance that could help offset the costs of rebuilding their damaged homes.

An estimated quarter of a million homes in North Carolina are projected to be affected by Florence, which has caused flash flooding and record rain amounts across the state, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics company. 

Estimates from insurance analysts and actuaries show an alarmingly high percentage of homeowners – both in coastal towns and those far inland – that are underinsured for a water-driven natural disaster as destructive as Florence. 

Only 10 percent to 20 percent of coastal homeowners in the hard-hit eastern part of North Carolina, for example, have coverage through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and only 1 percent to 3 percent of homes in inland counties have flood policies, according to estimates from John Rollins, an actuary at consulting firm Milliman. Statewide, roughly 3 percent of the homes in North Carolina have flood coverage and 8 percent of homeowners are covered in South Carolina, Rollins said.

“Obviously, that leaves a lot of people uninsured,” Rollins told USA TODAY.

The numbers of those covered are low, he said, because people think that because their home isn't in a high-risk zone designated by the government that there's "zero risk" of a flood. "But that's not true," Rollins says. Many also don't realize their basic homeowners policy doesn't cover flood damage, while others overestimate the disaster aid they will get from the government. 

Unfortunately, standard homeowners insurance won’t cover any flooding-related issues. The estimated insured losses from Florence are in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion, according to CoreLogic. Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street bank, said they could go as high as $10 billion to $20 billion. 

Insurers should have no problem being able to pay out claims to policy holders because the industry has cash reserves of roughly half a trillion dollars, according to Matt Carletti, senior insurance analyst at JMP Securities.  

More Money: What you need to know about flood insurance as Florence dumps rain on Carolinas

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The problem for homeowners is that insured losses generally are only about one-third of total economic losses, which puts them on the hook financially for a more sizable part of their home rebuilds if losses are due to uncovered flood costs, Carletti said.

 

To get flood coverage, homeowners must buy a separate policy. Most purchase this extra coverage from the government-backed NFIP program, which is designed to restore your home to its preflood condition and replace your possessions. NFIP policies, which carry average premiums of about $600 to $700 a year but can run into the thousands of dollars in high-risk zones, cover up to $250,000 for a home's structure and up to $100,000 for personal possessions. 

Homeowners not covered for flood damage can seek federal disaster assistance in the form of grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration, said Steve Bowen, meteorologist for Aon Benfield's Impact Forecasting division. FEMA may provide up to $33,000 in assistance for home repair, although the average for Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was about $8,000 and roughly $7,100 for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

At the end of July, there were 134,306 active NFIP flood policies in place in North Carolina, Bowen said. That's only 3 percent of the estimated 4.62 million housing units in the state, he said, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

Damage to homes caused by floods tend to be costly. The estimated potential loss for a 1,000-square-foot, single-story home with possessions worth $20,000 that is inundated with just 1 inch of interior water can run as high as $11,000, according to FEMA data, and the estimated loss for 5 inches of water climbs to more than $18,000.

Given the fact that many parts of North Carolina have received rain totals of 2 feet or more, many homeowners will be facing high rebuild costs they may not be able to afford.

“You are looking at a lot of homeowners that will have out-of-pocket costs that could easily be five figures, or more than $10,000,” said Cathy Seifert, an insurance analyst at CFRA, a Wall Street research firm. 

 

Insurance coverage for drain, sewer and sump pump problems

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

Analysis brought to you by the experts at FC&S Online, the recognized authority on insurance coverage interpretation and analysis for the P&C industry. To find out more — or to have YOUR coverage question answered — visit the National Underwriter website, or contact the editors via Twitter: @FCSbulletins.

Question: This is a Commercial Property risk. I have a toilet that continued to run as the toilet stopper did not seal properly. All would be fine except the heavy rains saturated the drain field not allowing the water to drain from the toilet. This resulted in an overflow causing damage.

The insured has a $10,000 limit on discharge from sewer, drain, or sump from a CP 73 51 endorsement.

Does this limit apply or would it be considered a loss under the normal limits? But for the saturated drain field, there would be no loss. The drain field caused the water to not be able to drain properly; is that a back-up by definition?

— North Carolina Subscriber

Answer: Endorsement CP 73 51 is a proprietary endorsement that includes additional coverage for Discharge From Sewer, Drain Or Sump (Not Flood-Related), up to a $10,000 limit in the endorsement. This response is in regards to the water damage claim submitted for our review. Here are the facts as presented:

  1. A toilet ran continuously due to a stopper that did not seal properly. The toilet overflowed.
  2. The drain field overflowed due to heavy rains.
  3. The drain field is tied to the septic system serving the insured property.

Based on these facts, there are two causes of loss, and we cannot determine the extent of damage from each cause of loss:

  1. What caused the toilet stopper to not seal properly? Was it wear and tear or faulty workmanship? What interior water damage resulted from the toilet overflow?
  2. What caused the drain field to overflow? Despite heavy rains, it should still have absorbed the water. So what factors may have contributed to the drain field overflow? Was sludge or other obstruction a contributing factor? What interior water damage resulted from the drain overflow?

This is not an expert opinion, just personal experience with a broken toilet flapper. Regardless of how much the toilet ran, it never ran outside the toilet bowl because the drain carried out the water. If the drain was stopped up, not allowing the water to flow through the drain, then the water could back up and out from the toilet bowl, causing interior water damage.

If the water damage was caused by the broken toilet seal, there would be no coverage.

If the water damage was caused by the drain field overflow, then there would be limited coverage of $10,000 for Discharge From Sewer, Drain Or Sump (Not Flood-Related) provided in the proprietary endorsement CP 73 51.

However, this is an issue of fact, not coverage. We can only speak to the coverages that would be provided in the forms based on the two causes of loss as presented.

Washing machine overflow

Question: Our property coverage contains an exclusion for flood. Included under the flood definition is the exclusion of water or sewage that backs up through sewers, drains or sumps. It also excludes overflow of any body of water.

We have a claim where the fire department put a load of clothes in the washing machine and was called out on a run. During the washing cycle, water overflowed into the building due to the drain being frozen from an ice storm. This was while the firefighters were gone performing their duties. When they returned, the building was flooded, damaging carpet and sheet-rock. Is this covered?

— Oklahoma Subscriber

Answer: We do not see an exclusion that would apply in this situation. It doesn’t sound as if the water actually went down a drain and then backed up. The washing machine overflowed because water could not go down the frozen drain, which would not constitute a backup. So, in our opinion, the loss is covered.

Sump pump and water backup

Question: One of the more common claims we handle deals with sump pumps and applicable exclusions. In this case, the business owner’s policy contains the following provision, “We will pay for loss or damage to covered property caused by water that backs up from a sewer or drain, subject to the following limitations:  We will not pay for loss or damage under this Additional Coverage caused by the emanation of water from a sewer or drain that itself is caused by, or is the result of “flood,” surface water, waves, tides, tidal waves, overflow of any body of water or their spray, all whether driven by wind or not;”.

Carrier issued a denial, as follows:

In view of the cited exclusions, the water damage to the basement is the result of flood and groundwater; therefore, we would not make a payment for this loss.

The loss was not caused by flood or surface water, but a high water table that overwhelmed the pump’s capability to function due to two major rain events one year ago. When the water table receded, the pump functioned so it was not failure in the sense one thinks of failure, i.e., mechanical or electrical. Water entered through the sump, through some cracks in the floor.

My belief is that this is a covered loss. I could not find any information on the definition of “sump pump,” the purpose of a sump pump, or the definition of “groundwater.”

The carrier used the term “groundwater” in the denial. That is not addressed in the endorsement.

— Connecticut Subscriber

Answer: It does not sound like the water backed up through the sump pump but in fact came through the cracks in the floor.

This type of loss would be subject to the part of the water exclusion that states, “Water under the ground surface pressing on, or flowing through… floors… basements.” (This can be seen in the ISO BP 00 03 01 10, B.1.g.) If the insured has purchased sewer and drain backup coverage, it would not apply to this type of loss. However, if it can be shown that the water really did overflow or was discharged from the sump (as opposed to seeping in through floor cracks), that would be covered.

The ‘whys’ behind lack of flood insurance coverage

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

One of the ongoing issues with hurricanes and other flood disasters is the fact that many, many people lack flood insurance. But why is that? Why are people not buying the coverage they need?

The Private Risk Management Association (PRMA) conducted a survey of agents about why their insureds do or do not carry flood insurance. We had the chance to talk to Lisa Lindsay of PRMA about the study and its results.

Their study showed that across the board, whether high net worth or not, people’s mindset is that “It won’t happen to me.” Flood insurance is seen as something homeowners are required to have, not something they need to protect their assets. The study showed that many people only buy flood insurance because the bank says they have to. They later celebrate when they’re no longer required to hold flood insurance because their mortgage has been paid off.

Likewise, consumers have been conditioned to believe that unless they are in a high-hazard flood zone, coverage is not needed. The fact that flooding occurs in many non-high hazard areas is overlooked. It’s not just coastal areas that flood, but areas near rivers, streams and even low-lying areas in towns where runoff can accumulate often flood, causing unsuspecting homeowners damage that’s not covered by their normal homeowners’ policy.

Better understanding of mitigation efforts

Not only do people need a better understanding of flood insurance, but they also need a better understanding of mitigation efforts, that is, steps they can take to prevent or minimize flooding and reduce the potential damage. Sandbags, inflatable barriers and landscaping are just some ways people can prepare for a flood. Both the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy and the new ISO Personal Flood Policy provide up to $1,000 for steps taken to protect the insured building from flood or imminent danger of flood. The $1,000 is provided for the cost of:

  • Sandbags and sand to fill them,
  • Fill for temporary levees,
  • Pumps,
  • Plastic sheeting, and
  • Lumber used in connection with these items.

As most insureds don’t read their policies, it’s likely that most are unaware of these coverage benefits for mitigation of damages.

Private flood policies to the rescue?

With the concern surrounding the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), carriers are beginning to issue private flood policies. For example, one carrier has a private flood policy with limits up to $15 million on property, much higher than the NFIP limits of $250,000.

ISO has developed both a Commercial Flood program and a Personal Flood program, both available this year. The expansion of available coverage should be a tremendous help in getting homeowners insured. However, education of agents and the public is key.

Better analytics is helping to make private coverage possible; instead of just referring to the standard flood maps, which may be out of date, there are companies providing better analysis of property that includes rainfall, local topography, elevation and susceptibility to hurricanes, not just for rains but for winds and storm surge as well.

Although flood insurance can be expensive in some places, in many areas that’s not the case. As a result, property owners don’t investigate their options for coverage.

Another issue is construction itself. Builders resist changes to codes to make properties safer while continuing to want to rebuild in areas that have been flooded. If building is going to occur in such areas, the buildings need to be built in a way to protect the property as much as possible from flooding. People also get a false sense of security from the fact that the town has allowed buildings to be constructed in low-lying areas, figuring that if zoning approved of the area it must be safe to construct a home in that area.

Understanding the 100-year flood

Yet another large issue is the misperception of the 100-year flood. Many people believe that this means that the chance of their property being flooded is one in 100 years. What it really means is that every year there is a 1% chance of flood. This puts the property at significant risk, as not only do 100-year storms need to be accounted for, but other storms as well.

Time Period10 Yr.25 Yr.50 Yr.100 YrTotal Odds1 yr.10%4%2%1%17%10 yr.65%34%18%10%127%20 yr.88%56%33%18%195%30 yr.96%71%45%26%238%50 yr.99%87%64%39%289%

Source: FC&S Online

The overarching issue is how to educate both the public and the industry on flood mitigation techniques and the availability of insurance coverage. The industry needs to inform people of not only what their risk is but also about the available risk evaluation tools, mitigation techniques and available coverage. Agents and brokers need to be well informed in order to proactively change the narrative of flooding and coverage.

Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

Cleaning up after a flood can pose health risks. You and your family should wait to re-enter your home until professionals tell you it is safe, with no structural, electrical or other hazards.

Before you start cleanup activities, contact your insurance company and take pictures of the home and your belongings. Remember – drying your home and removing water-damaged items is your most important step for preventing mold damage.

Is There a Problem?

Was your home flooded? If so, and you were not able to dry your home (including furniture and other items) within 24-48 hours, you should assume you have mold growth. You need to completely dry everything, clean up the mold, and make sure you don’t still have a moisture problem.

You may see or smell mold on clothing, drywall, furniture, cardboard boxes, or books, but it may also be hidden under or behind items like carpet, cushions, or walls.

Mold Basics: How Molds Can Affect Your Health

Key Messages

  • Wear personal protective equipment. Wear an N-95 respirator at a minimum, goggles, and protective gloves.
  • Use portable generators carefully, outside and away from the home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and fires.
  • Ensure the mold cleanup is complete before reoccupying your home.

Exposure to mold can lead to asthma attacks, eye and skin irritation, and allergic reactions. It can lead to severe infections in people with weakened immune systems.  Avoid contaminated buildings and contaminated water as much as you can.

Flood water may have carried sewage or chemicals into your home. This could expose you or your family to viruses, bacteria, disease carriers (such as mosquitoes), and parasites, as well as mold. To learn more about cleaning and disinfection go to: www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/flood/standing.html.

You can protect yourself and your family from mold exposure by following these steps.

Before You Enter Any Moldy Site:

  • Protect yourself and loved ones against hazards. People with breathing problems like asthma or who have weakened immune systems should stay away from moldy sites. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work. Check for loose power lines or gas leaks. Make sure the electricity and gas are turned off. Look for sagging ceilings or floors or other structural problems. Watch out for wet, muddy, or slippery floors.
  • Protect your mouth and nose against breathing in mold: wear at least an N-95 respirator. If you plan to spend a lot of time removing moldy belongings or doing work like ripping out moldy drywall, wear a half-face or full-face respirator. Basic information on using it is in OSHA’s general respiratory protection guidance.
  • Protect your skin. Wear protective gloves (non-latex, vinyl, nitrile, or rubber). Do not touch mold or moldy items with bare hands.
  • Protect your eyes. Wear goggles that provide complete eye protection. Choose goggles designed to keep out dust and small particles. Safety glasses or goggles that have open vent holes will not protect you against dust and small particles.

After You Leave a Mold Site:

  • Protect yourself and loved ones. Shower and change your clothes.  This will help you avoid carrying mold and other hazards back to your current living quarters.

Should I Do This Myself?

This job may be too difficult or dangerous for you. It may be best to get help from experienced and qualified professionals if you can.  Hire a mold inspection or remediation professional affiliated  with or certified by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), or American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC) to inspect, repair, and restore the damaged parts of your home. Your state also may regulate mold remediation.

Sampling for mold is not usually recommended. Understanding the results can be difficult, and no matter what kind of mold is in your home, you need to clean it up and fix the moisture problem.

If I Must Do This Myself, How Can I Do It Safely?

Follow these steps:

  1. Put on the personal protective equipment described above to protect your eyes, nose, mouth, and skin.
  2. Remove standing water and wet materials. Use a wet vacuum to remove water from floors, carpets, and hard surfaces. Dry your home and everything in it as quickly as you can – within 24 to 48 hours if you can.
  3. Open all doors and windows when you are working and leave as many open as is safe when you leave.
    • Open inside doors, especially closets and interior rooms, to let air flow to all areas. Take doors off their hinges if you need to.
    • Open kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity doors; remove drawers, wipe them clean, and stack them to dry.
    • Open the attic access to let air flow to the attic. Before you open the attic door, make sure nothing will fall on you.
  4. When electricity is safe to use, use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture. Do not use fans if mold has already started to grow, because the fans may spread the mold.
  5. Clean with water and a detergent. Remove all mold you can see. Dry right away.
  6. If you use cleaning products, do not mix cleaning products together. DO NOT mix bleach and ammonia because it can create toxic vapors.
  7. Painting or caulking over mold will not prevent mold from growing. Fix the water problem completely and clean up all the mold before you paint or caulk.
  8. Throw away items that can’t be cleaned and dried. Throw away anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours. If you have precious items that you want to preserve, follow these guidelines from the Smithsonian Institute: www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/mnm.html.

Safety Tips on Using Portable Generators

  • If you use a portable generator for electricity use CAUTION to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and fires.
  • Use portable generators OUTSIDE and at least 20 feet away from buildings.
  • Do not use portable generators inside your house or garage.
  • Do not put portable generators on balconies or near doors, vents, or windows.
  • Do not use portable generators near where you or your children are sleeping.
  • Never refuel a generator while it is hot.
  • For more information, go to: www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_Hurricane_Facts/portable_generator_safety.pdf[PDF – 22 KB]

Am I Done?

  • If you still see or smell mold, you have more work to do. After a remediation, there should be no signs of water damage or mold growth.
  • You may need to ask a mold remediation professional to know whether your mold problem is completely fixed. As noted in the “Should I do this myself?” section, sampling for mold is not usually recommended; instead, a careful inspection of the work area for completion of the cleanup and absence of mold-related odors is usually appropriate.
  • If you have health problems that get worse when you return home, like asthma or allergy attacks or skin or eye irritation, you may still have some mold.

How small businesses can better protect themselves

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

Even the best-run small businesses face the risk that external factors beyond their control, like a natural disaster, could derail operations.

recent joint survey conducted by Insureon and Manta revealed that approximately 60% of small business owners don’t have either a formal disaster recovery plan or business interruption insurance, both of which could help them bounce back if an unforeseen event like Hurricane Florence forces their business to temporarily close.

Natural disasters are unpredictable such as the recent wildfires in California are unpredictable. Out-of-control fires in Yosemite threatened the livelihood of small business owners in the hospitality industry, with one innkeeper estimating a loss of at least $20,000. Other local businesses, such as guided tour and day trip operators, faced the possibility of serious financial losses and the need to dip into savings to cover operating expenses.

While a disaster recovery plan won’t completely insulate small businesses from problems caused by Mother Nature, a well-thought-out strategy can help minimize the impact. In addition to purchasing commercial property insurance to help pay for repairs to damaged property, business owners should also consider buying a business interruption insurance policy. Not only can it help expedite recovery from a disaster, it can also minimize a business’ financial losses.

Developing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan

In the event of a natural disaster, small businesses may be forced to temporarily close. Unfortunately, not all businesses are equipped to survive a prolonged shutdown. According to the survey, 31 percent of owners don’t know if their companies would be able to resume operations if they had to close for longer than one month, with an additional 13 percent confident that they would definitely not be able to reopen. However, only 39 percent of small business owners surveyed said they have a formal disaster recovery plan in place.

Disaster recovery plans can help business owners act fast to protect their company’s infrastructure and get the business back up and running as quickly as possible. Some information to consider including in a recovery plan includes:

  • A list of key contacts, such as the insurance company, utility companies, suppliers and financial institutions
  • A detailed plan of what steps employees should take in the event of an emergency
  • A communication plan for notifying customers and vendors of the closure
  • Documents and resources that are critical to the business’ operations

To keep everyone in the loop, employers may want to review disaster recovery plans with employees during on-boarding, and hold annual emergency response drills.

Why add business interruption insurance?

Companies face more than just physical damage from natural disasters; they also experience financial losses from being forced to halt operations for a period of time.

While property insurance can pay to repair building damage caused by a wildfire, business interruption insurance covers the potential income lost during a temporary closure. These payout amounts are usually based on income and expense records, so business owners should carefully store copies of these documents in a safe, off-site location.

Business interruption insurance can vary from policy to policy, but typically provides coverage for the following three things:

  1. Profits an owner would have earned if the business was not forced to close
  2. Normal operating expenses, including employee wages, taxes and loan payments
  3. Temporary relocation expenses, such as moving and rent costs

Business interruption insurance usually will not cover costs related to utilities, income that isn’t properly documented and losses caused by a partial closure.

Some policies might not protect against every natural disaster. For example, if events like wildfires are not covered by a proprietor’s property insurance policy, their business interruption policy won’t cover expenses related to wildfires either. For total protection, proprietors should verify with their insurance carriers that their policies cover common natural events that are specific to their geographical vicinity.

Above all, small businesses can best prepare by taking a proactive approach to disaster recovery planning. In the absence of a plan or adequate insurance, small business owners are putting themselves at risk for significant financial losses that could force some to permanently close. With the right combination of preparedness and comprehensive insurance, business owners can ensure they are ready for anything Mother Nature throws their way.

Disaster recovery for agents, brokers & claims professionals

10/3/2018 (Permalink)

A hurricane is coming. You’ve implemented your business’s emergency preparedness plan. You’ve boarded up your brick-and-mortar location in the storm’s path. You’ve ensured your staff’s safety. You’ve secured your CRM data at an offsite, low-risk location (or in the cloud), and armed your staff with printouts just in case. You’ve mobilized your claims workforce. And you’ve prepared your clients with disaster-specific risk mitigation and claims reporting information.

But are you ready for what comes next?

After a weather-related catastrophe passes, agents, brokers and claims professionals must be prepared to ride out the next storm: the onslaught of claims. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey resulted in nearly 670,000 combined personal and commercial property insurance claims to private insurers, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and the Texas Fair Access to Insurance Requirement Plan, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. All those insureds expect a prompt, professional response, and rightfully so.

Here are seven tips to help you get back to business with minimal interruption.

1. Keep an eye on the weather

Large storms seldom follow their forecasted track. Watch for changes in weather patterns and reach out to high-risk insureds — such as large car dealerships or marinas — that might be impacted by a sudden shift in the storm track, so they can relocate their assets if possible and take all necessary precautions.

Then, stay in touch with emergency management officials. To provide timely outreach to your clients, you’ll need to know when roads will re-open and when it will be safe to bring claims representatives into the area.

2. Set up temporary offices

Today, power outages from storms don’t bring businesses to a halt. Wi-Fi hotspots mean your insureds may be able to stay connected with their mobile devices. You should too. For agents and brokers, this may mean working “virtually” — from homes, hotel rooms or coffee shops — rather than finding a temporary brick-and-mortar location. Claims professionals (especially CAT adjusters) are accustomed to finding Wi-Fi hotspots wherever they go so they can determine coverage, assess damages and resolve claims without interruption.

3. Mobilize your claims force

Start to determine how many claims professionals you’ll need on the ground to assess the damage. Know the physical location of CAT adjusters and how to contact and deploy them as needed so they can reach out to your clients and help them calculate property loss and business interruption loss.

4. Determine your priorities

For agents and brokers, making sure your clients are safe and handling their first-notice-of-loss response will be your two biggest business priorities in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Determine what your staff can handle, and what they can’t. Small or mid-sized retail agents or brokers may ask their clients to report claims directly to the carrier. The agent or broker should also understand all their carriers’ documentation and estimate requirements for clients who sustained smaller losses that don’t need to be inspected by the carrier. In any event, the agent or broker will still need to follow up on the progress of all claims.

It’s also important to be aware of carrier binding suspensions, state moratoriums on non-pay and other cancellations, and other guidelines, procedures and processes that might be disrupted by the weather event.

Another option may be to outsource some of those critical business functions to an external vendor that specializes in insurance operations and business process management. If you’re already working with such a vendor, this is a natural next step. If you’re seeking such a vendor, look for one with offshore and on-shore capabilities and practical business continuity plans not tied to a physical location that can help you minimize business interruption.

5. Keep your insureds informed

This is where an agent or broker’s online presence will pay major dividends. Use your website and your social media channels to let your insureds know you’re back in business, who to call, where to submit claims, and how to contact you, your staff and their carrier.

6. Rely on your data

Gather analytics around the property or assets you insure and track the potential loss. For example, if you know you insure 1,000 homeowners who were in the swath of the hurricane, you can calculate the potential impact beforehand, and then re-calculate based on the storm’s actual path. This will give you the data you need to comprehend the number and severity of claims you and your staff may be handling.

7. Plan better the next time

No matter how well you plan, the days after a weather catastrophe will be frenetic. But proper planning will help you ensure business continuity.

I spent 20 years working in carrier claims departments, and have been a part of organizations helping people recover from serious storms since Hurricane Gloria hit New York City in 1985. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that the right time to help in a natural disaster is both before and after.

In the days after Hurricane Harvey, we at ReSource Pro offered our clients help with their priority work, for example. We rerouted our impacted clients’ calls to our on-shore center and handled loss reporting calls, and we followed up with carriers and insureds to confirm adjuster assignments. We leveraged offshore locations to handle first-notice-of-loss data entry for impacted clients.

Although that helped clients after the storm, helping clients prepare for the next storm is just as crucial. That’s why I advise our clients that, when you work with external vendors, ask them to do a portion of work on a regular basis. If you anticipate asking a vendor to handle first-notice-of-loss data entry during a storm, having them do a portion of that work with some frequency during normal business operations ensures a smooth transition — and familiarity — with the work during an emergency.

This will ensure your external strategic partner knows your processes, understands your clients, and is prepared to offer seamless support when catastrophe strikes. You’ll gain a level of confidence in your business partner that will keep your clients satisfied, which in turn will become a key differentiator for your agency or brokerage.

Top Tips for Fire Safety

9/10/2018 (Permalink)

Fire Damage Top Tips for Fire Safety Fire safety is important!

Did you know that if a fire starts in your home you may have as little as two minutes to escape? During a fire, early warning from a working smoke alarm plus a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives. Learn what else to do to keep your loved ones safe!

Top Tips for Fire Safety

 

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

 

Test smoke alarms every month. If they’re not working, change the batteries.

 

Talk with all family members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.

 

If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL FOR HELP. Never go back inside for anything or anyone.

Business Owners Find Varied Paths to Recovery Post-Disaster

9/4/2018 (Permalink)

As small business owners in Hawaii and California clean up following Hurricane Laneand wildfires, they’ll find there’s no one formula for recovery.

The same disaster can devastate businesses in divergent ways – a hurricane might tear the roof off one restaurant, flood another and leave a third with little damage.

 

Whether a business recovers often depends on how prepared it is, such as whether it has insurance and its computer data is backed up remotely. Owners should also find out what resources are available to them from the government, their communities and other entrepreneurs, says Craig Markovitz, a professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Communication with customers and vendors is also crucial, Markovitz says.

“Let people know you’re going to get back on your feet,” he says. Anything from a sign on a company’s premises to advertising to media coverage will help.

Markovitz also advises owners to rally their entrepreneurial spirit, which helped them succeed in the first place.

Here are the stories of business owners who were able to recover:

OWNER: Patrice Farooq, Cupcake Kitchen Houston

 

THE DISASTER: Hurricane Harvey, August 2017

When Houston was inundated by over 4 feet of rain in four days, Farooq’s bakery was damaged by water that entered through the roof. She lost appliances including a commercial freezer and all her perishables including eggs and dairy products. Farooq estimates her losses at $30,000, and she was shut for about three weeks.

THE RECOVERY: Even as she was first dealing with the damage, Farooq began using Facebook ads to let customers know she’d be reopening, and to ensure they didn’t forget about her shop.

“I had an idea that the (customer) traffic was not going to be the same and we would run the risk of going out of business,” Farooq says.

Farooq kept advertising after she reopened, and revenue had returned to about 80 percent of pre-Harvey levels by January. But because the neighborhood was still rebuilding, Farooq decided to move the store five miles away, opening in May. Revenue is now 50 percent above the level of before the storm.

OWNER: Nate Stokes, Visiting Angels senior care franchise

THE DISASTERTornado; Joplin, Missouri; May 22, 2011

The tornado destroyed Stokes’ cars and his office, which no one was in when the twister hit, and he later learned that his accountant had been killed. Stokes saw the area the next day; it was acres of rubble.

“If you had blindfolded me and brought me there, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where we were,” he says.

Three of 50 employees had to quit because they lost their homes and needed to focus on rebuilding their lives. Three more were temporarily unable to work. He lost several clients whose homes were destroyed.

THE RECOVERY: Stokes’ church offered him office space, and the Visiting Angels franchise in Tulsa, Oklahoma, lent him a car and computer. About a month after the tornado Stokes found an office 12 miles away, in Carthage, Missouri, but he was unable to replace all his lost equipment and cars until he received insurance money six months later.

It took about a year for Stokes’ business to return to its pre-disaster functioning. He’s still based in Carthage but now has a satellite building in Joplin.

OWNERS: Brent and Juan Reaves, Smokey John’s BBQ restaurant

THE DISASTER: Fire; Dallas; Sept. 9, 2017

Wood stored near a meat smoker caught fire, heavily damaging the kitchen, sending smoke into the entire restaurant. It caused no injuries, but the restaurant had to be gutted.

THE RECOVERY: The brothers, who had several catering gigs on their schedule, realized they could still have money coming in by focusing up that part of their business. They quickly found kitchen space where they could prepare food. And other barbecue purveyors were ready to pitch in when they heard about the fire, Brent Reaves says.

“People started calling us and said, ‘Hey guys, if you need smokers, we can help,”’ Reaves says.

With advertising, the catering business soared, helping fund the restaurant’s reconstruction. The rebuilt Smokey John’s will be 1,000 square feet larger to handle the booming catering business, and the Reaves brothers have set a goal of $1 million in catering revenue this year. They expect to reopen the restaurant in September.

OWNER: Brandon Gaille, Gaille Media, internet marketing agency

THE DISASTER: Hurricane Harvey, August 2017

Gaille’s second-floor office became flooded when nearby Lake Houston overflowed. He and his staffers couldn’t re-enter the building for three months – even after the water receded, it left behind dangerous levels of mold. When Gaille was allowed back in, he had to wear a mask.

THE RECOVERY: Gaille and his two staffers and 10 freelancers were able to keep working because most of their documents and records were stored online and could be accessed remotely. So the company had minimal disruption. But last fall, one of Gaille’s employees asked him to consider making the remote work arrangement permanent.

“I don’t want to go back to the office,” the staffer told Gaille.

The move is saving Gaille thousands of dollars a year in overhead – rent, utilities and commuting costs.

OWNER: Bob Tuck, Mr. Appliance, repair company

THE DISASTER: Hurricane Charley; Port Charlotte, Florida; Aug. 13, 2004

The hurricane hit as Tuck was shifting from being a Maytag appliance retailer and repair shop to a Mr. Appliance franchisee, doing only repairs. Tuck was able to move inventory from the store to a warehouse. It took nearly three days before Tuck could travel to the store because of debris and downed power lines. The store, which still had mock-ups of kitchens with appliances, was almost completely destroyed. But the office with all the company’s records was unscathed, as was the warehouse and his inventory.

THE RECOVERY: When Tuck was able to contact the Mr. Appliance corporate offices, the company offered to help him and the community, and told him it would send water and take over his phone lines and answer his calls.

Tuck didn’t try to find another retail space; over the next four months he sold off his Maytag inventory to homeowners who lost their appliances to the storm.

However, there was little demand for appliance repair and therefore little revenue coming in. Tuck’s insurance policy helped cover his financial losses and he also obtained a Small Business Administration disaster loan.

“It was our only means of survival,” Tuck says.

OWNER: Jeff O’Hara, AlliedPRA, event/conference planning company

THE DISASTER: Hurricane Katrina; New Orleans; Aug. 29, 2005

Physical damage at his company wasn’t an issue for O’Hara; it was the city’s overall devastation that for two years wiped out New Orleans’ tourism and convention industries. O’Hara also lost his house. He had to move away from New Orleans for more than a year, getting part-time jobs in Colorado to support himself.

THE RECOVERY: O’Hara worked the phones while he was away, staying in touch with clients, suppliers and tourism officials. He was working to convince people that despite the widespread belief that the city was in ruins, its most popular tourist areas including the French Quarter were undamaged and ready for visitors.

He also traveled around the country, meeting with clients. Even after moving back he worked side jobs, and in 2007, business began to trickle back in.

But O’Hara and the industry faced more problems – the Great Recession hit, devastating the corporate travel business.

“In all, it took seven years to get back to our previous levels of revenue,” O’Hara says

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