Last September, in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, five states were declared federal disaster areas. Hundreds of businesses were damaged, and more than 30 deaths were blamed on the powerful storm. Hurricane Isabel started traditional rounds of severe fall and winter weather.
As we continue through this winter, it’s essential to understand your role and responsibility if a severe storm hits your area and damages your storage facility. For example, after a storm, steps and floors are often slippery with mud and covered with debris, including nails and broken glass. There are several steps you should take to make temporary repairs and aid in the filing of an insurance claim.
Assess the Damage
When entering your storage facility for the first time after a severe storm, first check for structural damage. Follow any safety instructions issued by public authorities. Do not touch any downed or loose wires, branches or trees that have fallen on your facility. Do not enter if there is any chance of the building collapsing.
Upon entering, do not use matches, cigarette lighters or any other open flames, since gas may be trapped inside. Instead, use a flashlight to light your way. If you smell gas, exit the premises immediately; do not attempt to find or fix the problem. Do not turn on the power until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. Flood waters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads and other buildings, so be careful while walking around.
Once you have entered the facility and determined its safety, make any necessary temporary repairs to prevent further weather-related damage and injuries. Cover holes in the roof, walls, doors and windows with plastic or boards. Take the proper precautions, and use the appropriate materials to ensure your own safety while making the repairs.
Save receipts for any materials you buy. Depending on your policy, your insurance company may reimburse you for the cost. Beware of building contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary job, you may not have enough for permanent repairs. Don’t make extensive permanent repairs until after the claims adjuster has been to your facility and evaluated the damage.
Working With Your Insurance Company
Call your insurance agent or company to report any damages to your facility. Ask questions such as: Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to building damage?
Your insurance company may send you a claim form, known as a “proof of loss form,” to complete; or an adjuster may visit your facility before you’re asked to fill out any forms. (An adjuster is a person professionally trained to evaluate and assess damage.) Your insurance company will most likely provide an adjuster at no charge to you. You also may be contacted by adjusters who have no relationship with your insurance company and charge a fee for their services. These are known as public adjusters.
You may use a public adjuster to help you in settling your claim, but he may charge you a percentage of your settlement for his services, and the fee usually isn’t covered by your insurance policy. If you decide to use a public adjuster, check his qualifications by calling your state insurance department. Ask your agent, a lawyer, or friends and associates for the name of a professional adjuster they can recommend. Avoid those who go from door to door after a major disaster unless you are sure they are qualified.
Usually, the more information you have about your damages, the faster your claim can be settled. Be sure to keep copies of lists and other documents you submit to your insurance company. Also, keep copies of whatever paperwork your insurance company gives you. Make lists of the damaged items. Include the brand names and model numbers of electronic equipment. If possible, take photographs of the damage. Don’t forget to list items such as office furniture, computer systems, retail items and anything else that might have been damaged inside the office.
Put together a set of records, including old receipts, bills and photographs. This could help establish the price and age of everything that needs to be replaced or repaired. If your facility was destroyed or you no longer have any records, you will have to work from memory. Try to picture the contents of every area and write a description of what was there. Also try to remember where and when you bought equipment and other business-related items and about how much you paid.
Do not throw out damaged office furniture and other items. The adjuster may want to see them. Make a list of everything you would like to show him when he arrives. This should include cracks in the walls, damage to the floor, or ceiling and roof damage.
If damage is likely even though you can’t see any signs, discuss this with your adjuster. In some cases, hiring a licensed engineer or architect to inspect the property is essential. If you do have to hire a contractor or engineer, get written bids from reliable, licensed and bonded contractors on the repair work. The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis.
After a storm, anxieties may run high and headaches abound. But by maintaining calm and communicating with your insurance company and/or agent, recovery can be quick and trouble-free.
Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. offers a comprehensive package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry. For more information, or to get a quick, no-obligation quote, write P.O. Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079; call 800.844.2101; fax 480.970.6240; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.vpico.com/universal.