The Calm Before (During and After) the Storm

John Roark Comments
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From the beginning of June until the end of November, the Coastal United States—from Maine all the way to Texas—is vulnerable to some of the most destructive storms on earth. The 2004 hurricane season was one of the worst on record, with four major hurricanes that caused billions of dollars in damage. The National Weather Service is predicting an active season for 2005, and the forecast shows an increased possibility for tropical storms and hurricanes.

Now is the ideal time to review your insurance policies and ensure your self-storage facility is adequately covered. Ask your agent if your policy covers the perils of wind and hail. If it does, what type of deductible do you have? Facilities in wind-prone areas may have a separate deductible for wind that applies on a flat rate or a percentage-of-building value. Knowing the details of your deductible before you experience a loss will eliminate any surprises if you need to file a claim.

If your primary insurance policy excludes wind coverage, there could be options available through another source. For example, a “wind pool” association or specialty carrier may be the best bet. In addition to coverage for wind and related damage, a complete insurance package should include business-income and extra-expense coverage.

A Note on Flood Insurance

Self-storage insurance policies, like most commercial policies, do not include flood insurance. Many facility owners don’t realize their standard business policy doesn’t protect them until it’s too late. Flood insurance can be purchased at any time, but there’s a 30-day waiting period from the date of your application before coverage goes into effect. It’s essential to plan ahead and get coverage from your agent before flooding occurs to ensure you’ll be protected if disaster strikes.

If you have a facility in a flood zone, being prepared can help minimize damage or loss. Keep your facility well-maintained, as doors and roofing can be ripped from buildings by strong winds and heavy rain if not properly secured. Keep landscaping in shape by removing weak or dead branches from trees—these can break, causing structural damage to nearby buildings and vehicles. Trees can even uproot if they are unhealthy or the ground is saturated. While no storm or its intensity is entirely predictable, forward thinking can make a difference.

Pre- and Post-Storm Prep

Create an inventory of your possessions and property. Consider making a videotape of the interior and exterior of your facility, describing each area as you record. Remember to include signs, fences, trees and landscaping, as they are vulnerable to damage. Digital photos are another option and easy to store on disc. Keep all of this documentation in a safe place away from the site. Should you need to file a claim, a set of records including receipts, bills and pictures will help establish the price and age of your property, as well as items that need to be repaired or replaced.

Once a storm watch has been issued, it’s time for action:

  • Move loose objects inside. Trash cans and signs can be dangerous in strong wind, damaging property and injuring people. If outdoor equipment cannot be moved, make sure it is adequately anchored.
  • Protect windows and doors from flying debris and heavy wind by covering them with plywood or other shielding.
  • Inside the office, elevate valuables off the floor to save them from water damage.
  • Back up essential computer files and records, and store them at a safe location. If your on-site computer is damaged or destroyed, you’ll need a duplicate of all records, contacts and databases.
  • Stay tuned to local radio and TV news for current information on the storm’s progress.

Once the storm has passed, assess the damage, being cognizant of seen and unseen hazards. Drive carefully through debris-strewn areas, and watch for fallen power lines, especially in areas with standing water.

Enter your facility with caution. Do not use matches, cigarette lighters or any open flame in case of gas leaks, and do not use electricity until your business has been properly checked by authorities. Do not enter your facility if there is any chance of the building collapsing, and do not try to remove any trees, branches or other fallen debris.

Contact your insurance agent immediately to report any damage. Include a description of the property involved, and when and where the loss occurred. Generally, the more information you can provide, the faster your claim can be settled. If possible, take photographs, and list damaged items in detail, including office equipment, furniture, computers and retail merchandise. Keep copies of everything you submit to your insurance company as well as all paperwork your insurance company sends you.

The storms are coming. But taking a proactive stance can minimize your risk.

John Roark is part of Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd., which 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, call 800.844.210; e-mail uif@univins.com; visit www.universalinsuranceltd.com.

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