Assess the Damage
Before entering your facility for the first time after a severe storm, first check for structural damage, and do not go in if there is any chance of building collapse. Follow any safety instructions issued by public authorities. Do not touch any downed or loose wires, branches or trees that have fallen near your site.
Upon entering, do not use matches, cigarette lighters or any other open flames, since gas may be trapped inside. Instead, use a flashlight. 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. Be careful as you walk around, as flood waters may have brought in sewage and chemicals from busted pipes, roads and other buildings.
Once you have determined the facility’s safety, make any temporary repairs you can to prevent further damage and injuries. For example, cover holes in the roof, walls, doors and windows with plastic or boards. Of course, always take precautions and use the appropriate materials to ensure your own protection.
Save receipts for any materials you buy. Depending on the policy, your insurance company may reimburse you. Beware of building contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on a temporary fix. If you pay a lot for a short-term job, it may leave you wanting when it comes time for permanent repairs. Don’t do any extensive restoration until the claims adjuster has been to your facility and evaluated the damage.
Working With an Adjuster
As soon as possible, call your insurance agent or company to report any damage to your facility. You need to know if you’re covered, if your claim exceeds your deductible, how long it will take to process the claim and if you’ll need to obtain estimates for repairs.
Your insurer may ask you to fill out a claim form, known as a “proof of loss form,” or it may send an adjuster to assess the damage personally. Most companies will send their own adjusters at no charge, but you might also be contacted by a public adjuster who has no relationship to the insurance company and charges a fee for his services.
A public adjuster can assist you in settling your claim, but he may expect a percentage of your payout in return—a fee that is usually not covered by your insurance policy. If you opt for outside help, ask for recommendations from your agent, lawyer, friends and associates. Then check adjusters’ qualifications by calling your state insurance department. Don’t just go with any adjuster who goes door to door after a disaster.
Make a note of items to point out to the adjuster when he arrives, such as cracks in walls or ceilings and damage to flooring or roofs. Do not discard any damaged property, as the adjuster may want to see it. Finally, discuss the possibility of hidden damage with your adjuster.
Sometimes it’s necessary to hire a licensed engineer or architect to inspect the property. If need to bring in a professional, get written bids from reliable, licensed and bonded contractors. The estimates should include tasks to be completed, materials to be used and a time frame for the work.
Gather and Keep Data
The more information you can provide to the insurance company about your property, the faster your claim will be processed. The best tactic is to be prepared with a complete set of records including receipts, bills and photographs that will help establish the price and age of items needing replacement or repair. Keep a list of all business property, including brand names and model numbers for electronic equipment such as computers, video cameras, DVRs, etc. Don’t forget to include office furniture, retail merchandise and office supplies. Photographs are always a plus.
Retain copies of any lists and other documents you submit to your insurance company and any paperwork you receive in return. Keep these documents in a safe place, because if they’re destroyed, you’ll be working from memory. You may need to remember the contents of the office, maintenance unit, supply closet and apartment, if applicable. You’ll also need to recall when you purchased items and how much you paid.
After a storm, anxieties may run high and headaches abound. But if you remain calm and communicate with your insurance company or agent, your recovery can be quick and trouble-free.
Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. has provided specialized insurance coverage to the self-storage industry for more than 10 years. The company represents Deans & Homer, which has provided self-storage insurance since 1974. For more information, call 800.844.2101; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.universalinsuranceltd.com.