Tips for preparing for disasters and cleaning up after they hit

Eureka residents clean up on July 8, the morning after a tornado hit the town.
Eureka residents clean up on July 8, the morning after a tornado hit the town. The Wichita Eagle

Kansans are no strangers to the hardships that can be brought on by natural disasters.

Tornadoes, hail, fire, floods, lightning, ice and snowstorms have all been unwelcome visitors much too often. September is National Preparedness Month, a time designated for Americans to think about and plan for emergencies of all sorts.

The Better Business Bureau has advice and tips for Kansans who want to be ready for those trying times that Mother Nature can put us through.

Before the storm

The calm before a disaster hits is when we should all be doing our homework – making preparations to secure our families and homes so we are ready for emergencies. That’s where the home inventory list comes into play.

Trying to remember after a disaster and without documentation all of the many items in your home that you want to tell your insurance company about can be next to impossible.

Consider making a home inventory list now. Here’s what it should include:

▪ Photos or videos of all home contents.

▪ Where possible, list serial numbers and amounts paid for items.

▪ Check with your insurance company for online tools and advice on how to make an inventory.

▪ Important documents need to be gathered in one place for easy access. Digitize them when possible and store on the cloud or a thumb drive.

Your documents should include:

▪ Vehicle records – receipts, titles and registration.

▪ Statements of investments.

▪ Loan documents for mortgage, vehicles and student loans.

▪ Last seven years of IRS tax return records.

▪ Pension plan records.

▪ Wills, trusts and powers of attorney.

▪ Life insurance documents.

▪ Certificates of births and deaths, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, military discharges and Social Security cards. These are best kept in safe deposit boxes.

After the storm

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, these are the steps to take:

▪ Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. This gets the ball rolling and, if you’re eligible, vital loss-of-use benefits can kick in, including reimbursements for hotel, food, water and living expenses.

▪ Thoroughly document the damage. Take photos and video in a room-to-room account of your possessions, if it is safe to do so. Access the home inventory lists that you have (hopefully) made.

▪ Make temporary repairs to limit further damage, as you may be liable for such if you don’t.

Mike Hodges tries to salvage items in his garage where there was 4 inches of water. (video by Jaime Green/Sept. 9, 2016)

Keep the crooks at bay

Scammer artists may swarm into your area after a disaster. Watch for these:

▪ “Insurance claim specialists.” Don’t buy the line from crooks claiming they can run interference for you with your insurance company.

▪ Work estimates may have fine print that ties you to a contractor exclusively. Check them out first at bbb.org.

▪ Offers of quick repairs. They may have unreasonably high fees. Get quotes in writing in advance. Also, seek out volunteer groups in your area that may do the work for free.

▪ Demands for more than a third of the payment before work is done. Don’t give in to such requests and be sure your insurance company has signed off on any costs before having the work start.

▪ Door-to-door contractors are suspicious. Look at their vehicle for a business name and Kansas license plates. Ask for ID. Be sure the contractor is bonded, licensed and insured before you sign anything. They should provide written documentation of all three things. Get quotes and then your contract in writing before the work begins. Be extra cautious regarding areas that you cannot access, like roofs, attics, crawlspaces and ducts. Unethical contractors may create damage to get the job repairing it.

K-53 was flooded on Friday morning south of downtown Mulvane. (video by Jaime Green/Sept. 9, 2016)

A slow-moving storm system brought heavy rains to Sedgwick County on Thursday night, Sept. 8, 2016, prompting flash flood warnings throughout south-central Kansas. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the BBB at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.

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