First Steps to Take After a Storm
After a hurricane like Hurricane Michael or Sally passes through, many who evacuated will be returning to damaged homes. Follow and share these important tips to make sure you return safely and take the right steps to document your damage from the storm.
Do not return to your home until the authorities have declared it safe
While it may appear safe, and you are eager to get back to your home, there may be downed power lines, toxins in the water, or other hazards that are not apparent to you, that will make it dangerous for you and your family to navigate back to your home before the authorities have deemed it safe.
Document all storm damage to your home with photos and video and save it
Your first instinct, when you return to your home and find it has suffered damage from a storm, will be to start cleaning and repairing and restoring it to the once cherished place it used to be for you and your family. Before you do, however, take a quick half hour to photograph and video all damage. You never know how valuable this information will prove to be down the road if the insurance company begins to dispute the damage you sustained during the storm.
Prevent further damage but keep damaged goods and document expenses
If possible, primarily when you have risk for further water intrusion due to a compromised roof, windows or walls, use boards/tarps, document the expenses incurred in doing this, and photograph your work. Do not throw damaged items away yet. Under most insurance policies, homeowners are required to take reasonable steps to mitigate further damage. This means if you can take measures that prevent further damage from occurring (for example, as a result of an open roof or window allowing rainwater to continue to come in after the storm) you should do that, or you may not be able to recover for the additional damage caused as a result of your failure to take certain steps like this. Some repairs, however, may not be covered, or your insurance company will not pay for them if they do not agree the repairs were authorized. If you are unsure what actions to take after a storm to minimize damage, contact your insurance company and talk to them about what you are planning to do.
Find the nearest disaster recovery center
Search through FEMA.gov to find a disaster recovery center near you, go there and explore all possible resources and assistance available to you. FEMA offers so many resources for displaced families after a storm (household goods, provisions, shelter, community), and it is a good way to also connect with people going through the same process as you are for camaraderie and support.
Locate all insurance policies and report damage immediately
Look for all available policies (home, auto, business) and timely report all claims for all damage sustained to your buildings, vehicles, and belongings as a result of the storm. Document when you reported the claim along with any information your insurance company provides you. Be sure all information is accurate. If the insurance company asks you a question you do not know the answer to, the answer is “I don't know.” Do not guess. Guessing about certain aspects of your claim (i.e., what was damaged and how, what your cost to repair is, how much an item cost when you purchased it, etc.) might hurt you down the road if the information turns out to be inaccurate, even if your misstatement was a simple mistake or oversight.
Begin looking for alternative housing as soon as possible
If you cannot stay at your home because of the damage, begin looking for temporary housing immediately and document all additional living expenses you incur. After a storm, temporary housing will start to fill very quickly. If you find your home is no longer habitable, the sooner you begin looking for temporary housing for you and your family, the better. Be sure to keep copies of all receipts, bookings, leases, etc. for the additional living expenses portion of your insurance claim from the hurricane.