In the Path of Hurricane Irma . . . What Now?
Based on 20 years of helping hurricane victims recover–what Floridians should do now:
Pay attention to weather reports, and be prepared to evacuate. In the coming days, Floridians should carefully monitor the National Hurricane Center website for updates on Hurricane Irma: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ Understand that once evacuation orders come, roads will be inundated and a 3-hour drive can turn into a 17-hour drive.
Know your evacuation zone and register for emergency alerts. Evacuation zones in Pinellas County were modified as of June 1, 2017, so check here and make sure you know what zone you are in: http://egis.pinellascounty.org/apps/knowyourzone/ This website can also assist you in identifying the nearest shelter. St. Petersburg residents can also register for AlertStPete and receive emergency related texts from the City. https://www.stpete.org/news/alert_stpete.php
Get supplies. Prepare to shelter in place in the event evacuation is not recommended or not feasible. Plan for loss of power and being trapped by flooded roads. The Red Cross has an excellent Hurricane Safety Checklist: https://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4340160_Hurricane.pdf The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also has a useful emergency supply list: https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-irma-florida-puerto-rico-caribbean
Document your contents and the condition of your home or commercial building. There are free apps, such as Encircle, you can use to prepare an inventory of your contents and the condition of your building: http://lifehacker.com/encircle-inventories-your-home-documents-valuable-asse-1525017072 Do this before you evacuate.
Keep important documents with you in a waterproof bag. Put copies of your insurance policies, and any other important legal documents (birth certificates, passports, deeds, will, living will) in a waterproof bag. Scan them to the cloud in advance if you can.
Secure flying objects outside. Do what you can to reduce flying debris by taking patio furniture inside and putting away other objects that could become projectiles.
After the storm . . . Safety and reliable shelter, food and water will be a top priority if Irma reaches Florida. Power and flooding could be a problem for many days. If your area is affected and your home or business is damaged, report any wind, tree or flying debris damage to your homeowners insurance company right away. Report the claim in writing by fax or email if at all possible—directly to your insurance company, not your agent. If not, and you must report the claim by phone, put the call center on speaker phone, let them know you are video recording the call, and ask them to acknowledge the date. Do not speculate on the scope and extent of wind or flood damages.
Flood damages are not covered under most homeowners and commercial property insurance policies, and you will need a separate flood policy for that. You can describe the damage as a lay person, but in terms of pinpointing the cause, tell the insurer you are not an engineer or a contractor. Be sure to photograph and video all damages and get the insurance company’s permission to discard any ruined contents or building materials. Mitigate your damages by attempting to dry out and board up the property while you await inspection by your insurance company. If you need temporary housing assistance, contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. In the event of a catastrophic loss, register with FEMA after reporting insurance claims, as there may be temporary aid available.
Since 1998, Kristin Demers-Crowell has handled building insurance claims and litigation, forcing insurance companies to keep their promises. She has helped victims of numerous hurricanes get the recoveries they deserved. She is a contributing author for the Catastrophe Claims manual and regularly teaches courses on insurance claims for building owners. Keep your families safe during Hurricane Irma, and contact us for a free consultation if you need help after the storm.