How to Navigate Natural Disaster Damage

Oct 19, 2022

Tornado, fire, flood, hurricane. These are unpleasant events at best; at worst, they lead to ruin for home and business owners. How best, then, can individuals and businesses quickly and efficiently recover when disaster strikes?

We recently spoke with Will Wilson, Jr. CIC, an Oakbridge principal in Waycross, Georgia – about the best ways to handle damage to your property or business after a natural disaster.

What’s the first thing to do if my property or business is damaged in a severe weather event?

The very first thing is to make sure everyone is safe. If there are injuries at your property, call 911 immediately and render first aid. If there is fire or rising water, leave the property and seek shelter. Take care of yourself, your family and your colleagues first, then worry about fixing the damage.

What should I do next?

Once you’ve determined everyone is OK, the next step is to begin to mitigate the damage. The safest, most effective thing to do is to hire a licensed, insured restoration contractor. Your independent insurance agent can help you find one in your area.

Is now a good time to call a contractor?

Call your insurance agent first. What most people forget is that your insurance agent is also an invaluable resource as you start to put the pieces back together. He or she has an entire address book full of contacts and a career’s worth of relationships, and he or she will be happy to give you a referral. Involve your agent early as you’ll need to work closely with him or her and the contractor throughout the repair process. Alternatively, your claims adjuster also will have resources he or she can recommend. If you already have a contractor, introduce him or her to your agent.

The first step in fixing your property is for the contractor to assess the damage, then give you and your agent an estimate for its repair. It’s essential that there be agreement between the three parties before work begins. You may be anxious to get started immediately but having everyone on the same page at the onset will always save you time, money and headache down the road. And remember that any time the scope of work changes, you, the contractor and your claims adjuster will need to agree on it.

After many big weather events, like hurricanes, all sorts of subcontractors and specialists flood the affected area. Should I trust them?

We’ve all heard horror stories of fly-by-night contractors who prey on property owners after natural disasters – and sadly, the stories are mostly true. However, reputable outfits also may move into an area simply because there are not enough existing resources to fix widespread damage. My advice would be to make sure the contractor can provide proof of insurance. That includes general liability and workers’ compensation. Ask to see his or her contractor license. Call the Better Business Bureau for a reference. And, as always, work in tandem with your independent insurance agent.

What about financial assistance from FEMA or other government agencies?

That’s entirely between the government agency and the property owner. The insurance agent is generally not involved in those negotiations.

What else should, say, a business owner do?

I highly recommend that business owners keep a paper trail of every expense they incur and any revenue they may lose during and after the disaster. Tracking your sales during this period enables you to compare them to those you achieved under full operational capability. These records are essential for filing a lost-income claim. Note when your business operations ceased and restarted. Take pictures of the damage. Do as much as you can to document everything – it will get you reimbursed much, much more quickly!

Anything else?

Again, lean on your independent insurance agent. They are there for you, their client. They most likely have been through this kind of event before. They have the resources and the connections in the community to best protect your interests. After all, that’s what we’re here for.

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