Those who live in the Gulf Coast Region, especially residents of hard-hit areas like Northern Florida, are fairly savvy about preparing for a hurricane. But if it’s been a while since you’ve been through a storm or if you’re new to the area, knowing what to do before and after a storm can help you stay safe and recover more quickly.
Before the Storm:
1. Stay Hurricane-Prepared Year-Round
The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season was June 1st, but storm activity (including Tropical Depressions and Tropical Storms) can happen at any time. While unlikely, there is always a chance for a freak storm to hit, even in winter. In fact, on February 3, 1952, an intense tropical storm ripped through Miami knocking out power and damaging boats.
“If you wait until the season begins to start your preparations, it’s too late,” says GCI President and Principal Chris Matthews, “Stay prepared year-round but really take stock of your plans and supplies no later than May 1st in order to be prepared for the most active part of the hurricane season.”
Your basic preparations should include having a storm survival kit, knowing how to secure your home for storm damage, and having devices fully charged so you can stay in communication.
And don’t let your guard down too soon. Most of the storms in Florida occur from late August to early October, with September being the most active month.
To learn more about specific hurricane terminology and what should go into your hurricane kit, check out The Essential Guide to Hurricane Preparedness on Stateofflorida.com.
Did you know? Florida accounts for 40% of all hurricane strikes in the U.S.
2. Take Photos And Video Of Your Property Before The Hurricane Season
With so much focus on boarding up windows and making an evacuation plan, this one can be easy to overlook. Having documentation of your home or commercial building in its pre-storm state is critical to recovery after the storm.
Matthews advises: “Take a few minutes to walk around the inside and outside of your property and take photos and video of your building and its contents. It’s important to have a baseline for the condition of your windows, doors, and roof prior to the storm. Having these images will help you build a more successful storm damage claim or help support your case, should you end up in litigation over storm damage.”
It’s also important to take photos and video of any damage that may have occurred to your building after the storm has passed.
Did you know? After Hurricane Michael, 101,932 residential property claims and 11,873 commercial property damage claims were filed in the state of Florida.
3. Keep Documents In A Safe Place
Thanks to the cloud, there’s no excuse to be missing your documents. You can save them to a thumb drive or use one of the applications developed to secure important documents.
This way, you’ll always have a safe copy of things like:
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Home & car deeds
- Birth certificates & driver’s license
- Living wills
- Emergency contacts
- Health insurance cards
4. Understand Your Insurance Policy
It’s a good idea to refamiliarize yourself with your insurance policy including what’s covered and what isn’t.
According to Matthews: “One thing that is almost never covered by a basic insurance policy is flood damage and unfortunately that accounts for much of the damage to buildings that we investigate.”
People who live near the ocean or a large lake or river, likely already have flood coverage that was required by their bank to guarantee their mortgages. However, if you live further inland or outside of a designated flood plain, you’re not required to carry a special flood policy so you may consider one before the next storm.
Did you know? According to FEMA, one of every four flood disasters in the United States occurs in an area outside a flood plain.
After the Storm:
1. Stay Safe & Move Slowly
It’s important to put safety above all else. If you’re returning to your evacuated home or commercial space and are tempted to go inside and assess the damage you’ll want to exercise caution.
Matthews advises: “I would check for structural damage first from the outside before entering the building.”
Did you know? Northern Florida or the “Panhandle” is the most storm-prone part of the state.
2. Wait on Major Storm Damage Repairs
It’s ok to put a tarp on your roof or board up your windows and doors after a storm, but you’ll want to hold off on making major repairs until your insurance adjuster has done a walk-through.
“The idea is to document the damage and do what is necessary for temporary repairs so that you don’t negatively impact your storm damage claim,” suggests Matthews.
Did you know? Unethical contractors sometimes visit towns after a disaster. Be wary of anyone who shows up out of nowhere, offers to fix your building, and then asks for a lot of money upfront.
3. Take An Active Role In Your Damage Inspection
Once it’s safe to hold an inspection of your damage, you should work with a storm damage expert to conduct a forensic investigation into the extent and cause of your damage. Walk them through the damage you are already aware of and then let them look for the non-obvious damage that you may have missed. Have questions ready and be prepared with your current insurance policy and the photographs you took before and after the storm.
“We recently created a dedicated storm damage team to serve Northern Florida and the Gulf Coast,” says Matthews, “These experts understand the unique challenges of this region and can conduct a thorough investigation to provide the data you need to be compensated fairly.”
An experienced building envelope investigator can also identify ways to prevent future damage.
4. Reach Out For Federal Disaster Assistance
The SBA provides low-interest disaster loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters. The loans are available for those who qualify and are not limited to hurricane events – this past February when Texas experienced a serious winter storm, businesses and residents in 77 counties were offered low-interest disaster loans.
“The government recognizes the need to help residents and business owners recover after a storm event. You might not be thinking about this right away, but once you’ve assessed and documented your damage, you may want to see if you’re eligible for one of these loans. They’ve helped a lot of people recover,” says Matthews.
Applicants may apply online and can download applications at: https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/.
Did you know? If you make improvements that help reduce the risk of future property damage, you may be eligible for up to a 20 percent loan amount increase above the real estate damage, as verified by the SBA.
Know Who To Contact When You’re Ready To Recover
Surviving a hurricane is a traumatic experience so you might not be thinking clearly and be unsure of who to call first.
After you’ve called loved ones to check-in, your next call should be to your insurance carrier. After that, you may want to consider calling the team at GCI Consultants. We can show up wherever we are needed, throughout the United States and beyond, to provide insights and solutions into your storm damage that will help you get on the right road to rebuilding your life.
FROM PANAMA CITY BEACH TO LAKE CHARLES, LA – WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED.
If you live in Northern Florida or the Northern Gulf Coast Region, we’ve got dedicated storm damage experts right in your backyard. Contact us for help with your claim.