After The Superstorm – Insights From Sandy

As you well know, in October the entire Eastern Seaboard was drastically impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Sandy’s landfall was severe and damage was widespread.

As difficult as it may be, there are some crucial next steps that need to be taken as soon as possible in order to begin to recover after the storm, especially if you have property damage. Generally speaking, to be a deductible casualty loss, property must be damaged or destroyed as a result of a sudden, unexpected or unusual event.  You would have to prove that a casualty loss occurred.

  • With a well-known natural disaster like Sandy there should be no difficulty proving that the casualty occurred, but you would need to prove that it affected your property. It is good to have before and after pictures and newspaper stories about the effects on your neighborhood
  • The cost of repairs can serve as a measure of the loss incurred if the amount is not excessive, and the repairs only restore the property to its condition before the loss.  This could include cancelled checks, bills, receipts for expenses of clearing debris, and documents illustrating repairs to the property
  • Documenting the value of property immediately before and after the tragedy if obtained by a competent appraiser is also helpful
  • You may also need to know the cost basis of the property

If you have damage to your property or vehicles, there are a few guidelines you can follow to ensure that your insurance claims are filed and processed smoothly, including:

  • Assess your property damage and prepare a detailed record of the damage as soon as possible; it’s possible that you may qualify for a property tax reduction in your assessment for the 2013 tax year, especially if you own a beach house that was effected by the storm
  • Beware of fraudulent and less-reputable businesses, and only contact a qualified contractor to make temporary repairs to secure your property
  • Keep a record of all repairs and costs associated with these repairs, including expenses for temporary housing if needed
  • Understand your insurance policy fully; know what is and what is not covered so claims are not rejected
  • File your claim(s) promptly; many insurance companies have deadlines for filing claims
  • Be present when an insurance claims inspector visits your property so all damage is recorded

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is on the ground in many affected areas, and accepting applications for disaster relief. There are three ways to apply for disaster assistance:

  1. Online at www.disasterassistance.gov
  2. Via smartphone at m.fema.gov
  3. By phone at 1-800-621-3362 or TTY (for people with speech or hearing disabilities) at 1-800-462-7585

During this post-Sandy recovery phase, it is important that we learn from this storm so we can better prepare for future hurricanes, nor’easters and natural disasters. Below are several best practices for protecting your family and assets in times of crisis:

  1. Build an emergency kit – It should consist of a simple collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency (including non-perishable food, cash, blankets, bottled water, first aid supplies, prescription medications and vitamins, extra clothing, diapers, formula, and pet food if applicable). Services such as electricity, gas, and water may be cut off for several days or longer, so make sure your supply kit includes enough of these items to help you manage during these extended outages, figure at least seven days.
  2. Set your refrigerator– Refrigerators should be set to the coolest setting in case of a power outage. Also, have a cooler filled with ice handy to keep from opening the freezer and refrigerator doors and to keep perishable items fresh.
  3. Stock up on fuel – Store several gallons of gasoline/diesel/kerosene/oil for generators, heaters and motorized vehicles.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas in your car. To find an open gas station in your area, go to gasbuddy.com which is a great resource for locating gas.
  4. Get power supplies – Make sure you have batteries, flashlights, extension cords (for generators) and a battery-powered radio so you can hear important news updates from government officials.
  5. Take pre-storm photos – Take digital photos and videos of your home, inside and out, and your vehicles and store them in a secure location. These images will help you with any homeowner insurance claims should your property or vehicles sustain any storm damage.
  6. Clean out gutters – Remove all leaves and debris from rain gutters and downspouts to prevent flooding. Consider installing gutter covers to help prevent clogging.
  7. Tie down outside items – Secure or bring in all outdoor furniture and anything else that strong winds can lift (such as barbeque grills, tree swings, birdhouses, etc.).
  8. Prepare your property – Trim loose or dead branches from the trees and shrubs around your home to make them more wind resistant. Also consider having a professional remove any old, weak, or dead trees that may fall and damage your home during the storm.
  9. Have important contacts and documents handy – Keep a printed list of important contacts. Also store important documents, including titles, deeds, passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards in waterproof containers.

Additionally, the American Red Cross has created a free app simply named Hurricane, and it is available directly from the iTunes or Google Play app stores.  This app monitors weather conditions in your area, offers tips to prepare your home and family, and lets others know you are safe even if the power is out. This is a must have for anyone who has a smartphone.

About the author

Tom Orecchio, CFA, CFP®

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