After Hurricanes Irma and Harvey: Recovery Resources and Safety Guidelines

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast Friday evening, August 25, and was rapidly followed by Hurricane Irma which began impacting the Caribbean on September 6, and started pummeling the Florida Keys September 10, and then moved north to the Gulf Coast, northern Florida and beyond. These massively powerful storms forced widespread evacuations, significant flooding and wind damage. As residents return home and think about recovering, IBHS offers the following safety guidelines and recovery resources.

After The Hurricane

Protect yourself. Always be careful when entering a damaged building. If there is serious structural damage, contact local officials before entering. Report downed power lines or gas leaks. Keep electricity turned off if the building has been flooded.

Protect your property. Take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage. This could mean boarding up windows and salvaging undamaged items. Your insurance company can tell you what they will pay for regarding protection.

Report the loss as soon as possible. Contact your insurance agent or insurer as soon as you can. Provide a general description of the damage and have your policy number handy if possible. Write down the adjuster’s name, phone number and work schedule as soon as you have them.

Prepare a list. Keep damaged items or portions of them until the claim adjuster has visited, and consider photographing or videotaping the damage to document your claim. Prepare a list of damaged or lost items for your adjuster.

Keep receipts. If you need to relocate, keep records and receipts for all additional expenses. Most insurance policies cover emergency living arrangements.

Return claim forms. After your insurance company has been notified of your claim, they must send you the necessary claim forms within a certain number of days (time period varies by state). Fill out and return the forms as soon as possible. If you do not understand the process, be sure to ask questions and write down the explanation.

Cleanup. When starting the cleanup process, be careful, and use protective eyewear and gloves if available. Adjusters may tell business owners to hire a professional cleaning service.

Build stronger next time. When you’re ready to start repairs or rebuild, work with your contractor to make the new structure disaster-resistant.

After-Storm Safety Tips

Beware of debris. Storms with extensive rain and high winds, such as tropical storms and hurricanes, can cause severe damage and create hazardous conditions such as fallen trees and other types of dangerous debris including downed power lines, broken glass, small pieces of buildings, commercial signs, and road signs. After the storm passes, residents should be extremely careful as they sort through the wreckage to assess the damage.

Handle power outages safely. Power outages are common after storms and many residents and businesses rely on backup generators until power can be restored. While power generators are quite useful, they also pose certain risks including fire, damage to electrical equipment, and even injury or death. Before using a generator, it’s important to understand these risks and the necessary precautions for safe operation.

Generator Safety Tips

  • Use proper care. Proper ventilation is critical to reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator’s engine exhaust. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a common, serious danger that can cause death if generators are used improperly; this is particularly true when the fuel is not burned completely.
  • Placement is key. Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents, or air intakes that could allow CO to come indoors.
  • Keep other items clear. Maintain plenty of air flow space around the generator.
  • Pay attention. Get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel sick, dizzy or light-headed or experience flu-like symptoms.
  • Buy CO detector. Because CO is invisible and odorless, it makes sense to buy a CO detector (similar to or sometimes combined in a smoke detector) to warn of rising CO levels.
  • “Ground” your generator. Carefully follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.
  • Keep the generator dry. Short circuits may occur in wet conditions, which can cause a generator fire. If needed, place the generator under an open canopy–type structure.
  • Be prepared. Always keep a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Leave it to the professionals. To avoid electric shock or electrocution, do not try to fix or otherwise work on a generator.
  • Organize your cords. Keep cords out of the way to avoid injury, but keep them in plain view to keep track of cord damage (such as fraying or cuts) that could cause a fire.
  • Do not “back feed” power. Do not plug the generator into a wall outlet. Back feeding will put you and others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase low voltage from the generator to thousands of volts.
  • Know local laws. Some states have laws making the generator owner responsible for taking steps to make sure that the generator’s electricity cannot feed back into power lines; additionally, owners of commercial, industrial, or residential generators must notify the local utility of their locations.
  • Don’t touch. It’s hot. The exterior portions of a generator, even if operated for only a short period of time, can become hot. Avoid touching the generator without protective gear and keep debris clear to avoid a fire.

Regarding Generator Fuel

  • Store fuel in an approved container or holding tank designed for such use.
  • Only use fuel that is specifically recommended in the owner’s manual. Never store fuel indoors.
  • Do not keep fuel near the generator while the generator is in use; this could start a fire.
  • Never refuel the generator while it is running.