Hurricane Season Prep: Getting Your Home, Car and Data Ready

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As heat waves continue to emerge and peak hurricane season is on its way soon, homeowners should prepare for power failures and flash flooding which could take down your access to electricity for several days.

Many coastal areas are still prone to flooding from storms, tornadoes and hurricanes even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, will be below normal. The NOAA is predicting a 70% chance of 6 to 11 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, including three that become hurricanes.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities.”

As hurricane season begins, consumers should start prepping their homes by checking their supplies and current homeowner’s and auto insurance coverage. Avoid waiting until the last minute to buy flood or wind insurance, because some companies require you to purchase it 30 days before it becomes effective.

Homeowners should take photos of their home and valuable items and download the pictures to a website so they can retrieve it remotely in the aftermath of a storm for an insurance claim. Developing a current inventory of your possessions with their make and model numbers can speed up a claim and verify losses for your income tax return, said Jim Gustin, a senior property specialist at The Travelers Companies, the Harford, Conn. insurance company.

Tasks Prior to a Storm...


Stocking up on food, bottled water and other essential items such as prescription drugs for a week is important, said Peter Duncanson, director of disaster restoration training for ServiceMaster Restore, a Memphis, Tenn.-based residential disaster restoration company. Create an emergency container filled with cash, a first aid kit, batteries and blankets. Make sure you add spare phone chargers and fill up your vehicle’s gas tank.

“Estimate that each family member will need a gallon of water every three days and have a ready supply of nonperishable foods,” he said.

Ensure Your Data Is Not Vulnerable...


Start by backing up your data on a regular basis. Digital encrypted copies of your paperwork which contains personal or financial information like insurance policies, account numbers, pay stubs and even W-2s come in handy, said Brian Berson, CEO of FileThis, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based automated digital organization platform that fetches and organizes personal documents from your computer or mobile devices.

“While businesses have IT specialists who carve out sophisticated disaster recovery plans, consumers usually don’t think about having a plan in place for a disaster,” he said. “Free apps like Evernote or FileThis keep digital copies of important documents in the cloud, which means disasters can’t destroy personal data as it is not stored on local computers or filing cabinets.”

Communication During a Storm...


While texting has become more readily available after a storm or hurricane has landed, don’t expect it to work all the time. Cell phone towers are often damaged and temporary cell sites on trucks may not be available in your area. Appoint a meeting location to meet just in case you get separated.

Depending on where you live, venting about your power outage via a tweet might get your electricity restored faster. A platform created by OMNETRIC, a joint venture of Siemens, the German engineering company, and Accenture, the Irish consulting firm, extrapolates public data from social media and combines it with real-time weather, GPS, photos and information from customers submitted via Facebook or Twitter. Working with San Diego startup DataCapable, the company implements the data to determine where the outages are, finds the closest repair truck and gives the team more visual information to assess the repair before they arrive.

“Utility repair crews often approach the scene without full knowledge of what may have caused the outage, what potential challenges or dangers may be present and what tools may best suit the necessary repairs,” said Wade Malcom, CEO of OMNETRIC Group North America, based in Minnetonka, Minn. “The technology gives utilities access to the time stamp, GPS coordinates and visual clues, providing a repair crew with a 360 view of field conditions.”

If the storm knocks out your power for days or weeks, a power inverter can come in handy by using your vehicle as a power source. They allow a car’s battery to run a variety of electronic devices, including phones, laptops and cameras, said Arthur Romero, an owner in the Houston area of seven Batteries Plus Bulbs, a Hartland, Wis.-based battery supply company.

“Be sure to purchase extra power inverters for your car,” he said. “They come in a range of sizes and power capacities, with a starting price of about $20. Get your vehicle battery tested to make sure it will work for you during a storm.”

Purchasing LED flashlights might be more economical, because they use the least of amount of power and some of these lanterns and flashlights can last up to 200 hours on one set of batteries, Romero said.

It may seem like a throwback to another decade, but a battery-powered, two-way or hand-crank radio can be extremely handy to give you weather updates and evacuation instructions. If all your electronic devices are out of power, the radios can give you other information such as the time and information such as road closures.

In the Aftermath of a Storm...


After assessing the situation, take photos to document the damage. One of your first calls should be to your insurance agent or a company which can assists in the cleanup process.

“Begin water cleanup and removal within 24 to 48 hours to avoid mold and further water damage,” said Duncanson.

Mold growth in your home is a major concern, because it can lead to health problems such as asthma and upper respiratory tract symptoms, said Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group, a Stamford, Conn. environmental testing firm. A certified mold inspector can test and assess the damage.

Recovery after an immense storm is unpredictable, said Gabriel Lugo, franchise operations director of 911 Restoration, a Van Nuys, Calif. restoration service company.

"Damage from a simple flooding can be taken care of in three to seven days depending on the level of destruction, but the worst effects from a hurricane can take months to fully recover from,” he said.

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