Plan for Best – Prepare for Worst
We covered the Loma Prieta for local radio and television news and were in the center of hardest hit area only days after the tragedy had occurred. The residents we met were still in a daze.
A couple of years later, in 1991, more than 3000 homes burned to the ground and hundreds of people died in a blaze known as “The Firestorm” in the hills of Oakland, California. The day after the fire was deemed “under control” we were on scene to report for local radio and television news. Seated in the back of the news van, there were no windows that would allow us to witness what had transpired. We finally arrived at our destination and the driver stopped and slid open our door. We could hardly believe the devastation before us. The area looked more like a war zone than the manicured neighborhood that it had been only a few days before. There wasn’t a living soul for as far as the eye could see. The fire had literally leveled everything in sight. The heat had been so intense that cars had melted flat. Tears came to our eyes and that terrible moment had become engrained in our hearts and minds forever.
In 2003 a forest fire raged in the mountains near San Diego, California, and in its’ wake thousands of homes were lost forever and good people perished. We were at a friend’s home and watched through his living room window while the fire destroyed everything in its path. The memory of the Oakland tragedy resurfaced and tears again rolled down our cheeks.
In 2005 a Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Thousands of homes were destroyed and families lost loved ones, pets and most of their worldly possessions. We were there during the 5th anniversary of Katrina where we were among 1,000 volunteers helping to rebuild. We will never forget the devastation that still existed five years later.
Later on an entire neighborhood in San Bruno, California – a community near San Francisco International Airport — was leveled and eight people were killed after a natural gas line ruptured.
San Bruno was yet another major U.S. city to join the ranks of San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and hundreds of other U.S. cities where major tragedies have and continue to occur. Although, the disasters that we have mentioned are the subject of national news, equally devastating events occur each and every day in homes and neighborhoods across the land. House fires, floods, tornados and twisters take their toll and challenge the affected as they strive to make sense of the events and put the pieces back together.
The following information may be perceived as if it is directed ONLY to survivors of a major disaster. However, during the tumultuous times that follow such events, one generally does not have the presence of mind to deal with such matters. Notwithstanding the fact that nothing can replace a lost loved one, there are steps to take after a major disaster strikes that could lessen the pain and help one to get reestablished:
- First things first. Don’t be in a hurry to get an insurance settlement or rebuild. You have plenty of time. Take care of you and your family. There is trauma, pain and suffering that will last, to some extent, forever. Mend as much of that as you possibly can. No matter how long it takes. Mind and body first.
- Organize. Help to organize your community and others like yourself. There is strength in numbers. The folks who work in the local building department may not have been affected by the incident. If such is the case they will probably not understand your dilemma. Most local building rules are not designed to deal with the aftermath of a major catastrophe. An organization of survivors can work with city planners and engineers to modify policies so that the “old neighborhood” can be “brought back to life more efficiently and effectively.” Such an organization can prove to be a veritable Goliath and help to prevent unfair practices by insurance companies and their representatives.
- Hire locally. Use qualified, local architects, designers, engineers and contractors to repair or rebuild your home. Try not to hire from out of town. Whatever you do, be careful not to hire crews from out of state. Contractors (good and bad) have a habit of moving into an area where a tragedy has occurred. They will borrow (or rent) a local contractor’s license – giving them the right to work in the area. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, out-of-towners will be – you guessed it – out of town and inaccessible. “Come fix my stove.” “Sorry lady, I’m two states away!”
- Don’t be like the insurance companies. Don’t be what you are trying to protect yourself from. You deserve to have what you had before – depending on the type of coverage that you actually purchased. By the way, do you clearly understand what kind of coverage you actually have? Don’t expect the insurance company or your architect or contractor to produce more than what you are legitimately entitled to. Many in the Oakland fire wanted so much more. For example: “I’ll let you build my home if you build a 3000 square-foot structure for the settlement I got for my old 2000 square-footer.” Unfortunately, someone is bound to say yes, but you will end up being the one that gets taken advantage of – not them. There simply isn’t enough profit in home construction to justify such an act. Contractors are the experts at construction and you aren’t. Who do you think wins in such situations? Yes, you should negotiate wisely, but not foolishly. This is yet another reason why waiting is important. During emotional trauma you may feel as though the world owes you. You lost everything and now it’s your turn to win. Wait until you are feeling as you did “pre-loss”, and then begin the rebuilding process.
- What you can do now. Hopefully, you will never have to experience an event such as those we’ve mentioned here. But just in case, be prepared:
- Take photos of everything you own.
- Make sure that you note in detail what every photo represents.
- Save samples of fabrics from drapes, carpets, tiles, everything.
- List all items in your home from carpets to clothing to silverware and appliances to plants & shrubs.
- Place the photos, inventory and samples in a safe deposit box. Remember how nice they were when you purchased your insurance? Well, don’t expect the same treatment when you meet with the adjustor.
Dealing with disaster (large or small) requires focus and forethought. These don’t come easy after a loss of any kind. We hope that our suggestions will help in the event that you are caught off guard and we hope that sharing our experiences will help you to prepare you and yours.