Surviving Reconstruction, 4 Tips to Take After A Major Disaster Strikes
A few months ago fire raged in the mountains near San Diego, and, in its wake, thousands of houses were lost. Good people perished, and others had to do without the warmth and comfort of the place they once called home. You would think it finally would be over—now that the smoldering ashes have been snuffed.
The Red Cross and state and federal emergency teams have moved in to help, but it’s far from over. The survivors of this tragedy must now embark on a challenge to re-establish their homes and neighborhoods—and the sanctity of their relationships with friends and neighbors. As we wish good fortune for those who have been stricken, we also caution them about those who would attempt to take advantage of them during their vulnerable time.
Nearly a decade ago, there was a similar fire “The Firestorm” in the hills of Oakland, Calif., where approximately 3,000 dwellings were burnt to the ground. We were intimately involved in that incident, and observed the human emotion and behavior associated with it. We organized seminars to help survivors become more informed. Building officials, engineers, architects and others shared their knowledge and advised audiences. The people of Oakland did everything they could to protect their interests and get their lives back together.
Good comes from all things—even tragedies. One of the best things that came out of The Firestorm was the organizing of the survivors. They got together as a group, moving with strength and direction. With numbers on their side, they negotiated with city government officials about how their community would be rebuilt, and were able to prevent the insurance companies from exerting unfair practices. There were still many who were taken advantage of, but in our estimation, the formation of a group of representatives saved many from additional pain and suffering. Dealing with an insurance company is usually a David-and-Goliath event where, in the end, David loses.
Here are some things to think about after major disaster strikes:
- First things first. Don’t be in a rush to get an insurance settlement or rebuild. You have plenty of time. First, 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.
- Move with a group. Help to organize your community. 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 effectively. Such an organization can be a Goliath, and help to prevent unfair practices by insurance companies and their representatives.
- Hire qualified local architects, designers and engineers to rebuild your home. Try not to hire from out of town; whatever you do, don’t hire out-of-state crews. Contractors 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.
- Don’t be piggish; 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 you purchased. Do you really understand what kind of coverage you have? Don’t expect the insurance company or your architect or contractor to produce more than that. Many in the Oakland fire wanted so much more. For example: “I’ll let you build my home if you build a 3,000 square-foot structure for the settlement I got for my old 2,000 square-footer.” Someone is bound to say “yes,” but you will end up being the one that gets taken advantage of. There isn’t that much profit. They are experts at construction and you aren’t. Who do you think wins in such situations? You should negotiate wisely, not foolishly. If it’s too good to be true, beware! 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 better, then begin the rebuilding process. Take your time and don’t get taken.