Hurricanes: Plan, prepare, update, repeat

Being prepared for a hurricane requires constant updates and evolving actions. A true state of preparedness means you are ready for something, but more importantly, you are aware of the ever-changing nature of, well…Nature.

Anyone who lives or works near coastal waters, plans to visit them or has family and friends in those areas takes the time to become educated on hurricane awareness and preparation. A great online resource is The National Hurricane Center’s website. There you can download the Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide (PDF 6.2MB) that not only explains what a hurricane is in great detail, but gives you a starting point on how to recognize and prepare for the disaster before it strikes.

Those who reside further inland may ask “why would I ever need to prepare for or even be concerned about a hurricane?” In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused wind and flood damage in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania, to name just a few states. Remnants of Ike even caused damage in Canada. So much for hurricanes only being a concern for the coastal states!

Keeping track of hurricanes as they move inland is just as important as tracking hurricanes on the coasts. The NOAA’s National Weather Service can keep you apprised of what might be coming your way. Know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.

Here are some things you as a property owner can do before a catastrophe hits that will help you in the event you need to file an insurance claim for property damage. Keep in mind, this is certainly not all-inclusive, and true preparation will be specific to the event and the property involved.

  • Understand the coverage provided in your policy. No one should be surprised that things like “flood” and “earth movement” may be limited or excluded under some insurance policies. If something isn’t clear to you, contact your agent and get an explanation of exactly what your policy will provide for you.

  • Educate yourself on how to best protect your property for the area where you reside and the disasters that may affect you.

    • Do you need to store plywood that has been cut to protect your windows and glass doors?

    • What is the safest part of your home or office should high winds blow through or a tornado touch down?

    • Do you have large trees next to your building that could be pruned or cut back to make them more stable against high winds?

    • Investing in a generator and having extra fuel on hand during those months where storms can be severe can save your basement from sump failure and flooding or your freezers from thawing and food spoilage. Refer to our tornado preparedness blog for more information about assembling an emergency kit for your home.

    • Organize and store your most important documents off-site (retaining copies for reference as needed) or in a fire- and flood-rated safe. This should include that home Inventory you’ve read about here before as well as your property insurance policy. Find our two-part series about home inventories here: Part One; Part Two.

In a car accident? Here’s what to do

Nobody likes to think about getting into a car accident, but it can happen to any driver at any time. Taking time in advance to think through the steps to follow after an accident can help keep you and your passengers safe and simplify the process of filing an insurance claim.

Here’s what to do if you are in an accident:

  • Activate your hazard lights, and place warning signs or flares to help other motorists see you.
  • Contact the police, or ask someone else to do this if you cannot.
  • Summon medical assistance if anyone is injured. Repeat the call after five minutes if no help arrives.
  • Do not administer first aid unless you are qualified to do so.
  • Make note of injuries you observe.
  • Keep calm. Don’t argue. Make no statement concerning the accident to anyone except a police officer. Get the officer’s name, department and badge number.
  • Be courteous, but do not accept responsibility or apologize for the accident.
  • Use extreme caution when out of your vehicle at an accident scene and be mindful of traffic.
  • Take scene and vehicle photos if you have a camera and can do so safely. Note and record the weather and lighting conditions.
  • If another vehicle is involved, note whether headlamps or taillights are on, turn signals were in use, brake lights were working, or if there are any obvious mechanical deficiencies with the other vehicle.
  • Note any problems with the accident scene, for example, a vision obstruction, a poorly placed stop sign or a malfunctioning traffic signal.
  • Exchange insurance and vehicle information with the other driver. While you may need to disclose personal information to a police officer, be cautious about providing your address and phone number to the other driver. Many insurance companies no longer print the home address on the insurance ID card unless required by the state. Scammers have been known to exploit fender-bender accidents to obtain personal information for identity theft. Never give your Social Security number.
  • If witnesses are present or approach you, ask for a name and telephone number. Encourage them to stay until the police arrive.
  • If you are driving a company-owned vehicle, report the accident to your supervisor as soon as possible. If the other driver was using his or her vehicle for business, record the employer’s name.
  • Before leaving the accident scene, check to see that you have all the facts. For prompt claims help, call your agent.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners provides a WreckCheck app for iPhone® and Android® phones that allows you to take a photo of the accident, fill out basic information and email a copy to your agent or yourself.

Safety comes first when the pool is open

A refreshing pool on a hot day can be so inviting. Children of all ages enjoy splashing in the cool waters in private home-based pools, swim clubs, health clubs, country clubs and public pools.

With this fun comes great responsibility. To make sure everyone leaves the pool happy and healthy, pool owners and operators should take steps to prevent injury and drowning.

Television and movies often show drowning as a dramatic event with victims thrashing and calling for help or lifeguards springing into action for the save.

While these instances can occur, drownings often are silent and difficult to see. They can occur in shallow water or even after a person has left the pool.

Water clarity is an important component of proper life safety in the pool. A lifeguard, parent or counselor cannot see someone in need of help as easily if the water is cloudy and murky. Having lots of people in the pool also can affect water clarity, emphasizing the need for proper chemical balance and additional lifesaving staff. Lifeguards must stay alert, taking breaks in rotation while following protocols at all times.

Some signs to look for to identify a potential drowning victim in the water may include:

  • Head low in water with mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Glassy or empty eyes
  • Failure to kick or move legs while in a vertical position in the water
  • Trying to swim with no headway

Remember, too, that drowning doesn’t always happen in the deep end. Shallow water blackout results when an individual holds his or her breath for too long. Younger swimmers can drown in much shallower water. A person can drown in as little as 2-3 inches of water in less than 30 seconds.

Dry or delayed drowning is another scary and potentially fatal phenomenon that can occur long after an incident in the pool. Symptoms can include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling extremely tired/change in energy level or increase in irritability

A more detailed description is available at

With proper supervision and awareness, pool owners and operators can prevent a tragedy from occurring and help everyone to enjoy their time at the pool!

More information

Drowning prevention tips

Healthy and safe swimming

Pool Safely program

This loss control information is advisory only. The authors assume no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.

Protect your mobile devices with some simple precautions

Would you leave your wallet, purse or a bag containing $1,000 in cash on your car seat, even if your doors were locked? Of course not, but the message you send when you leave your laptop, iPad or other mobile device in plain sight in your unattended vehicle is similar: “Steal this!” Taking simple precautions can help protect your mobile devices and the information within them.

Locking the doors when you leave your vehicle is a good practice, but will not stop a motivated thief. The opportunity for theft is magnified when you park your vehicle outside overnight with your device inside, whether in your driveway or on the street. Aside from the cost to replace the device, there is the value of what is stored on the machine, whether it be passwords and logins, contact information, pictures, music or personal information belonging to you, friends, family, clients or business partners.

Most thieves can recognize a computer bag, carrying case or tote on wheels. Those do not disguise what’s inside. At the end of the workday, even when your intention is to go straight home, get in the habit – before you leave – of securely storing your laptop or other device where it can’t easily be seen, place it in your trunk if you have one or take it with you.

How many times have you decided to make an unplanned detour on the way home to the store, dry cleaners or mini-mart? It takes less than a minute for a thief to identify something of value sitting on your car seat that can be sold quickly for some easy money. And if you wait to store your equipment once you are in a mall parking lot or other public place, any thief watching will know exactly which vehicle to target. You may think taking your laptop with you to watch your child’s soccer game is overkill, but if your car or SUV does not have a trunk or somewhere to conceal these items, that may be the best alternative.

Even if your data is encrypted and you are not worried about someone stealing the information stored on your device, it won’t deter a thief from smashing your car window to get at something of value. If you become a victim of a mobile device theft, report it to your local police department immediately. Also, if it is company owned or even if you have your company’s data stored on your personal device, know your company’s procedure for reporting lost or stolen computer equipment and notify the appropriate company representative as soon as you discover the loss.

Taking a few minutes to protect your mobile devices can save you hours of time replacing valuable devices and the information they store.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.

Prep your car for travel in winter weather


Smartphones offer drivers a sense of security, with the promise that help is just a phone call away. But especially in extreme conditions, don’t count on your phone alone to keep you safe or to share your location in an emergency situation. Keep in mind that location services are not always accurate depending on network coverage in your location, the cell tower your phone connects to and other variables.

Take additional precautions before winter travel in case you become stranded in your car. Before setting out, tell your family or a friend which route you will be taking. If you become stranded, it’s better in most cases to stay with your car and let rescuers find you. Keep your phone plugged in and fully charged during your trip to better ensure it operates when needed. But if your smartphone location sharing lets you down, your preparations can keep you safe and comfortable while you wait for help.


Before heading out in the winter, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website outlines items a mechanic should check on your car:

  • Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
  • Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights – check that all are functioning properly.
  • Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
  • Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
  • Install good winter tires – make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.


In addition, carry an emergency kit in your car:

  • a shovel
  • windshield scraper and small broom
  • flashlight
  • battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • water and snack food
  • matches
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • first aid kit with pocket knife
  • necessary medications
  • blanket(s)
  • tow chain or rope
  • road salt and sand
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares
  • fluorescent distress flag


If you are broken down or stuck in your vehicle in a winter storm, stay put and wait for help. Consider these tips from the Montana Department of Transportation:

  • Keep calm
  • Indicate to others that you are in trouble if you are on a well-traveled road. Use the signaling devices in your survival kit, emergency lights on your vehicle or raise the hood and tie something bright to your antenna
  • Remain in your vehicle unless you see a house or building within walking distance
  • Run the engine to keep warm, but do it sparingly
  • Check the exhaust pipe of your car to ensure snow has not blocked it. If this happens, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Exercise, clap your hands, move your arms and legs vigorously or do other isometric exercises to keep your circulation going
  • Take turns on watch if possible
  • Stay awake if you are alone
  • Ensure other drivers can see you if you are pulled over. Use hazard lights or auxiliary warning devices such as reflective triangles or flares; place the first one 10 feet from your car, the second 100 feet away and the third 200 feet away. On an undivided road, put one triangle 100 feet in front of your car, one 10 feet behind and another 100 feet behind.

Keep safe and warm when using space heaters

Follow safety guidelines when using space heaters.


Many of us use portable electric space heaters to help keep us warm, but they can be hazardous if not used properly. Take precautions to keep your family safe from fire or burns.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 50,100 home heating fires occurred in the U.S. each year from 2008 to 2010. About 900 fires are attributed to portable heaters. While they represent only 2 percent of home heating fires, portable heaters were involved in 45 percent of all heating fires with a fatality.

Before you use an electric space heater:

  • Check to be sure the heater is clean and in good condition. Thoroughly inspect the cord and plug of electrical heaters for damage. You can check whether it is certified by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Place heaters out of high traffic areas and on a level, hard, nonflammable floor surface – not on carpets, rugs, furniture or countertops.
  • Place the heater at least three feet from combustible liquids as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
  • Take care when moving around space heaters not to brush up against them or drag loose clothing.
  • Do not use space heaters to thaw pipes, cook food or dry clothing or towels.
  • Keep children and pets away from an electric space heater as accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Never leave the heater operating while unattended or while you are sleeping.
  • Never power an electric space heater with an extension cord or power strip.
  • Never run an electric space heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting.

Note that unvented kerosene and gas heaters have been banned in many jurisdictions. Kerosene, gas and propane heaters — anything that uses combustible fuel — present additional risk of death or injury from carbon monoxide poisoning and are not recommended for use in closed spaces.

As an added precaution, check smoke alarms to be sure they are in proper working order before using electric heaters.

Fire safety and the older adult


It’s a sad, but true, statistic that older adults are more likely to die in a home fire than the general population. According to the U.S Fire Administration, adults 65 and older are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire, and that number increases to 4.5 times more likely when they reach age 85. Although older adults represented 13 percent of our population, they suffered 36 percent of all fire deaths in 2011.

Many factors make fire safety more challenging for an older adult, including reduced mobility and physical, cognitive and sensory limitations that may put them at greater risk of death or injury.

Compounding our concern is the fact that many older adults are unable to afford necessary home improvements that could substantially reduce their risk of fire.

Visit an older adult in your life and help him or her take these steps to improve home fire safety:

  • Place smoke alarms on every level of the home and inside and outside of sleeping areas
  • Test smoke alarms each month
  • Assure that smoke alarms are less than 10 years old
  • Make sure occupants can hear smoke alarms from any room; Smoke alarms with strobe lights and pillow vibrators are available for the hearing impaired.
  • Smoke outside only, never in a bed or around medical oxygen
  • Develop a fire escape plan that shows two ways out of every room
  • Make sure escape plans consider everyone’s needs, including those who use a wheelchair, cane, hearing aid or glasses
  • Practice the escape plan at least twice a year

By Jim Yeater


Life insurance: A tale of three automobiles

By Joe Bevelhimer

People have a variety of needs when purchasing life insurance. Term insurance answers some of those concerns, and permanent insurance addresses others. I always ask clients, “Are you concerned about ‘if you die’ or ‘when you die’?”

  • If you are worried about “if you die,” then you’re probably thinking about what happens to your loved ones if you die unexpectedly, or at a time that doesn’t fit with your life plan. In this situation, the conversation should probably start with term insurance.
  • If you are concerned about “when you die,” then you’re probably thinking about when you die after a long and complete life, with concerns for your heirs and assets. When this is the case, I start the conversation discussing permanent insurance.

However, the answer can often be yes to both concerns. So what should you buy first? Let me tell you about a friend of mine with three cars:

  • He drives a small, four-door sedan as his everyday car. It’s leased, and he uses it for basic transportation to and from work and for trips around town. When the car gets too many miles on the odometer, he’ll just trade it in for another one.
  • My friend also has a big sport utility vehicle on hand for when he needs it: family vacations, trips with his son’s lacrosse team, or when he has to haul something or tow a trailer. If he takes care of this SUV, it’ll last a long, long time. In fact, it has already logged over 200,000 miles and is still going strong.
  • Finally, my friend has an old German sports car. This is his baby, his toy. He drives it only once in a while, but each year it’s worth more than it was the year before. I know he plans to keep it forever.

I realize not everyone is fortunate enough to have three cars, but if they do it’s a safe bet that each vehicle serves a different purpose. This is a lot like life insurance  ̶  many people have multiple policies, and usually each policy was bought at a different time during their life and serves a different need. It’s completely reasonable that a person would have both term and permanent insurance.

First and foremost, a person with no life insurance needs straightforward, inexpensive protection̶ for “if you die” unexpectedly. Think of the man with no car  ̶  what he needs most is simple, inexpensive transportation.

A first-time life insurance buyer might not be able to meet all needs right away. Instead, strive to meet the biggest need (basic, inexpensive protection) probably with term insurance. Once your immediate needs are met, you can come back at a later time and work to make your insurance plan more complete with permanent coverage  ̶  just like that family who buys a pickup truck or mini-van for when the car just isn’t enough.

Think about it  ̶  would you ever expect someone to buy a huge SUV or sports car for their first vehicle? Not unless money were no issue…and money is almost ALWAYS an issue. Don’t make that mistake with life insurance.

If you’ve already met your basic needs, then absolutely strive to complete your insurance program. But if you are considering your first life insurance policy, your first goal should probably be to meet your most immediate and basic needs. We can help you examine your needs and set your priorities.