What To Do In Times Of Disaster

Secrets and little known advice for riding out the storm and dealing with the aftermath. Tell your friends and relatives.

Go to other home handyman topics

Go to other general topics.

Last change 9/27/98


Home Emergencies  (6/98)

Should I Evacuate  (9/98)

Spoiled Vacation Refunds  (9/98)

Sell, Don't Rebuild  (9/98)

Don't Sign Anything Quickly  (9/98)

Public Safe Storage of Personal Property (?)  (9/98)

Pull the Kids From School  (9/98)

Don't Sign Anything

As you are cleaning up from a storm, insurance adjusters, contractors seeking work, salesmen, etc. will be coming around. Do not hurriedly sign any documents for them. Have them leave a copy of any document with you and you will get back to them. If they won't leave documents, then you don't want to do business with them. Don't sign.

If you sign a document hastily you might end up with a binding contract you don't want.

The Early Bird Waits In Traffic

In a Nutshell:

Do I evacuate or do I ride out the storm?

If you are scared and want to evacuate, do so quickly.

But if you are undecided or think you want to ride out the storm, nothing wrong with leaving but don't go early into a traffic jam.

Case In Point:

August 23, 1998. Hurricane Bonnie is forecast to hit the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts.

Tourists cut short their vacation and pack up to go home. News reports show monstrous traffic jams as hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists head inland.

Quoting from USA Today, August 26, 1998:

"Many on coast reluctant to leave

Sitting amid a chaos of Cheese Doodles, soda cans and board games in his hotel's lobby, Patrick Kenny swore he would never again listen when officials told him to run from an approaching hurricane Kenny, of Randolph, N.J., and 20 family members had headed south Sunday for a weeklong celebration of his mother's 80th birthday. Instead, they spent 6½ hours in traffic Tuesday, creeping 60 miles in sun and 95-degree heat to get off the barrier island a day and a half before Hurricane Bonnie came to call.

'It seems to me they could have taken more time before they asked us to leave,' Kenny said. 'I won't listen to them again.

Complaints like Kenny's trouble officials who say they are finding increasing resistance among locals and tourists to calls for the evacuation of areas threatened by vicious storms"

If you really want to flee the storm, by all means do. Get going early.

If you really want to stay behind, you'll stay.

Well if you are undecided, here is the answer. Let the traffic decide for you.

Turn on the radio and find out how the roads are. Play another game of croquet. Stroll the beach and enjoy the view of the pounding surf for a little while longer. Savor another barbecued chicken or steak.

By the way, as the storm approaches, police will open up the wrong side of the road for people to evacuate on, allowing evacuating traffic to move faster (and people going into the storm unable to go).

During evacuation I personally would be tempted to bend a few laws here and there if I could do so safely, such as cut through a gas station to avoid a red light, or drive in the breakdown lane of a freeway. Chances are the police will be so busy directing evacuation rather than stop me and cause a curiosity delay to others.

Where I live (north of Boston) there are snow storms every winter. When a major storm starts in the middle of the business day, people quit work early. Traffic is jammed. Co-workers will tell of the times they spent three, four hours doing their normal half hour to 45 minute commute.

I stay late. When I leave around 7 or even 8 PM the roads are almost clear. Plows have had a chance to clear the roads and the snow is less than 4 inches deep. Getting home takes me less than twice the length of the drive midday on a clear road.

I would have been stranded only once as far back as I could remember in February 1978. They called it the Blizzard of 78. Cars got mired down on Boston's Route 128 and many other roads and drivers had to get out and taken to shelters on snowmobiles. On that date I lived in New Hampshire which got less snow and was not paralyzed.

I don't have a family but what if you do? If your children are pre-teen or older, they should be taught to take care of themselves for an evening or maybe overnight. After all, they probably camped out overnight before. If they don't help cook regularly and have not taken Home Economics, you should have cold foods ready for them to eat. Potato chips and Twinkies (R) are OK for one night. Phone home from the office often to answer questions they may have and reassure them you are OK.

If you have young children at a day care center you probably don't have a choice about leaving work early. But if you can leave them with Grandma on days it snows you may gain some flexibility.

Top of Page

Safe Storage of Belongings During a Storm

Wouldn't it be nice if --- If a hurricane was due to strike you could take your most valuable possessions to some public storage facility, pay a small fee, and after the storm go retrieve them?

Yes, public storage facilities do exist, but they are not equipped to handle customers who want to use them for just a few days.

Perhaps some entrepreneur will get into short term emergency storage but I don't think it is going to be easy. It would be best done by established storage businesses wishing to add more "strings to their bow" or "kinds of products" or "additional features".

Before the storm there will be long lines of people waiting to check things in. After the storm there will be long lines of people waiting to check things out.

At facilities where you move things in and our yourself, there will be chaos with so many people milling around. Some facilities will require that you have their valet move the things in and out for you, added cost.

Some facilities will "double park" belonging in the aisles, so some people will be able to come and retrieve their belongings only after others do.

With so much valuable stuff in one location, that location will be a prime target of burglars, looters, and organized crime. It will need good security forces.

Small storage facility operators may open for business with inadequate insurance. So long as no mishaps occur, everyone is happy, but in the event event losses occur or the facility itself is destroyed, the facility simply goes out of business leaving you out of luck.

All in all the costs of administering storage for a few days are almost as much as administering storage for a few months, so this storage is not going to be cheap..

Top of Page

Storage of Frozen Food During a Storm

Wouldn't it be nice if -- If a hurricane or snow storm was due to strike you could take your perishables to some public cold storage facility, pay a small fee, and after power was restored go retrieve them?

Somehow I don't see this service offered soon. The costs of doing business this way are especially high.

When it is not serving storm victims, the facility has to have other customers. The nature of the cold storage business is such that once a clientele is established, there isn't much room for storm storage on a moment's notice.

Before the storm there will be long lines of people waiting to check things in. After the storm there will be long lines of people waiting to check things out.

At facilities where you move things in and our yourself, there will be chaos with so many people milling around. Some facilities will require that you have their valet move the things in and out for you, added cost.

Some facilities will "double park" belonging in the aisles, so some people won't be able to come and retrieve their belongings until after others do.

Sooner or later someone will get food poisoning and, regardless of the reason, will sue the facility. This makes it difficult for anyone to get into the cold storage business. Some operators may open for business with inadequate insurance anyway. So long as no mishaps occur, everyone is happy, but in the event the facility itself is destroyed or someone files suit against it, the facility simply goes out of business leaving you out of luck. (Note: if a temporary storage facility was established, the greatest chance of food spoilage is during transport to and from the facility.

Top of Page

Vacation Refunds

Generally, the landlord or hotelier must refund what you paid for each night that a mandatory evacuation was in effect, but not for the other nights.

The problem is that the landlord might simply refuse to refund your money and you would have to return to the resort town or city to file suit.

Therefore there is an incentive to book only hotels and resorts with brand names (Marriott, Best Western, etc.) in your home city as well. You will then be able to bring suit anywhere that they do business. Well know hotel chains are less likely to give you difficulty with refunds.

If your trip destination is not the most popular for the time of year, you will have more bargaining power to negotiate a lower room rate to leave an amount of money for trip cancellation insurance or bad weather insurance. With insurance, you don't have to worry about getting a refund from the hotelier or landlord, the insurance company will pay you and optionally do the legwork (subrogate) later.

Generally, a cruise ship company must give you a refund if the trip never happens, and a partial refund if the trip is cut short. But you do not get a refund if the ship sails as planned but you get seasick because the ship rocked in bad weather too much.

Once again, trip cancellation insurance is a good idea. There is often a choice of insurance, some choices have lower premiums but only give a partial refund or a refund after a high deductible.

Top of Page

Sell the Damaged House

If your home is severely damaged or essentially destroyed in a storm or disaster, there may be good reason to sell rather than rebuild.

1.  You have to supervise things, inspect work, and watchdog the contractor during rebuilding. There are too many horror stories of contractors taking money and not completing the job. There is a big difference between buying a house that is finished versus buying (or already owning) just the land and getting a house built.

2.  After a major disaster, the good contractors will be all booked up and you will have to wait or hire a not so good contractor. Insurance companies base their payout on lowest prices assuming your house is the only one destroyed. You won't be able to get your home rebuilt for that price when everyone else is trying to rebuild too.

2a. Problems with dealing with contractors:

2a1.  Demanding money faster than the work is completed. We recommend that the customer always be behind, that is, the amount of work the contractor has completed is always greater than the amount of money the contractor receives during the project. This way, you can keep pressure on the contractor to perform quality work on time.

2a2.  Theft of materials. We recommend that the contractor be responsible for safeguarding the materials. In order to enforce this, you the homeowner has to know what materials are needed in order to catch any excesses. This is another advantage for buying a complete house rather than have one built; a complete house has a price tag and you can inspect it to be sure it is complete, no need to know anything about contruction.

2a3.  Liens from unpaid subcontractors. In most states, if a supplier or subcontract is not paid, you the customer has to make good. You therefore need to know who comes on the property at all times. You can try, although I don't guarantee, that if you put up multilingual signs stating that everyone setting foot on the property has to get in touch with you and volunteer their name, address, and phone number, you may avoid surprises from people you never heard of demanding money.

2a4. The price is too high. If everyone else is trying to rebuild at the same time, you may have no choice but to pay the price or wait. You may be able to make a case before your insurance company that if they cannot find a reputable contractor who will do the work for the money they pay out, the insurance compnay has to pay more temporary living expenses.

2a5. Contracts you don't understand. If you don't understand the contract, you will have a harder time making sure the house is rebuilt correctly for the amount agreed upon. If you don't understand the contract, you should hire an attorney. You may be able to get help from your insurance company, especially if they offered and you selected an option whereby the insurance company ensures that the house will be rebuilt to the condition as before the disaster, not merely pay out a sum of money.

2a6. Work not done as expected on time. You may want to inquire of your insurance company of an option to make sure the work is done right. Then, if you select the contractor that the insurance company recommends and something goes wrong, the insurance company does the legwork to make things right, possibly paying a higher price if that is what the contract called for.

2a7. Having to meet updated building codes. Often, when a house is remodeled and this includes repairs, plumbing, electrical work, etc. must be upgraded to the current building code. Not all insurance policies include extra funds needed to do this.

Top of Page

Pull the Kids From School

If you think you will need their help, feel free to have your kids stay home from school to help you prepare for the storm. An extra pair of hands is always a help for bringing plywood home from the store and boarding up the windows. Kids can stand in relief lines and file the initial application for relief. But don't let the kids go play video games or baseball with friends.

If you had already booked a vacation to occur during a school vacation or school break and, due to weather or other circumstances, makeup school days are scheduled to conflict, feel free to inform the school that your kids will be absent on those days and take your vacation as planned.

Top of Page

Go to other general topics

Contact us

All parts (c)  Copyright 1998, Allan W.Jayne, Jr. unless otherwise noted or other origin stated.

If you would like to contribute an idea for our web page, please send us an e-mail. Sorry, but due to the volume of e-mail we cannot reply personally to all inquiries.