The subject of hurricane claims has, fortunately, not been part of our conversations for many years. Even the storms that have brushed by in my almost 40 years on the Forgotten Coast have not reached the devastation that others have seen. For this we are all grateful.

But, storms do happen and when they happen here (and we ALL “knock on wood”) we need to know what to do. While having your policy number is helpful when calling in a claim, the most important thing is to call in the claim. You will soon see a lot of advertising by Citizens property about “CALL CIITZENS FIRST” in a new campaign. Even if you don’t have Citizens, the message is important: CALL YOUR CLAIM IN. You can call your Agent (whose phone number should be in your cell phone) or you can call the company directly. Many companies encourage that for even faster service when they are getting hundreds of calls. Many companies will have 24/7 phone lines, too. Folks who cannot live in their primary home will get priority. Phone lines may be jammed. Internet may be down. It will be hot and muggy and smelly. It will be a time for the utmost patience on everyone’s part.

Legitimate adjusters representing your companies will identify themselves and will already know your claim number from when you called it in. Before they arrive, you may have already had to do some clean up, secure your structure and stop any further loss. Take photos of everything and don’t throw soggy carpet, damaged items and the like out. Even if it is in a heap in your yard, the adjustor may want to verify the loss. Save any receipts for emergency repairs you may have incurred. Make notations of those you speak to and questions you have.

Of enormous importance is to not sign any document assigning a company or vendor to “take care of your repairs”. This is a huge issue in South Florida right now and part of the reason that you may see rate hikes in the near future. It is called “AOB” or the Assignment of Benefits. By signing that kind of document, you have taken yourself out of the loop for payment and controlling your repairs and claim. You may feel desperate and the offer to “help” may seem like a good idea. Please be wary.

Loss of use and Loss of rents may be coverages you have on your policies or not. Loss of use does not normally apply to “loss of electricity” or a road being closed or a bridge out. Even more importantly, you may want to check with your agent before you assume that your temporary stay in a hotel due to mandatory evacuation will be covered. Of course, you must listen to the civil authorities and get out of harm’s way but make no assumptions about getting reimbursed for the stay. For rental homes, the loss is typically calculated on what reservations were on the books that may have been lost not what the potential loss was. Again, check with your agent for your policy specifics AHEAD OF TIME.

Above all, heed the advice of authorities for your safety. Have an escape plan ready. Keep your gasoline tank full and cell phones charged!