Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2011 Vol. 58 No. 11

HOW THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE ASSISTS TEXANS DURING A DISASTER

Texas Task Force 1 Canines

WHAT DOES THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE (TDI) DO DURING DISASTERS?
TDI’s responsibility as the state insurance regulatory agency is to make sure that insured consumers’ claims are processed as quickly as possible. In addition, TDI educates consumers about disaster preparedness, what policies do and do not cover, and their responsibilities after a loss.  Following Hurricane Ike, TDI staff assisted consumers at more than 40 disaster recovery centers from September 2008 through April 2009.  TDI staff answer questions, help consumers file claims and contact their company or adjuster, and assist consumers in filing a complaint if there is a problem.  Following a major disaster, TDI’s call center operates extended hours, seven days a week, to assist consumers by phone.  Through the complaint process, TDI staff recover additional monies for consumers that may be owed to them.  TDI also posts information for consumers on special disaster resource pages on the TDI website. Visit TDI’s Storm Link webpage for links to consumer tips, disaster-specific resource pages, and more.

WHY IS TDI PART OF THE TEAM IN THE STATE OPERATIONS CENTER (SOC)?
TDI is a member of the Emergency Management Council and present, as needed, at the SOC because of its supporting-agency role in several Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), most particularly the "Recovery" ESF. TDI regulates the insurance industry, a key element of the financial services sector.  Insurance companies' prompt and appropriate handling of insurance claims is critical to the ability of an impacted area to begin its economic recovery. TDI assists consumers needing to file claims and also monitors insurance industry performance and financial stability in the wake of a disaster. TDEM generally requests TDI's participation at the SOC when TDEM anticipates implementing significant recovery operations, such as staffing disaster recovery centers following a presidential disaster declaration.

HOW DO YOU COORDINATE WITH INSURERS AFTER A DISASTER?
TDI hosts quarterly Texas State Disaster Coalition (TSDC) conference call meetings throughout the year to ensure communication and coordination following a disaster. TSDC includes more than 200 insurers, state agencies, and response organizations. During a disaster, daily TSDC calls keep insurers informed about when it will be safe to enter the disaster area. Information about TSDC is on TDI’s website.

When it is safe to go in, TDI invites insurers to collocate with TDI in a big-box store parking lot or similar location to begin assisting policyholders with their claims. TDI staff deploy to the disaster recovery centers to assist consumers with insurance claims, questions, and complaints, and report any issues to TDI headquarters. TDI monitors consumer complaints and takes appropriate regulatory actions to address problems.

In addition, TDI surveys insurance companies each year about their plans to pay claims in the event of a disaster and their business recovery plans.  TDI also surveys the top 300 insurers each year about their pandemic response plans. 

WHAT ARE SOME IMPORTANT TDI MESSAGES TO THE PUBLIC AFTER A DISASTER?
After a disaster, TDI issues press releases to tell consumers how they can contact TDI for assistance with their insurance claims.  TDI also provides tips to help the claim process go more smoothly.  TDI’s top tips for consumer following a disaster include. 

  • Review your policies carefully. Know what losses are covered, how much coverage you have, and the amount of your deductibles. If you’re not sure, ask your agent or an insurance company representative.
  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Keep a record of all contacts you have with your company. Be prepared to answer questions about the extent and severity of the damage.  Your initial contact may be with your insurance agent, a claims office, or the company’s claims center.
  • If you have a separate wind and hail policy with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), report claims at 1-800-788-8247. If you have a flood policy with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), report flood damage claims at 1-800-638-6620.  Report auto damage claims to your auto insurance company if you have comprehensive coverage.
  • Make a list of your damaged property. Photograph or videotape the damage if possible. Don’t throw away damaged items until your insurance adjuster has seen them.
  • Make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect your home and property from further damage. Cover broken windows and holes to keep rain out. Don’t make permanent repairs until authorized by your insurance company.
  • Keep a record of your repair expenses and save all receipts.
  • Remove any standing water and dry the area as soon as possible. Move water-soaked items to a dry, well-ventilated area. If you must move items outdoors, place them in a secure area to protect them from possible theft.
  • Make sure your address is visible. Post a sign with your address and the name of your insurance company in a spot that can be easily viewed from the street.
  • Make sure your company and adjuster can contact you. If you have to move, notify your insurance company of your temporary address and phone number.  Try to be present when the adjuster inspects your property.
  • If you hire a public insurance adjuster, make sure the adjuster is licensed by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). Public insurance adjusters charge fees to help negotiate claim settlements with insurance companies.  If you hire a public adjuster, you may have less money to repair or replace your property. Public insurance adjusters must disclose their fees in a written contract with you. To learn whether a public insurance adjuster is licensed, call TDI.
  • Find a reputable contractor to make repairs. Verify the contractor’s references, have a written contract before repairs begin, and pay only as the contractor completes the repairs. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act prohibits price gouging once the governor has declared an area a disaster area. If you suspect price gouging or any other deceptive business practice, call the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hot Line at 1-800-337-3928.
  • Contact TDI for insurance assistance. If you need general insurance information, have a complaint about your insurance company, or can’t locate your agent or company, call the toll-free TDI Consumer Help Line at 1-800-252-3439.
  • Contact the Red Cross or FEMA for additional assistance. If you need to obtain shelter or emergency food or water, contact the Red Cross at 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). If you are not insured and need financial assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be able to help. Contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) for the location of a Disaster Recovery Center if the storm is a federally declared disaster.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE ON PREPAREDNESS FOR DISASTERS?
TDI offers these tips to help consumers be prepared for a disaster:

  • Use the TDI Home Inventory checklist to make an inventory of your property. You can download a copy of the inventory form listed on TDI’s website. Make your inventory as complete and detailed as possible. Your insurance company will require a detailed list of your personal property before paying your claim.  Update your inventory regularly to add new items.
  • Keep your inventory, photographs and videotapes, a copy of your insurance policy, and any appraisal reports in a secure spot. Consider keeping a copy in a secure place away from your home, such as in a safe deposit box, at work, or at the house of a friend or relative.  Save your photographs, videotapes, and any documents on a computer. Consider keeping the items in your e-mail archives so you can access them wherever you can log onto a computer.
  • Make sure your health, homeowners, auto, and commercial property coverages are still in force and that they provide adequate coverage.  It’s a good idea to review your property coverage and limits at least annually. Your limits may be too low if replacement costs have risen because of inflation, new purchases, additions, or renovations.
  • Review your policies carefully so that you fully understand your coverages, limits, and the amount of your deductibles. You will have to pay your deductibles out of pocket before your insurance company will pay toward a claim. If you need help understanding your policy, ask your agent or an insurance company representative to go over it with you.
  • Decide in advance under what circumstances you'll evacuate your home. If a severe storm threatens your area, you may have to make a decision whether to stay in your home or evacuate. If you live on the coastline or an offshore island, near a river or in a flood plain, it’s a good idea to leave. If you live on high ground or away from coastal areas, it is more likely that it will be safe to stay.
  • Whenever local authorities recommend evacuation, you should leave. The advice of authorities is based on knowledge of the strength of severe weather and its potential for death and destruction. Understand that if you stay at home, you might be without electricity, fresh water, food, and phone service for some time and prepare accordingly.
  • Make a safety plan. Develop a safety plan in advance to help guide the important decisions you may have to make when threatened by severe weather.
  • Map out safe routes inland or to safer areas. If you live in a low-lying area, know where low-water crossings might make travel to safety more difficult and plan routes that avoid these areas.
  • Find out the location of any nearby community shelters in case you must seek immediate shelter. (If you seek shelter, take care to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use generators, grills, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices indoors.)
  • Work out a way for family members to communicate in case you get separated. Remember that in a severe storm local phone service may be disrupted. Agree on a friend or relative who lives outside your immediate area who can serve as a point of contact.
  • When a storm watch is issued for your area – an alert that a storm has not yet hit, but conditions are likely in the days or hours ahead – regularly check TV and radio for official weather bulletins. Fill your gasoline tank as soon as your community is notified of possible severe weather.


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