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Getting Ready for the Worst: Preparation vital for hurricane season, experts say

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Karen Eckert
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

There’s more to getting ready for a hurricane than stocking up on flashlights and batteries.

Steps to prepare for the season were the focus of the 2019 Hurricane Preparedness Symposium held on Friday at the ECU student center.

Sponsored by the The Travelers Institute, the ECU’s College of Business Risk Management and Insurance Program and the Independent Insurance Agents of N.C., the event drew an audience of approximately 100 people from across eastern North Carolina, including business and civic leaders and members of the public.

The purpose of the event, said Jessica Kearney, second vice president of The Travelers Institute, was to address how individuals can prepare themselves and their families for a hurricane, how renters and homeowners can protect their homes and how business owners and employees can safeguard structures and even keep their doors open when a hurricane hits.

Addressing these topics was keynote speaker Natalie F. Enclade, director of Individual and Community Preparedness with the Federal Emergency Management Agency based in Washington, D.C.

FEMA is involved at the response and recovery stages of natural disasters, but the government agency is also focused on building a culture of preparedness, Enclade said. A recently updated study by the National Institute for Building Sciences shows that for every $1 people spend on mitigation, they save $6 in future disaster costs.

“A lot of people think that the best way to prepare (for a disaster) is to go out and get that kit (of supplies),” Enclade said. “It’s not. It’s knowing what risks you face and how to protect yourself from them.”

Insurance plays a huge role in developing a culture of preparedness, Enclade said. And, yet, two of thee homes are completely underinsured and 40 percent of renters do not have insurance.

A national household survey conducted by FEMA revealed that 40 percent of Americans cannot put their hands on $400. Thirty percent of respondents cannot put their hands on any money at all. There is no money set aside, Enclade said.

FEMA sees financial obstacles as a root cause of why people are not preparing adequately for hurricanes and other disasters, she said.

As a result, FEMA is focusing on how it can help individuals learn how to save money and get out of debt. For example, the agency has partnered with organizations such as Operation Hope, founded by John Hope Bryant.

Operation Hope’s mission is to help low- and moderate-income families achieve financial dignity, for example by achieving good credit ratings, according to the organization’s website.

FEMA also has developed an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, which is available at ready.gov under “financial preparedness,” Enclade said.

“The kit will show you everything you will possibly need (household identification, financial and legal documentation, medical information and household contacts) when you are affected by a disaster,” she said.

The information can be filled out online using the kit and can be saved in the cloud. People also can order a hard copy and fill it out and mail it to someone they trust out of state for safekeeping, Enclade said.

The 90-minute symposium also included panelists who offered information on other topics.

Rebuilding Together was highlighted during discussion on the recovery stage after a hurricane. The nonprofit organization has more than 30 years of experience in home and community rehabilitation, preservation and revitalization. Rebuilding Together was recognized at the symposium as the recipient of a Travelers’ Community Resilience Award of $100,000.

Panelist Alister Watt, chief product officer with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, discussed fortified roofing, which is designed to reduce wind and water entering a home’s attic through the roof covering and vents.

Grants and funding opportunities are available for the installation of fortified roofing, organizers said.

Other topics at the symposium included how to establish and train community emergency response teams who also promote preparedness and youth preparedness training, which offers an opportunity for young people to give input and learn skills.

Other advice included video recording the contents of a home to have an easy reference on what needs to be replaced. An interactive poll of symposium attendees revealed that many people in the room had not made such a recording.

Being prepared also means having evacuation and communication plans in place. Families should know how they plan to communicate with one another and businesses need to plan how they will communicate with employees during a disaster, the panel said.

Speakers encourage people to use their daily routine to stay prepared. Stocking up on emergency supplies is one easy step to take.

When you are at the grocery store, throw an extra can of food into your cart, Enclade suggested.

Fletcher Willey, an independent insurance agent from Nags Head, said he would take what he had learned back to his customers.

He said he plans to distribute the handouts discussed, such as the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.

Robert McIver traveled to the symposium from Wilmington where he is an independent agent and the president/owner at the LaMar McIver Insurance Agency. McIver said he could relate to what the speakers had said about businesses being prepared.

“We are prepared at our office,” he said. “If our building is demolished we have a rehearsed catastrophic plan in place to have our office up and running as quickly as possible, plus we can handle some claims processing offsite.”

“That’s the key with insurance — you have to offer service right away...start taking claims ... because you know there will be lots of them,” McIver said.

This was the ninth symposium of this type for The Travelers Institute, which holds one each year at a different location across the country. Previous symposiums have been held in New York City following Superstorm Sandy and last year’s was held in Houston, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey, Kearney said.

Additional sponsors of Friday’s symposium were the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and the Small Business and Technology Development Center.

“We were very honored that (Travelers) chose ECU,” said Brenda Wells, director of ECU’s Risk Management and Insurance Program. “It’s an important educational event for our community (and) I think it was a big success.”

For more information visit https://www.fema.gov/preparedness-checklists-toolkits, https://www.ready.gov/hurricane-toolkit or https://ibhs.org. Materials for children are also available through the FEMA library at https://www.fema.gov/media-library.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.

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