Property owners sustained losses of $75 billion when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, and the recovery from the storm was largely made possible through insurance coverage. The damage from high winds and flooding would take months to repair, but Americans could at least take comfort in the fact that their losses would be paid for by their policies. Since similar devastating storms can arise without warning, Attorney Bill Voss offers these tips to minimize losses and maximize insurance coverage after a hurricane damages school property.
Steps to Take After a Hurricane Damages Your School District
Once a devastating weather event is over, it is important to act quickly to ensure that you and your students are able to get back to normal as fast as possible. The school district’s storm response team should take the following actions:
- Make a spending plan. Typically, many different people are charged with making financial decisions at one school district. The superintendent, business manager, and members of the school board may all need to agree on financial decisions in order for spending requests to be approved. A meeting will help determine which members oversee which spending decisions, making the upcoming claims process much easier.
- Liaise with your municipality. Your city manager is responsible for coordinating storm response and rescue efforts, including repairing downed power lines, removing damaged trees and structures, and draining flooded streets. Someone from your administration should be aware of any immediate dangers, report on how long power outages may last, and know what help has been made available by the city government for students and members of the community in the aftermath.
- Address student concerns. Schools may remained closed for several weeks due to damages, and students will need to be relocated so that their educations will not be interrupted. Your administration may need to relocate the school to a temporary facility, coordinate transportation and additional bus routes to the new location, create alternate cafeteria facilities, and adjust the school calendar to make up lost days.
- Contact FEMA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers assistance to districts in need after a major natural disaster. If your district is eligible, you may receive federal funding to eligible municipalities for property damage and recovery efforts above and beyond what you receive through an insurance claim.
- Make emergency repairs. School buildings and property should be stabilized as soon as possible in order to prevent additional damage. Most insurance policies requires a policyholder to minimize damages after the hurricane has occurred, so any steps taken and documented to minimize losses will ultimately bolster your claim. Boarding up broken doors and windows, turning off water and utilities, pumping out flooded rooms, and making an inventory of lost items can all ultimately benefit a claim.
- Collect repair quotes. Large-scale damage will have to be repaired economically, but all repairs must be done professionally and with respect to building and zoning codes. If the building’s plumbing, electrical, or HVAC systems were installed decades ago, they may need to be replaced in order to comply with current regulations. Accurate estimates for all repairs are necessary to recoup maximum costs through your policy.
While dealing with this list of concerns can be overwhelming, it is important that school districts not rush into accepting any settlement from an insurer. These kinds of claims often have settlements in the millions of dollars, and lowball estimates can mean enormous losses for the school, the students, and the community. One of the smartest things school administrators can do is to review their policies regularly, ensuring that all different types of hurricane damage are covered—including flood, hail, wind, vandalism, and business interruption—and make any important changes before disaster strikes.
We cannot stress this point enough: In the wake of a catastrophic storm like Hurricane Sandy, insurance companies are faced with huge numbers of claims and must pay out millions of dollars to policyholders. At these times, some companies may attempt to shortchange their customers, delay claims, or otherwise act in bad faith. For this reason, school officials are well-advised to seek legal support when filing a school's insurance claim.
At Voss Law Firm, we understand that school districts and school systems already have tight budgets, and that a poorly-handled insurance claim could have a huge effect on your education program. Fill out the form on this page today or call the Voss Law Firm for help with your claim, or order a free copy of our book, Commercial Property Owners Must Read This BEFORE Filing an Insurance Claim.