As hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed in recent wildfires and many more sustained smoke damage, Texas AgriLife Extension Service is trying to help homeowners address “What next?”
AgriLife Extension provides Texans and others with free, objective, research-based information to help with emergency and disaster preparation and recovery, according to Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension family economics specialist in College Station. The information is available through two websites and through agency personnel in county offices throughout the state.
The Texas Extension Disaster Education Network, or Texas EDEN, at http://texashelp.tamu.edu contains information and materials relating to specific disasters, such as the recent wildfires and information on disaster preparation and recovery.
The AgriLife Bookstore website at http://agrilifebookstore.org contains a variety of emergency and disaster-related topics, including general preparedness, first aid, home, property and financial recovery.
Replacing Personal Documents After a Disaster and How to Remove Smoke Smell from a Home are examples of the links and information that can be found on the site.
Most materials can be downloaded and printed free of charge, and several are also available in Spanish.
Cavanagh said a number of safety issues also arise when returning to a home or business after a disaster, including possible structural damage, damage to electrical wires or gas lines, and the risk of contaminated water.
“After surviving a disaster, people should also be aware of the new dangers that crop up and take the necessary safety measures to ensure they survive the recovery phase too,” she said. “As people return to their homes, their primary concern should be for their own safety and that of other family members. Listen to the authorities in the affected area and do not return home until they say it’s safe to do so.”
Once it’s safe to return, she said, bring supplies and wear clothing that will help sustain personal health and safety. She suggested taking a multi-use fire extinguisher, plenty of bottled water and a first-aid kit, and wear sturdy shoes with thick, preferably non-rubber soles, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and work gloves.
“Those with property damage need to contact their insurance companies, take photos of the damage and begin an inventory of damaged personal possessions for insurance purposes; then they can make temporary repairs to prevent further damage,” Cavanagh said. “Retain receipts for any supplies purchased for temporary repairs, as some or all of these costs may be reimbursed by homeowners insurance.”
She added that during the recovery process, it’s also a good idea to keep a ‘communications log’ of any conversations with the insurance company, local authorities and contractors or others providing home repairs in order to keep track of expected repair dates, estimated costs and specific actions to be taken or work to be done.
Cavanagh said the Texas Department of Insurance has offered guidance regarding insurance claims to Texans affected by wildfires. That information can be found at: http://www.tdi.texas.gov/news/2011/news201130.html.