By Maria Neuman  | January 2021

Nothing is more essential to managing risk than a plan for property emergencies. Time is of the essence. Water soaks in, wicks up walls, flows into electrical outlets and the cleanup grows more expensive. A clean water spill (water from a sink, bathtub or shower) can be dried easily, but if not handled correctly 24-36 hours later mold can begin to grow on porous materials.

Property emergencies usually fall into three categories:

• Environmental (earthquake, storms, wildfires)
• Maintenance (broken pipes, angle stops, badly installed refrigerators/dishwashers, clogged gutters, ejector pumps, etc.)
• Accidents (unattended candles and cigarettes, falling asleep in the bathtub, etc.)

Many community managers have maintenance checks. It is just as important to plan for emergencies.

LINE UP EMERGENCY VENDORS

Using the calm time before the event to interview and select emergency vendors will allow for a better selection of quality services when the emergency happens.

HAVE THE RIGHT INSURANCE AND INSURANCE COMPANY
Selecting a company and carefully reviewing the policy are essential during less pressured times. The cheapest is not always the best. Develop rapport with the agent and underwriter to ensure that the client – rather than shareholders – comes first. Have insurance documents readily available and especially for HOAs, understand insurance coverage and deductibles. Educate Homeowners and Tenants About Emergency Procedures Occupants need to be educated about how to turn off water, electricity, and gas. Every home should have an emergency contact list. The emergency contact list in the case of fire should have a vendor or staff member identified to board-up damaged and unoccupied buildings, for both safety and security. They should be available 24/7. On the list, consider a fencing contractor, an electrician and the effected utility providers. If the property was built before 1980, an environmental hygienist will be needed to test for asbestos. This can be done in advance of an emergency, but testing can be quite costly. In a fire, asbestos materials can contaminate contents and other building materials. A professional tip: Do not begin remediation measures until there is a proper inspection and the work to be done is crystal clear. Most remediation contractors can do the board-up and some can do the electrical. Water, sewage, mold, and trauma are all part of the professional toolbox of remediation contractors. Each remediation contractor offers different services and have different specialties.

FULL-SERVICE VS. SPECIALTY
A remediation company that provides basic services likely will only dry rather than demolish and replace a structure. The advantage of this type of specialty remediation contractor is that they focus only on the aspects of the job that will get the occupants back into the damaged area faster and likely for less money.
More expensive areas of a home or common area with heavy structural damage or damage to expensive structures, such as kitchen cabinetry, carpets, and walls, will take more time and require the services of a full-service contractor. A specialty remediation company that only does emergency remediation, focuses on only the remediation aspects caused by the event (fire, water, etc.) and not on the reconstruction. A specialist will usually cost less per job because they focus on solving the most immediate problems, which allows use of the area much sooner.  Reconstruction can then occur on a more deliberate schedule, in a less hurried fashion.

INSURANCE VENDOR LIST
Insurance companies have a “preferred vendor list”; however, it is illegal to recommend a vendor unless asked. Vendors on theinsurance company list have preset agreements with remediation companies to keep costs down. It is important to vet the contractors on the insurance company’s recommended list ahead of an emergency event.

PAPERWORK

Get liability and worker’s comp insurance information, contractor’s license and a W-9. It is easy and important to confirm your contractor is licensed simply by visiting the Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board webportal at www.cslb.ca.gov/findmylicensedcontractor.

REVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Personal recommendations are a good way to begin a search for a contractor. Technology has made vendor searches much easier but should not take the place of proper vetting of contractors. A good online presence does not always equate to good service. There are several online services available that rate companies including Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau. Using industry association member directories, like Echo’s Professional Service Provider Directory, will ensure that the companies work in the HOA business and that they are affiliated with others in the industry. Finally, it is suggested that at least three contractors are compared against an objective criterion to ensure the best possible outcome.

PUBLIC ADJUSTER (PA)

This is a difficult decision to make, especially with large losses. PAs will promise to maximize the insurance claim while minimizing the inconvenience. Most of them are good at that. Who pays the PA? Not the insurance company, perhaps the private party hiring them, but likely they receive a fee from the vendors working on the project. A PA is unnecessary if the vetting of the insurance company was done correctly before the emergency event. The insurance company and the agent/broker can be particularly helpful. A direct relationship with them could be a lifesaver in time and money.

If the insurance company denies the claim, it will not cost any more to call the PA at that point and see if there is recourse available. It is important to at least have a PA on the emergency response vendor list. Finally, it is important to have adequate counsel, someone with emergency experience to oversee the legalities of the entire situation.
Most qualified contractors exchange business with other qualified contractors. They do not want to lose the repeat business, so getting a referral from other contracts in non-competing areas can net good results. A remediation company that does not do asbestos and regularly works with another asbestos company as a partner will make sure that the project does not get slowed down.

When the Emergency Happens, The call comes in at 4 a.m., professionals are mobilized to secure the situation while occupants and family must be carefully comforted. There is no rush to call the insurance company. They can be called in the morning. Take plenty of pictures for claims; be direct with the restoration company and ask for many photos. If there is water damage, it is important to log moisture readings. Careful notes should be taken of anything to be discarded. Get rid of the fire chasers that say they have been sent by the fire department, insurance company and/or divine powers. These carpetbaggers can create more distraction than value and often interfere. Lean on the restoration company for the correct sequence of remediation, testing and demolition. By hiring a professional, the process is more controlled and less stressful.

MOLD

Mold needs three things to grow, moisture, food, and warmth. Moisture can come from unvented cooking and hot showers, a broken/leaking pipe or roof/window leaks. Its food source can be drywall, furniture, or studs in the wall, along with any porous building material. Remediation usually starts with demolition of anything that cannot be cleaned, and this must be done under containment. It is nearly impossible to get an accurate bid for clean-up. Once the wall is opened the mold contamination could be minimal or extensive. Get a bid to open the wall enough to see what the problem is and then get a real bid. Or get a “not to exceed” contract and make sure to post-test for mold, and the company agrees
to come back until the mold is gone. Mold cannot be handled by spraying with bleach unless it is a nonporous surface like tile. Studs can be dry ice blasted or sanded to get rid of mold, then sprayed with an antimicrobial. Sometimes it is necessary to then encapsulate the area with paint as well. Very rarely is mold covered by insurance and if it is, there is
usually a cap.

TRAUMA

(i.e., blood and other bodily fluids) Anything porous (rugs, carpets, beds) must be disposed of in hazardous waste containers. Any drywall needs to be removed. Everything is cleaned under containment and all materials are treated as if the person had a highly infectious disease. Again, not cheap but at least covered by insurance.

CLEAN WATER, GRAY WATER & SEWAGE

Clean or gray water should dry in three to four days unless the tenants are turning off the machines at night because they are too noisy. The remediation company should
come back and check that the machines are drying all the affected areas properly. Moisture meters tell the remediation company if there is still moisture present. Sewage underneath the building, either from a broken pipe in a bathroom or kitchen usually is not noticed right away. If food particles sit for more than a few days, they become full of bacteria and need to be removed with the same care as sewage. Most of the time these jobs are billed as time and material and insurance will rarely cover the expense. Again, these jobs are very hard to bid since the work is out of view. It is prudent to get a not-to-exceed contract or hire a trusted plumbing contractor. Time is the enemy. If the call comes in the middle of the night, do not wait until noon to respond. Insurance companies pay for after hours emergency calls because they know that starting right away is the least expensive route. Most remediation contractors and insurance companies use industry-related software which provides the pricing for the services needed. The remediation contractors will justify their bill to the insurance company directly and receive their money after the client. The cost savings are in remediation versus demolition, since occupants are able to remain in their homes and avoid secondary damage. Many homeowners, community managers and HOA residents learn the necessity of emergency preparedness the hard way. rare to find anyone who has been in the CID industry for any length of time who does not have an emergency incident horror story. Preparation is the key and a good emergency response plan requires as much advance preparation and planning as possible. Starting early – and in an orderly fashion – can overcome many problems when an emergency occurs.

Maria Neumann is the owner of Fire & Water Damage Recovery. Fire & Water Damage Recovery specializes in contents restoration including antiques, artwork, fine fabrics, rugs, wood furniture, documents, books, photos and electronics; professional pack out and inventory service. She serves the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, and San Joaquin County.

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