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8 Tips for Work With First Responders During Natural Disasters

Water. Water everywhere.

It’s one of the most insidious sources of damage to houses, as hurricane victims are learning. But water damage also is inherent in extinguishing fire…and everyday mishaps can plunge homeowners into the deep end, too.

Water damage mitigation specialists are up to their necks these days in work. Once their work is done, homeowners start rebuilding. Networking with disaster recovery and mitigation firms is a smart way to tap into immediate, fully funded work. Here are eight things to know about working with these first responders.

They’re first on the scene.

When water pours, mitigation and disaster recovery specialists are the first ones on the scene – potentially alongside a plumber, if there’s a quick fix to be made.   Homeowners realize that once the source is stopped, they must quickly assess the damage. “Disaster recovery” specialty firms clean up after floods, fires, crime scenes and other messy emergencies. Homeowners intuitively turn first to a damage control service at essentially the same time they contact their insurance agent.

They do a lot more than demolition.

Cleaning up after a disaster is not the same thing as drying out a house to an insurer’s standards. Anybody can tear out soggy drywall and haul sopping carpet to the curb (though anybody and everybody should be aware of the potential contamination from floodwaters and sewage, and in those cases, disaster recovery specialists should remove the infested materials).

Their certifications really count with insurers.

Water mitigation services gain professional credentials through both the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification and the Restoration Industry Association. Ally with a firm that is a member of both associations and that uses the standards that insurers use for verifying proper mitigation and recovery processes – the IICRC S500.

General contracting and remodeling experience does not qualify a firm for disaster mitigation and recovery. That is important because…

The house isn’t dry until they say it’s dry.  

The industry, including insurers, pay quickly for such claims through a streamlined system for validating proper drying processes and rebuilding only when the mitigation specialist says the house is ready. Jump the gun, and your work will be for naught. Neither the homeowner nor the insurance carrier will pay for work that is faulty.

Cash flows right after water.

The disaster mitigation industry has a streamlined system of filing and paying claims. Insurers and firms often use Xactimate, an estimating and invoicing system that controls prices so that homeowners and insurers pay consistent rates for work.

Mitigation and recovery firms know that homeowners rely on them for referrals to home improvement contractors.

Brent Rice, who with his wife Nicole owns First Response Water Damage, based in Mercer Island, Washington, says that customers expect him to have a vetted list of local contractors, so he’s constantly checking out new candidates. He looks into contractors’ insurance policies, pending complaints and looks at their online reviews.

“If they’re a good fit, I put them on the list,” he says.

Mitigation firms that tackle natural disaster recovery will perform the same vetting on out-of-state contractors that show up, telling homeowners that they should confirm the licensing of any firm with that firm’s home state, says Rice, who pitched in for nine months of post-Katrina recovery.

Mitigation and recovery firms often end up coaching traumatized homeowners as they try to qualify contractors.

Because they are on-site first, they often caution homeowners about the latest rip-offs from predatory contractors who chase storms.
“Most contractors will ask for deposits for consumers, but be very careful about paying in advance to ‘secure a place in line,’ “ says Mark Springer, CEO of Dayspring Restoration Inc., based in Missoula, Montana. “I always recommend that a homeowner not pay a contractor a deposit until they are on site and ready to perform the work.”

They have great stories to tell – but not over dinner.

Among Rice’s worst-case customer scenarios: several low-lying condos whose basements were on the receiving end of a development-wide spill of raw sewage from a broken main.

“Sometimes people are just standing in the bathroom doing their makeup and they look over and see brown water bubbling up out of the shower drain,” he says.

Drama causes trauma, and that’s why his team takes a counseling and coaching approach with customers. Helping homeowners find reliable contractors is a big step toward closing a messy chapter of homeownership.

Joanne Cleaver is a widely published freelance business author, writer and former deputy business/real estate editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She and her husband have renovated three historic homes.

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