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Protecting your Home

Is Your Smartphone Prepared for Tornado Season?

TornadoWhen I was in high school, a tornado ripped through my rural community, killing a local farmer and part of his herd, twisting massive hardwoods from the earth in which they’d been deeply rooted, and prying roofs off newly constructed dwellings. The scene, upon emerging from the safety of my basement, was both surreal and spooky.

Personal belongings scattered miles from where they belonged.

Home owners in search of a place to stay.

Curious souls rummaging through the rubble.

With the electricity out, we got our updates from a battery-powered radio and from friends.

In the months that followed, life eventually returned to normal for all those families affected by the twister, but it wasn’t without considerable challenges, including identifying what was lost and estimating values.

I can’t help but think the recovery process would have been simpler, and communication much more streamlined, had this twister arrived in the Digital Age.

With smartphones rarely out of reach these days, an abundance of helpful information fits right in your hand. Here are a few planning and preparation apps you might want to load to your mobile device … especially as we enter tornado season.

Red Cross Tornado Warning and Alert App 

When a tornado’s coming, seconds matter. This Red Cross app sends real-time tornado alerts right to your phone, so you can get to safety quickly. It also provides lots of helpful tips on what to do before, during and after a storm strikes. And there’s even an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of all things twister.

Know Your Plan – Natural Disaster App

This app, from the Insurance Information Institute, provides preparation checklists for all major natural disaster types – floods, earthquakes, wind storms, etc. You can even develop your own list for an emergency unique to your area.

DreamVault Home Inventory App

Disasters, by their very nature, come with little notice. It is possible, though, to prepare for the worst. This includes keeping a record of all you own, and storing it somewhere safe. American Family’s DreamVault app enables you to go from room to room, photographing your property and adding notes about its characteristics and value.  You can even upload the receipt. And for safekeeping, all your data is stored in the cloud, where it’s safe from fires, flooding and any other disaster.

While there’s never a good time for a storm or disaster, the Digital Age has certainly made it easier for us to prepare and recover.

So what are you waiting for? Get those apps in hand!

Posted by Paul Bauman on Tue, Mar 11 2014 9:58 amPaul Bauman is a web experience administrator for American Family Insurance. When not developing content for the company’s websites, he enjoys sharing the running trail with his thoughts, which move at a much faster pace.

Avoiding ice dams (and showers indoors)

Preventing ice damsWhen you’ve got kids, there are certain comments you just don’t want to hear.

“Daddy, the cat peed on your workbench.”

“We all traded hats in school today! How come my head itches?”

And then I'll never forget this one: “Daddy, Daddy, it’s raining in the family room!”

When I heard that, I rushed downstairs to discover my children frolicking about as a steady shower sprinkled downward from the ceiling beams. What fun!

It was on that unseasonably warm March morning when the term “ice dam” entered my vocabulary.

Looking out our family room window, I could see portions of the ice dam – a solid layer of ice and icicles encrusting the rain gutter along the edge of the roof.

The rapidly melting snow running down the roof was blocked by this dam, and the water began creeping its way back up the roof, seeping under the shingles and dripping through cracks and holes in the roof covering.

Meanwhile, inside our house, the ceiling had become so sodden that it began to shower indoors.

Three factors contributed to this predicament:

Insulation and structural issues: We had warm air in the attic, largely due to improper insulation, and the lack of ridge and soffit vents. This warm air heated the underside of the roof, increasing the rate of melting snow on top. So, uh, it was the house’s fault!

Clogged gutters: Okay, this one’s on me. I was lazy and didn’t clean my gutters the preceding fall.

Snow buildup: If I had removed about 3 to 5 feet snow feet from edge of the roof, that would have reduced or even eliminated the ice dam(age). Hindsight is 20-20.

Maybe there were other causes, but those seemed to be the big ones.

By the time I figured all of this out, the “rain inside” was starting to get out of hand. When your kids have to wear raincoats and boots just to watch TV, you know you’ve got a problem.

I had to act quickly. Using a hastily purchased roof rake, I pulled enough snow off the roof to bring the indoor showers to a virtual halt.

Then came the arduous work of cleaning everything up, and addressing the lack of insulation and venting.

Ever since then, I’ve religiously cleaned my gutters in the fall, and have used my roof rake to remove snow from the roof throughout the winter.

No more ice dams.

I guess that’s water under the, um, bridge.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about preventing ice dams, and dealing with them when they happen?  Check out this @dvisor article, or watch the video on this Learning Center page.  

Posted by Bill Shepard on Fri, Feb 07 2014 8:35 am

Wise Land Use Yields Unexpected Benefits

Rita Garczynski on the grounds of American Family Insurance National Headquarters.I never tire of the view at our headquarters in Madison, Wis. The surrounding landscape features wildflowers, stone walls, seating areas and a pond. These gradually change over to oak woodlots and large grassland areas.

When our facility was built, the intent of the grasslands was to transition to outlying natural areas and keep expenses down by reducing the costs associated with large well-groomed lawns. It turns out these tall grasses are an ideal habitat for nesting grassland birds. An employee discovered this 20 years ago when he spotted a Dicksissel living in the grasses.

Knowing this, American Family decided to strike a balance between economic development and land resource protection. We realized we have an opportunity to protect and restore diverse plant and animal species on our lands.

As an example, we found that simply by delaying the annual mowing of our meadow until mid-August, the Dicksissel – whose population has been steeply declining – could successfully raise their young.

Our land use plan has three goals:

  • Research existing habitat and wildlife.
  • Implement land-management practices to support habitat-enhancement strategies.
  • Promote employee and community involvement.

Since then, some of our land-use achievements include:

  • Installation of a native prairie butterfly garden.
  • Restoration of oak woodlots to oak savannas.
  • Conversion of several acres of non-native plants to native species.
  • Pond management for habitat diversity.
  • Installation of a 34 bluebird nest boxes.

It’s been a gratifying experience. Some of the most rewarding compliments on our land use come from customers. One guest said that after discovering American Family’s dedication to responsible land management, he would definitely remain our customer. He was an administrator at a local college and was so impressed with our land use plans that he asked if his facilities team could contact me for more details!

I also received a similar compliment from a customer who is an employee with the Wisconsin DNR. She said, “I am so thrilled and impressed to discover I have been doing business with a company that truly cares about the environment.”

At American Family, it’s rewarding to know our good stewardship isn’t just a financial way of life, it extends to our land resources as well.

Editor's note: Learn more about the environmental sustainability efforts at American Family Insurance on our website

Posted by Rita Garczynski on Tue, Aug 27 2013 6:52 amRita Garczynski is facilities site specialist with American Family Insurance.

The Art of the Staycation: Stay at home vacation ideas

Hammock in summertimeCan I tell you a secret? I’d take a staycation over a vacation any day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to pooh-pooh a luxurious, tropical getaway or a dazzling, big-city adventure. I’m just saying by choosing to stay home and savor more local delights, you might find the escape you’ve been dreaming of all summer.

Not only are staycations typically more affordable than traditional vacations, they also offer the gift of time and a fresh perspective on things. A cheesy thought? Perhaps. But there’s something truly powerful about slowing down to appreciate your life just as it is – no bells and whistles.

A few weeks ago I took my first staycation.

Instead of waiting in long lines at the airport as I normally would, I took time for me – a day at the beach, a morning run through the park, indulgent, sun-lit naps in the hammock.

Instead of splurging on a pricey hotel, I took time for family and friends – catching up with loved ones, sending a handwritten note to an old pal, joking with my neighbors across the fence.

And instead of having my nose in a map, navigating a new place, I kept my head up to explore MY city, trying local restaurant specialties, visiting nearby nature sights, and getting to know the friendly faces at the farmer’s market.

If you’re considering a staycation, remember, there is no one right way to go about it. Keep it casual. Skip the rigorous itinerary, and instead, get everyone in the family involved in brainstorming a list of fun things to do. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Pop a tent in the backyard and have a family campout. Don’t forget a deck of cards!
  • Plan a themed movie night. Dine on snacks inspired by the film.
  • Embark on an ice cream hop and lick your way through the neighborhood’s sweet shops.
  • Dust off your photo albums and giggle at old snapshots.
  • Pack a picnic. Stay for the whole day.
  • Teach your dog a new trick – or just give him extra belly rubs.
  • Call up someone far away.
  • Sit on the front porch and eat a popsicle while reading the funnies.
  • Take a family bike ride to the neighborhood diner.

What do you dream of doing on YOUR staycation?

30 Days of SummerEditor's note: Throughout summer, American Family is sharing family-friendly ideas. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures. Or check out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtag on Twitter and Facebook

Posted by Grace VanDeWeghe on Tue, Jul 30 2013 10:58 am

After the smoke clears: Stories from the Colorado Black Forest fire

With the American Family Insurance mobile CAT vehicle behind them, the Morehouses talk about their loss from the Colorado Black Forest fire and how American Family has been there for them.As the flames have been contained in the Black Forest wildfire, stories behind the statistics of homes destroyed, people displaced and acres burned are beginning to emerge.

The customer who had a large pond on his property and allowed firefighters access to it so they would have water to douse the flames if needed.

The woman who found a bird house still standing, covered in slurry and the nest of baby bluebirds alive and well with the mamma bird looking on from a nearby branch.

And the story of our customers, Kevin and Rebecca Morehouse, who suffered a total loss to their home.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin and Rebecca last week and speak to them about their experience, what was saved and lost and what their plans are for the future.

The Morehouses consider themselves to be very lucky. Rebecca heard about the fire burning in the Black Forest from a coworker and rushed home, and she contacted her husband, who followed with friends from work in their pickup trucks. Together, they quickly gathered possessions that held sentimental value – family heirlooms and photos of their children, special gifts that were made for them by parents or grandparents.

Rebecca seems relieved to know that these special items were saved and can be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

The conversation then turned to what they didn’t manage to save. While Rebecca and Kevin had two hours to clear out whatever they could grab, many irreplaceable items were left behind. A portrait of their daughter, photos of their son’s sports teams, items from when their children were babies. When they were allowed to return to their home last week for a few hours, Rebecca sifted through the ashes and found the nightlight that was in her son’s room as a baby. Her face lit up when talking about that sentimental object surviving the blaze.

Despite the loss of their home and possessions, Kevin and Rebecca aren’t bitter or disgruntled. They seemed grateful. They have high praise for their agent, Nigel Cass (Colorado Springs), who called within hours of the blaze starting to check on them, as well as their adjuster, John Niemeyer, who promised to walk them through the process and “take care of them.”

And as Rebecca said, we know American Family will take care of us, and we’re with American Family Insurance for life.

The Morehouses with their agent, Nigel Cass.Echoing one another’s comments, the two seem at peace with the events of the past two weeks, knowing full well the difficult journey that lies ahead. As they sat with their arms around one another they shared how they felt blessed to still have the most important things; their children, neighbors, dog and each other.

After speaking with the two of them, I was the one feeling blessed. Not because I didn’t have to personally go through such a horrible experience, but because I work for a company that has the financial and personnel resources to get people like Kevin and Rebecca on the road to recovery. 

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims.

Posted by Sandra Spann on Fri, Jun 28 2013 6:03 amSandra Spann is a strategic communications consultant for American Family Insurance.
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