Are You Ready? September is National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness MonthIf a tornado, blizzard, earthquake or fire threatened your town or home, protecting your family is your No. 1 priority. 

A question to ask yourself is, do you know what to do and will you be prepared? If you’re not sure, September’s National Preparedness Month is for you.

Beginning in 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared September as “National Preparedness Month.” The idea is to encourage people to prepare and plan in advance what to do to protect their family and survive if a large-scale disaster strikes their town.

National Preparedness Month is an educational event and encourages people to have a plan and resources set aside to be self-reliant for at least three days during an emergency where there might not be access to utilities, food, water, fuel or other local services.

This year alone we’ve seen floods, wildfires, blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes affect entire regions of the country. When an event like this hits your home town, knowing what to do before, during and after may make all the difference as to how well you and your family survive.

Whether you’re at home, work or on-the-go, it’s important to have a plan. Planning ahead will ensure that you and your family know what to do, where to go and have the supplies you need to be safe wherever you are. National Preparedness Month encourages families, businesses and communities to prepare and plan by: 

  • Being informed about emergencies that could impact your community.
  • Identifying sources of information that will be helpful before, during and after an emergency.
  • Planning what to do in an emergency.
  • Building a survival kit.  

To help you and your family create a plan, the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention has teamed up with the American Red Cross to create a website – Emergency Preparedness and You – filled with helpful information about emergency planning for you and your family.

Don’t take a chance. The only thing worse than a disaster hitting your home town is not knowing what to do if it does.

Editor's note: American Family Insurance offers a wide range of information to help proactively protect your family, home, auto and business. Check out the Learning Center on our website for valuable tips to help protect your dreams. 

Posted by Eric Wolf on Tue, Sep 03 2013 10:14 pm

Remembering the Stoughton Tornado

Stoughton, Wis., tornado from Aug. 18, 2005 (from http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mkx/document/tor/images/tor081805/stoughton-c.jpg).Every year when severe storm warnings are issued, I’m reminded of just how strong some of these storms can be. Back in August 2005, I had a first-hand glimpse of the damage a severe storm can cause when I helped clean up after a tornado hit my town.

On Aug. 18, 2005, an F3 tornado carved a ten-mile long, half-mile-wide swath of destruction across rural subdivisions and farms in Stoughton, Wis. When the winds stopped, 156 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged and another 84 homes were slightly damaged. Countless cars, boats and other vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Damage exceeded $35 million. Tragically, one person was killed.

In the following days, I volunteered to help with the clean-up. Let me tell you, cleaning up after a tornado is a humbling experience. In the damaged part of town, everywhere I looked there were houses reduced to piles of bricks and splintered lumber, and cars condensed into twisted hunks of sheet metal.  

During the storm, Mother Nature went out of her way to show how fickle she can be. Amidst the destruction, one house I went to seemed completely undamaged. The dining room table was still set for dinner and there was a neat pile of papers on a desk ready for attention. The kitchen however, was gone. In fact, the entire back half of the house was gone. It was as though someone took a gigantic knife and carved off the back half of the house but left the front intact and undisturbed.

Throughout the day, I overheard many interesting answers to good questions:

Q: “I thought you had brown shingles on your garage?”
A: “I do. But the garage that’s leaning against my house belongs to my neighbor down the street.”

Q: “What happened to your car?”
A: “It’s in that tree over there.”

Despite the impact the tornado made on their lives, I was amazed how some people maintained their sense of humor. One man told me he now regretted spending the extra money for 40-year shingles when he had his house re-roofed the previous year. Another commented, “I hope my wife isn’t mad that I didn’t get the dishes done.”

Before the next severe weather alert hits your area, take a few moments to look around your home and identify where you or your family may be vulnerable. Find your best place for shelter and make sure everyone knows where to go and what to do when severe weather threatens. 

Posted by Eric Wolf on Sun, Aug 18 2013 9:46 am

Blasted by hail: Learning from indoor storms

IBHS Indoor hailstorm demonstrationI recently attended the first-ever indoor hailstorm. That’s right – an indoor hailstorm! Why? Every year, hail causes billions of dollars in damage to property and crops. An indoor storm like this can be studied in detail to find ways to make hail-resistant structures and reduce the destruction from hailstorms.

It was an amazing experience. Not only were insurance industry representatives like me there, but national media including “The Today Show,” (which broadcast it live). “The Weather Channel,” “Discovery Channel” and “This Old House” were there as well.

This storm was a test created by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IIBHS) to learn how different building materials withstand a hailstorm’s damage. For five minutes and some 9,000 hailstones, the “storm” pelted a house, a car, outdoor furniture and nearby toys. The only thing missing was a thunderstorm.

To deliver the hailstones with the same intensity as a real storm, IBHS engineers designed a series of multi-barreled hail cannons mounted 60 feet above the research center’s test chamber. When the storm started, the cannons were firing hailstones at the rate of 1,800 per minute at speeds up to 76 mph!

IBHS Indoor hailstorm demonstrationThe test structure had different building materials to compare performance. The roof featured asphalt shingles, impact-resistant architectural shingles, metal roofing and metal-over-shingles. Standard vinyl siding and fiber-cement siding were used, as well as vinyl and aluminum windows and aluminum gutters and downspouts. During the demonstration, the entire structure was pelted evenly with hailstones.

IBHS can now study the damage to the different materials. The windshield on the car for example, was shattered, and the test home received significant damage. We also learned while metal roofing does a great job keeping water out and will typically outlast traditional shingles, it shows every little ding from the hail.

American Family supports the work of IBHS because of our commitment to loss prevention. More research is needed to create building materials and techniques that can better withstand damage from storms. Our goal is to make homes safer by building them stronger, not cheaper.

Through our membership with IBHS, American Family helps fund research addressing the impact of hail and other natural disasters, and can lead to the establishment of better building standards. The end result helps manage costs through reduced property insurance losses, which helps keep insurance more affordable for everyone. 

Posted by Bill Eberle on Tue, Apr 09 2013 7:54 amBill Eberle is a product design senior specialist with American Family Insurance.

I find problems before they occur

Dan StepperFor many people, getting an insurance policy is pretty straight-forward. You have something you need insured, you call an agent, he or she takes your application, calculates your payment, the company issues a policy and presto! You’re insured.

That works in some cases, but in many others – especially farms and businesses – it’s more complicated.

I’m one of 13 loss control specialists for American Family Insurance. My job is to go to a farm or commercial business we insure (or want to insure) and assess their current level of safety. After I inspect a property, I’ll go over my findings with our customer – or potential customer – to explain how they can reduce their potential for accidents, injury, and property damage.

I actually do two very important jobs for American Family.

The first is to consult with our largest accounts and help them reach the highest safety level possible in their operations. I look for potentially dangerous conditions and recommend ways to head off a problem before it occurs. If I see something that’s dangerous, I can suggest ways to correct the problem, or, if necessary, suggest replacement equipment that is safer. I can also train a customer’s employees in proper safety procedures and show them how to do their job with safety in mind. This creates a win-win since it reduces their likelihood of a loss, but also bolsters our retention and profitability.

My second job for American Family is to look over a property or business we’re considering insuring. An agent or an underwriter might ask me to see if there is anything that might be unsafe, dangerous, or could cause an injury. My safety review not only benefits the company, but is a real help to a prospective customer. In some cases, I’ve seen unsafe equipment that presented a fire hazard. When I explained it to the prospective customer and told them everything in the building could be destroyed if changes weren’t made, (in one case, the building was filled with antique tractors!) they were very grateful since they never realized the risk was there.

Many times I point out something a prospective customer sees, but didn’t realize was dangerous such as a missing machine guard or hand rail on stairs. I often hear, “I’ve seen it that way for years and never thought it was unsafe. Thanks for pointing it out.” Hopefully, by pointing out an unsafe condition or piece of equipment, I can prevent an injury or loss.

Some people may think, “Why bother? That’s what insurance is for.” Truth is no one wants to see someone injured, equipment damaged or property lost because of unsafe conditions. By working with our customers to identify and correct unsafe conditions, I can hopefully prevent an injury or death and avert an accident that puts someone out of business.

Editor's note: Small business owners, farmers and ranchers can receive free monthly tips and loss control information from American Family Insurance. Sign up for our Business @dvisor email newsletter on our website

Posted by Dan Stepper on Tue, Mar 26 2013 8:47 amDan Stepper is a commercial/farm-ranch loss control specialist for American Family Insurance.

Snowmobile safety is key to snowmobiling fun

Snowmobile safety tipsAs the fall weather gets cooler and the leaves fall from the trees, I get more and more excited! This means snow will soon be here, and snowmobiling is just around the corner. It also means it’s time for my family’s snowmobiling safety checks.

Even before the snow comes, there is significant work to be done. We have to check over the snowmobiles, make sure all our gear fits: snowsuits, gloves and most importantly, helmets!

As my children grow from year to year, we buy new helmets for them to ensure they fit properly and we never snowmobile without a helmet, not even just going down the trail a little way.

My husband does a detailed inspection of our snowmobiles to make sure they work properly. These inspections include: changing the oil, checking the carbides (or blades on the bottom of the skis), making sure the track has no nicks or tears, checking the sparkplugs and making sure the snowmobile insurance is up to date.

You never know when you are going to need insurance, so making sure you have the proper coverage is very important.

A couple of years ago, my husband was in a snowmobile accident, and he wasn’t even going very fast. He was going around a corner at 20 m.p.h. when his ski caught a rock on the trail and the sled went over. Luckily, he flew one way and the sled the other.

The worst part about it was the kids and I were following him and we came around the corner to find him lying on the ground not moving. It was one of the scariest moments of my life!

He did get up and ended up hurting his knee a little, but the sled was totaled. When we calmed down a little, we called some friends to get us, then promptly called American Family’s customer service center to report the claim. Our agent called back immediately to make sure we were all OK.

An adjuster visited the dealership within a day, and we had a check within three days. My husband was back on a new sled in a week, and we were back on the trails good as new.

It’s important to prepare your snowmobiles and the riders. Go snowmobiling, but do it safely so you can enjoy the wintertime and all its beauty.

Posted by Dawn Mortimer on Tue, Oct 30 2012 12:11 pmDawn Mortimer is Innovation Director at American Family Insurance. She and her family are snowmobiling enthusiasts who love to hit the trails near their home in southwest Wisconsin.
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