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Be Aware of Winter Driving Hazards

Posted by on Feb 1, 2015 in Blog, My Favorite Things

Although we are all hoping for spring to get here and there are days the temperature outside feels like it may be just around the corner, it is still winter and the chance for bad weather still exists.

Severe winter weather can be both intimidating and dangerous for automobile travel. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that over 500,000 automobile accidents in the United States are caused each year by snow, sleet, and ice on the nation’s roads, highways, and freeways. And nearly 2,000 motorists per year are killed due to these treacherous weather conditions. Here are some winter weather driving tips to help with the dangers of winter driving.

  • Watch weather reports or check the Internet prior to a long-distance trip. Delay the trip if bad road conditions are expected due to snow, sleet, or ice.
  • Dress warmly, keep your cell phone by your side, make sure you have at least half a tank of gas, and bring an emergency kit with you. A warm blanket should be part of the kit.
  • Accelerate or decelerate slowly on snow or ice. Drive slower than normal.
  • The normal following distance of 4 seconds for dry pavement should be raised to 9 or 10 seconds for winter weather conditions, giving you a wider safety margin.
  • Try not to power up hills, since applying extra gas on snow or ice covered hills can start your wheels spinning. Instead, try to get more inertia prior to the hill since this momentum will help carry you to the top.
  • If you become snowbound, stay with your vehicle and phone for help. Tie a brightly covered piece of cloth to your antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. Put your emergency flashers on as well.
  • If possible, periodically start the engine and heater to maintain some level of warmth in your vehicle.

Becky
Senior Personal Lines Research and Development Specialist

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Lessons Learned From the November 17, 2013, Tornado

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Blog, My Favorite Things

It’s been a little over a year now since the Washington, Illinois, tornado on Sunday, November 17, 2013. I remember that day well. It was a very warm morning, nearly 70 degrees, and WINDY. I went to the store that morning and bought stuff to make the family breakfast and some snacks for the Bears game that afternoon. I remember coming home from the store, seeing my friend out running with his dog, and thinking how crazy he was for running when it was that windy.

We had been hearing for a couple days that there was potential for strong storms to develop along with the unseasonable warm weather. We didn’t think much of it; tornados are not uncommon to Central Illinois, and we grow up with a couple a year and practicing tornado drills all through school. Usually the tornado touches down in a field somewhere, the farmer might lose part of a barn, and our downspouts blow around the neighborhood.

For some reason, my in-laws had recently given us a weather radio, and thankfully we had seen fit to set it up. Just before 11:00 a.m. that day, the weather radio went off and said there had been tornados, and we had about 10 minutes until it reached Washington. I quickly sent a text message to a friend that had recently moved to Washington, telling them to get to the basement. We got a couple glasses of water, grabbed the iPad and a computer along with our cell phones, and headed with our kids and dog to the basement. At this point, we were still pretty calm, certain that whatever this was would pass by. We turned on the TV for the kids and started a Bob the Builder. My oldest son (4 at the time) walked toward a basement egress window just as we lost power. When the power went out, we knew something wasn’t right and we could hear it coming. We grabbed the family and headed to a safe place in the basement. Our lives were about to change. I’m not sure we ever feared for our lives as we huddled in the corner of our office, but we heard our house being ripped to shreds. That freight train sound people talk about … it’s real. The pressure change is intense. The whole thing probably lasted 10-15 seconds, my ears popped constantly, and I just remember thinking “please be over, please stop,” as I tightly held my two- and four-year-old children.

It was over. As I walked out of our office, I observed that the door that used to be attached at the top of the stairs was now at the bottom. I heard water running, I smelled gas, and I could see daylight coming down the stairs. My wife was adamant that we get out of the basement because she smelled the gas leaking. (I wasn’t as concerned, as I was quickly learning that the house was ventilated quite well.) The stairs were covered in broken glass … glass from our house and our car and nails from the roof … and we had no shoes. First take a way: put some shoes on before going to the basement, or make sure you have some in the basement. So my wife and I picked up the kids and carried them up the stairs barefoot while I also tried to hold on to the dog’s collar. We reached the top of the stairs only to find we were blocked in. The back wall of the house with a broken window in the middle of it lay propped up against one side of the stairway, and the other side was propped against our Honda Pilot … our stairs did not join with the garage. The Honda Pilot was on its roof, on top of our dining room table, blocking our way out. The dog had an idea, jumped through the broken window, and cut himself. So now we were stuck at the top of the stairs, and the dog was running around in all this debris bleeding. Somehow we were able to get a cell phone call to go through to my parents who live nearby. They had no damage and were going to jump in the car and head over. A neighbor running through the backyard stopped to help us lift our kids out, and then my wife and I crawled over the wall and spotted some shoes to put on. My parents arrived quickly; however, someone said there was another tornado coming, so we all headed into my neighbor’s dark basement and waited (and in case you were wondering, yes, the dog was with us again). After about ten minutes, we decided we needed to get the kids to safety, and it would be best if we got out of there, so we all packed into my parents’ car and headed back to their house. We got there, and at least momentarily, breathed a sigh of relief.

Then it hits you … oh my gosh, what just happened? What do I do now? My wife wondered aloud if our neighbors were alive. My friends were starting to text; they didn’t believe me when I told them the house was gone. Time for another piece of advice: if you don’t have someplace to go, it’s time to figure out now what that place should be. Find a hotel, preferably one with running water and power, because the next week is going to be rough. Next, if you don’t have access to transportation (a friend or family member’s car you can borrow maybe), then get on the phone with a rental company. You are going to need transportation, and like hotel rooms, transportation is going to quickly be snatched up. We were fortunate that my family lived close and had an extra car. Which brought me to my next thought: we had two cars … what happened to the second car? I never saw it.

So, after some time (maybe an hour) and some pacing around the house, my wife and I decided we needed to head back to the house, evaluate what was left, and look for some belongings (family heirlooms, IDs, wallet, purse, jewelry, etc.). Which brings up another point: that spot in the basement where you keep those extra shoes I mentioned earlier, along with those, or in a fireproof safe, you should store an extra ID, an emergency use credit card, and some cash. You are going to need it for that hotel room and rental car, and shortly you aren’t going to be able to re-enter this ‘war zone’ without ID.

Very little will prepare you for what you are about to see. I know you just left this neighborhood an hour ago, but trust me, in that state of survival, you have no idea how bad it really is. As we approached our neighborhood, it looked like a war zone. The houses were gone, and it was just piles of debris everywhere. We didn’t recognize anything, and there were no street signs. Helicopters were beginning to whir overhead. That would be a constant and eerie sound for the next week. We got to our house, and it was worse than I thought with only a couple walls left standing. We wondered briefly about whether the electrical was shut off and if the gas had been shut off at the main. We assumed that since the electricity went out before the storm and since there was nothing to trap the gas, it was probably ok, and we got to work. First, time to look for IDs. Somehow our bedroom closet organizer was partially intact, which was where my wallet was. The wall it was attached to was an exterior wall and had moved in about six inches from the edge of the foundation. After a lot of work, pulling and moving stuff around, I managed to pull the drawer open and there was my wallet. That was a big relief. My wife managed to find her purse on the floor, next to where the countertop it sat on used to be. The counters and cabinets were out in the yard, but somehow her purse was nearly untouched. We were lucky to find those! A while later, friends and family began to show up to help. One person even managed to get a truck in. We sifted through stuff, looking for valuables, pictures, etc., and tried to decide what to salvage immediately, knowing we only had a few hours of daylight left (it was November) and not knowing what the looters would take later.

I mentioned earlier that we had shelter; here is what I didn’t mention: they were also out of power, given their proximity to the destruction, and they were on a well, which meant no water without a generator for the well pump and no heat if it got cold. They did, however, have a small generator, so in the evening we were able to run some lamps, light some candles, and plug the fridge in. Not ideal, but better than being out in the cold. I believe it was Wednesday night around 8:00 p.m. before we finally had running water again. You really appreciate a shower after that many days.

So that first night I finally called my insurance company and opened claims on the house and cars. You may be wondering why I waited so long to call. I knew given the amount of destruction it would be some time before they would be able to assist, and I had a copy of my policy (it was in the basement; you too should keep a copy in that safe I mentioned earlier). Which brings me to a key point: know that you are covered before the event happens because after it happens, it’s too late. Meeting with your insurance agent may not be fun, and you may groan at the increased premiums, but knowing that it’s there and you are covered certainly is a huge relief when the worst does happen.

The days that followed were much of the same: trying to get access to your house, trying to find a back way in so you could get a truck or trailer in, frustration with law enforcement as you are turned away, even once not being allowed back to the house where my kids and I were staying and having to park a borrowed vehicle along the side of a busy highway and walk back to my parents’ house only to get all the way back and have them open the road back up. There were also moments of joy, like when my wife found her wedding rings and a custom ring she had made with stones that had been passed down through the generations. There are also moments of sorrow … finding your grandpa’s (who had passed away earlier that year) rifle days later in the road, broken, rusted … destroyed. In the end, it’s mostly just stuff; we survived, we moved on, eventually stronger.

Oh and by the way, over the coming months, you have to make a list of EVERYTHING you own(ed), what room it was in, and what its value was if you expect to get money for it.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Get a weather radio.
  2. Talk with your insurance agent, know your coverage, and know your exposures.
  3. While it is unrealistic to inventory your house, at least on an annual basis walk through your house with a camera/video camera. Take lots of photos and video of everything. Store those photos and videos somewhere safe like a safe deposit box at the bank. Also, store backups of important family photos, savings bonds, etc. in the safe deposit box. If you can’t afford a water and fireproof safe for your house, that extra ID, credit card, and cash could be stored there also.
  4. Think about what’s important to you, and when possible, take steps to protect those things.
  5. Keep a pair of shoes or preferably boots in the basement.
  6. Consider keeping a small ration of food and water in the basement.
  7. If you take a medication necessary for your health/survival, consider keeping a couple days’ supply separate from your main medication. Same thing for glasses/contacts!
  8. If you have warning and are going to the basement, take cell phones, computers, and wallets with you. They are our communication link, and likely, they have a lot of your family photos stored on them.

Even after the storm, I don’t consider myself a ‘prepper’ or survivalist; however, the items above will certainly help you in the days and weeks and year following such a scenario.

If you are still reading and wondering about that second car that was missing (also an SUV), we found it in our front yard. It was rubber side down; however, the second story of the neighbor’s house from across the street was mostly on top of it.

Chad
Web/Mobile Manager

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Put Getting Homeowners Insurance on Your To-Do List When Purchasing a Home

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 in Blog, My Favorite Things

One of the largest purchases that most of us will make is our home. We will contact a bank or mortgage company and get approved for a mortgage, we will spend countless hours looking for the “house of our dreams,” and we will finally move in.

Somewhere in the process, we will purchase Homeowners insurance. For most, the research and purchase of the insurance will be the least amount of time spent on the entire process. As a matter of fact, we will spend more time discussing what to serve at the house-warming party.

When the dust settles and you have time to sit down and enjoy your home, you may want to consider your home and your Homeowners insurance and whether the policy you purchased is the right one. Will your roof be replaced if it is damaged by a hailstorm, will your contents be replaced if stolen, and will your belongings be replaced if consumed by fire?

Preventative measures can and should be taken to ensure the safety of your belongings and your home in general. Examples of these measures include the following:

  • Perform ongoing maintenance to be certain your home is in top-notch condition.
  • Make certain you have a home security system installed in your home.
  • Take video of each room and the contents of the room to assist if a claim should occur. Place the video in a safety deposit box at your bank to make certain the information is secure and not lost in a house fire or a theft.
  • Have a backup sump pump system or whole house generator in case of a power failure.

Contact your local independent Pekin Insurance® agent and let him or her know what you have done to your home so any discounts that can be applied to your policy are applied and so your agent can advise you of the best coverage and price for your situation.

Scott, CPCU, AIC, AU
National Claim Specialist

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Dangers of Burning Candles

Posted by on Jan 1, 2015 in Blog, My Favorite Things

Do you love the smell of all the candle scents available today? Do burning candles give your home that “comfy and cozy” feeling? Do you dim the lights in your home and burn candles to give your home more ambiance? Candles can be a great addition to your home; however, when burning candles, you need to be aware of the possible dangers.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that, while deaths from residential fires have decreased in the last several years, those caused by candles have increased dramatically. Candle deaths increased 375 percent from 1980 (40 deaths) to 2005 (150 deaths). Candles cause an estimated 16,000 home fires each year. In most cases, candles triggered house fires when they were left unattended, were tipped over, and ignited nearby combustibles. Almost half of home candle fires start in the bedroom; mattresses and bedding are the most common items to ignite. A child playing with or near the candle is one of the biggest contributors to candle fires; drinking excessively and falling asleep leaving the candle burning is another.

When using candles, we all should practice the following safety tips:

  • Always keep matches, lighters, and candles away from children.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Keep combustible materials far away from candles.
  • Do not put candles in a location where children or pets could knock them over. Be aware that candles and rambunctious puppies don’t mix.
  • Use only nonflammable candleholders that are sturdy and hard to tip over.
  • Always trim the wicks before lighting.
  • Do not burn a candle all the way down to where it is too close to the holder or container.
  • Use flashlights rather than candles when you have a power outage.

Barb Cadagin
Personal Lines Customer Service Representative

Source: International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

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Annual Survey on Toy Safety Published

Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 in Blog, My Favorite Things

As the holidays are upon us, thoughts of family gatherings, good food, and gift exchanges come to mind.

Concerning the issue of gifts, specifically toys and toy safety, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund has published their 29th annual survey regarding toy safety. Standards for toy safety are enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Said standards include limits on toxins in children’s products, size requirements for toys for small children, warning labels about choking hazards, measures to keep magnets and batteries inaccessible, and limits on the amount of noise a toy produces.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff examined hundreds of toys and found unsafe toys are still on store shelves. Problems found with the various toys include the following:

Toys Containing Lead and Chromium
Childhood exposure to lead can cause developmental issues which could result in damaging academic achievements and attentiveness.

With very few exceptions, federal law requires that all children’s products manufactured after August 2011 contain no more than 100 ppm (parts per million) of total lead content in all accessible parts of the product/toy. Paint or similar surface coatings are subject to a limit of 90 ppm of total lead and chromium is subject to a limit in toy surface coatings and parts, after being dissolved in acid, of 60 ppm.

Toys Containing Phthalates*
Phthalates are a substance which is added to plastics to increase the plastic’s flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity.

* Exposure to the above-mentioned substance may harm development in males.

Small Parts
Said parts could block a child’s airway; this could result in being a choking hazard.

Small Balls
Small balls or small rounded toys of less than 1.75 inches in diameter are a choking hazard as well.

Balloons
These items can be easily inhaled thus causing the child to choke. According to the report, balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other child toy or product.

Magnets
When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, the consequences can be fatal. If the two magnets come together in the intestine, the intestinal wall could perforate.

Batteries
If swallowed, a chemical reaction can burn through the esophagus and blood vessels causing fatal internal bleeding.

Excessive Noise
This can lead to a loss of hearing.

To have a safe, enjoyable, and worry-free holiday, pay attention to these safety concerns.

For a more detailed explanation and to know what toys to avoid and how to be smart shoppers, please find the complete report at the following link: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usf/trouble-toyland-2014.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Scott, CPCU, AIC, AU
National Claim Specialist

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I Love Midwest Winters!

Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 in Blog, My Favorite Things

There’s no denying it. The temperature has dropped, and the first signs of winter are emerging. Call me crazy, but I personally love the winters in the Midwest.

This is a beautiful time of the year where the landscape changes, families gather, and delicious food is seemingly endless. With all of the cheer and goodwill we will enjoy for these next few months, it is important to understand that this is a popular season for insurance claims. One inevitable issue that we all run into is, “Will my Homeowner’s policy cover my (_____)?” This is an important question to ask ourselves, especially before any damage is done.

We all know someone who has broken their smartphone or laptop. I am included in this unfortunate number, as well. As it happens, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other expensive electronic devices are very popular Christmas gifts. While these are very useful, cool gadgets, they are also extremely susceptible to loss. Of course, we buy the protective cases to attempt to reduce damage and breakage to our devices. I definitely encourage this, as I have broken a few phone screens in my day. However, the only sure-fire way to have absolute peace of mind is to schedule the device on our Homeowners or Renters policy. With the weather we have, a cell phone case may not always protect against water damage or an unfortunate tumble we might take on the ice. Luckily, scheduling an electronic device protects against all perils, as long as they are accidental or caused by something out of our control. Scheduling a device on your policy is an inexpensive way of purchasing the peace of mind that your devices are protected in any scenario.

So, as we approach the frigid winter months, it important that we take into account all of the valuable electronics we enjoy so much and consider calling our local agent to learn about scheduling them on our policy. After all, we need those smartphones and tablets to capture all of the great memories that await each of us during the holiday season.

Ben
Personal Lines Underwriter

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