published Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Consumer Watch: How to be prepared before the storm

by Ellen Phillips

Summer brings frequent thunderstorms, some of which are damaging and can lead to extreme experiences. While theoretically not a consumer issue, a Consumer Reports article about what to do before, during and after bad storms impacted me enough to share with readers a great checklist to better protect ourselves.

Before the storm:

1) Be sure to have enough chargers for more than one device at a time, especially cellphones. Also, the article suggests buying a hands-free headlamp flashlight.

2) In case of an emergency, it's imperative to have a full gas tank. I've mentioned previously about the necessity of never getting below half a tank.

3) Within your emergency "stash," be sure to keep a stock of small bills. After all, everybody accepts cash.

4) If you don't own a generator, especially those using propane or natural gas, consider buying one. We learned this lesson the hard way when we lived in Virginia and once went without power for almost two weeks following a storm. From then on, we've never been caught with our proverbial britches down.

5) Store enough food. While this sounds obvious, the bread and milk syndrome can empty grocery shelves in a heartbeat so it's best to keep food items in stock. Along this same line, freeze containers of water and gel packs to keep food cold or to use in coolers.

During the storm:

1) When you need to contact someone, text rather than trying to call; a text is more likely to be received. If your battery is low and you're at home with no other reliable method, charge your phone in the car or try a neighbor.

2) Don't open refrigerator doors. Even though the Food Safety and Inspection Service says after four hours of no power to toss perishables, this is a good time to make use of a cooler with those ice packs to try to conserve frozen foods that haven't begun to thaw. Of course if you have a gas oven or grill, you could go ahead and cook up some of the food to eat within a reasonably short time (or share with your neighbors). Check out more guidelines at

After the storm:

1) Heaven forbid you sustain any real damage to your home but, if so, the first item on the agenda is to take photos. Then file a claim immediately. Do not throw away or repair a single item until the adjuster has seen the damage for himself. (On the other hand, if you must pay to prevent a further loss, hang on to the receipt to hand over to the insurance company.)

2) Stay on your guard with insurers. Some may try to save their company money and tell you your policy doesn't cover certain damages or offer a too-low reimbursement. Always ask to see any exclusions or limitations in writing and, if any question remains, contact your state's insurance department. Store these contacts away for safekeeping: Tennessee Deputy Commissioner Chlora Lindley-Meyers (800-342-4029); Georgia Commissioner Ralph Hudgens (800-656-2298); and Alabama Commissioner Jim Ridling (800-433-3966).

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the business section of the paper.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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