Q. Does the BBB have tips on how to be more prepared before a disaster hits, and if it does, are there any tips on how to deal with "storm chasers" that may come to my neighborhood?
A. Great question, knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when the seconds count. Better Business Bureau urges families to devise and discuss their disaster plans with their loved ones.
Safety is paramount in an emergency, but basic protective actions -- for instance, whether to evacuate or shelter-in-place -- can differ depending upon the disaster. There are important differences among potential emergencies that should influence the decisions you make and the actions you take.
Families should familiarize themselves with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) website, www.fema.gov. It outlines the emergencies that could potentially occur where you live and offers the appropriate ways to respond to each.
Two things every family requires no matter what the disaster, natural or terroristic, are an emergency plan and an emergency kit.
Recommended items for an emergency kit include:
• A gallon of water per person per day for three days
• A three-day supply of nonperishable food for each family member
• A flashlight with extra batteries
• A first-aid kit
• A whistle to signal for help
• Dust masks
• A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
• A power inverter or solar charger for your cell phone. During an emergency, some individuals use their laptop as a back-up phone charger. You want to be sure that it is fully charged as well.
You may also want to consider including prescriptions (at the very least a list of prescriptions), infant formula and diapers, pet food and cash. Have copies of important family documents (insurance policies, identification and financial records) in a waterproof, portable container near your escape route. Pencil and paper, paper cups and plates, and plastic utensils are useful. And if you have kids, pack some games, books or puzzles. Maintaining your kit is important. You will want to replace stored water and food about every six months. Mark the date on containers or cans.
For an emergency plan, make sure all family members know where to meet and who to contact in the case you get separated. A relative or friend in another area is an ideal emergency contact person. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to send and receive text messages. Consider downloading reputable smart phone apps that provide emergency information.
Hopefully, you will never have to experience a disaster firsthand, but should the worst happen you need to be aware of "storm chasers", or contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized. Storm chasers may offer you a "deal", quick fix, or make big promises that they won't deliver. With all the stress of having survived a disaster, they will be smooth talking and use high pressure tactics to get you to part with your money quickly.
Know your rights and responsibilities. Look up information and contact your state's Department of Consumer Affairs: in Georgia, http://consumer.georgia.gov/, and for Tennessee, http://tn.gov/consumer/index.shtml.
Contractors must be registered with the Secretary of State in Georgia, call 478-207-2440 for the Professional Licensing Boards Division or the Department of Commerce & Insurance in Tennessee, call 615- 741-2241. You can also go online to http://www.sos.ga.gov/ or http://www.tn.gov/commerce/ and check whether a contractor is registered.
Many counties require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Verify if they have to have a permit by contacting your local township or county office. Be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work. Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the "good deal" you will get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash! Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there is a problem. While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.
Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.
Check that the contractor's vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and your state's license plates.
BBB also warns area contractors to beware of storm chasers who are willing to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use a local company's established name, reputation and phone number so they can masquerade as a local business.
After doing repairs paid by insurance companies, the out of state contractors leave the area. Contractors who had agreed to let these storm chasers use their name may regret their decision, once complaints of unsatisfied customers start due to bad workmanship and/or unfulfilled warranties.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.