<!– March 23, 2017

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You can’t avoid tornadoes, but planning can help you recover.

While tornadoes can occur throughout the year, spring and early summer are peak months in most of the United States. Prepare to respond to a tornado by stocking your emergency kit, updating your family’s emergency communication plan and checking your insurance coverage.

“Tornado alley” in the southern Plains states has a statistically higher tornado occurrence, but National Climatic Data Center records show tornadoes can happen in any state. While there is nothing you can do to prevent a tornado, there is much you can do to prepare your family for recovery from a tornado.

Think about your home, school, place of worship or other locations where family members are likely to spend time, and discuss a safe location where you might go for shelter in those locations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tornado preparedness website advises that you go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.

Ready.gov also urges all families to assemble a disaster preparedness kit and to create a family communication plan.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit

storm-prep-tornadoes kitFEMA recommends you assemble a supply kit that includes three days of food and water for each member of your household. You can assemble one yourself or purchase pre-assembled kits in storage buckets from your local shopping club. Store the items in your designated household safe location for immediate access in an emergency.

Remember to include:

  • flashlight and fresh batteries
  • emergency radio
  • first aid kit
  • whistle to signal for help
  • wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

Ready.gov offers a complete list of items to include in your emergency kit. And when assembling your kit, remember to plan for your household pets.

Create a family communication plan

Because your family may not be together when disaster strikes, FEMA recommends that you create contact cards for adult family members to keep in your wallet or purse. Put copies in each child’s backpack or book bag, too.

Designate an out-of-town friend or relative to act as a contact point. If your family is separated, have family members check in with your contact person using a cell phone or prepaid calling card. Families who text may find that text messages can get through when cell phone or landline calls cannot.

Check your insurance coverage

Finally, check with your local, independent insurance agent BEFORE a disaster strikes. Your agent can review your coverage and make sure you don’t have costly gaps in the event of a loss.

You can’t stop a tornado, but having the plan and the supplies you need can make recovery easier.

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Technology improves efficiency, driving habits

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driving-technology-telematics
Technology can reduce fuel costs, streamline fleet management and improve driving habits.

Everyone has driven down the highway and has seen that sign on the back of a vehicle that reads, “How’s my driving? Call (a toll-free number)” Those signs have been a part of the driving landscape for many years and are still in use today as part of the burgeoning industry that gathers vehicle use information. The term used today for electronically gathering and reporting vehicle use information is “vehicle telematics.”

The technology employed today has grown far beyond the simple bumper sticker of the past. Anyone wanting to use vehicle telematics has many options to choose from. Equipment can range from simple devices that plug into a motor vehicle’s event data recorder (EDR) – an automotive “black box” – to large units mounted on the vehicle’s roof that send real-time information to the data monitoring company.

What is being done with this information? Depending on the level of information collected, fleet managers using vehicle telematics can realize multiple benefits. With the help of vehicle telematics, a business can:

  • Spot trends in fuel usage to improve efficiency and reduce costs
  • Pinpoint and track vehicle locations
  • View and analyze delivery routes for more efficient routing
  • Identify unsafe driving habits so that you can provide additional driver training; improved driving habits can lead to fewer vehicle accidents and reduced automobile insurance costs

Towers Watson, an international risk and capital management company, asserts that with fleets, crash reductions are well in excess of 50 percent by using telematics. (Source: Towers Watson.)

Those opposed to the use of vehicle telematics see it as another step toward the time when everything we do is monitored and recorded. However, business owners and their employees have an obligation to protect company property and their customers’ property and to research ways to reduce operating costs. Vehicle telematics can be an effective tool to help fulfill these obligations.

Some insurance companies make vehicle telematics programs available to their policyholders. Independent vehicle telematics companies also market their services directly to the public. Do your research. See what is available.

If you are interested in a vehicle telematics program, the first step is to educate yourself about available options. There are many places to look for information; do your own searches on the Internet or speak with others in your industry. And talk to your local, independent insurance agent for coverage recommendations.

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Beyond life insurance: Helpful tips when a loved one dies

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loved-one
A time of loss can be overwhelming for family and friends left behind.

After the loss of a loved one, you may be faced with the overwhelming responsibility of making funeral arrangements, notifying friends and family and handling the estate. During that time, it is often very hard to think of all the things that need to be done and what questions to ask. Having a clear picture in advance can help alleviate additional stress.

Use this checklist as a starting place, as this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Consider these some of the essential steps to be taken when a loved one dies.

  • Contact a funeral home to make preparations. Ask the funeral director to help obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Be sure to get multiple copies, as survivors will need these to file for life insurance and other benefits. The funeral director may also be able to assist in writing an obituary.
  • Notify the deceased person’s employer, if applicable. Speak with the Human Resources department about any paperwork to be completed, benefits and pay due to the estate and whether the deceased had life insurance through the employer. Find out the options to continue medical coverage for family members covered under the company’s health plan.
  • Locate important documents, such as a will, birth certificate, Social Security card, bank statements, car titles or property deeds.
  • Check with military, fraternal or religious groups if the deceased was a member. The organization may provide benefits or want to participate in funeral services.
  • Contact Social Security, Veterans Affairs and other applicable agencies, such as pension services, to stop payments and inquire about survivor benefits.
  • Check for any life insurance policies and contact the company about filing a claim. Ask what documents are needed, how long the process takes and what to expect during the process. If you don’t know if your loved one had life insurance, try contacting your state insurance department to find out if it has a resource to search for missing life insurance policies. You may need the person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and address to conduct the search or request information.
  • Contact an attorney to review the will of the deceased, if applicable. If items need to go through probate, ask how that process works.
  • Open a bank account for the deceased’s estate, if necessary, for refunds, overpayments or benefits to be paid even after the estate is settled. The executor may be the only one allowed to open such an account.
  • Make arrangements to pay outstanding bills. Contact service providers, such as utility companies, cable, internet and phone, to change or discontinue services. Reviewing a bank or credit card statement may help to identify less obvious monthly payments or charges, like gym memberships, home security or other in-home or club services.
  • Contact any banks, financial institutions or other companies where the decedent had an account or financial interest. Each institution or company probably has its own requirements for collecting the funds. Confer with an adviser before cashing out any investments.
  • Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, collect mail and take care of any pets on a temporary basis. Don’t let the house appear vacant.
  • Alert the post office to forward any mail.

Remember to ask questions — lots of them. If you don’t understand or just don’t know, ask. Take a notebook with you to appointments, so you can make notes of the meetings. The added emotional stress of this difficult time can make it challenging to retain or understand all the information given to you. Taking notes can help you break it down into more manageable chunks.

And don’t try to handle it all on your own. Find a trusted friend, family member or support group to help you through the process.

More Information

Take care when naming your life insurance beneficiary

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<!– March 14, 2017

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business-insurance-communication
Positive conversations can go a long way toward building client trust.

Sometimes, my wife teases me, saying that I’d communicate better if I could read her mind. While I may never become psychic, I do recognize that effective communication goes a long way in both personal and professional relationships.

I regularly provide risk management presentations to local dental societies, conventions and dental schools. One of the topics I cover is the importance of communication. There are lots of benefits to positive interactions, and having conversations with clients makes a difference. Even when you have a full schedule or waiting room, investing a few minutes to talk with each of your patients can improve your business:

  • Clients respond well when you demonstrate genuine, appropriate, personal interest in them. Some patients are uneasy any time they see a doctor. Taking some time to talk with them about their lives, professions, vacations or hobbies may help to relax them. You’ll also improve retention as repeat interactions over time will help to build your relationships.
  • Stronger relationships increase trust. As your clients feel your genuine concern, they’ll be more receptive to your recommendations for treatments and ongoing care. Consider the business relationships you have where you’re the client. Aren’t you more receptive to options when you’re treated with respect and trust the source?

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the future of your business can benefit from increased communication with your clients. Practice these basics in your interactions to ensure that you’re doing your part:

  • Listen carefully without interrupting.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something your client has shared.
  • Respond appropriately, verifying requests to eliminate misunderstandings.
  • Be respectful of your clients’ thoughts, beliefs and concerns.

You can find even more tips for more effective interactions from the NOAA Workforce Management Office. Of course, taking the time to build your communication skills won’t make you psychic, but your increased skills will help your clients feel like your practice offers customer service that is out of this world!

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What’s the value of your collection? Tips for hiring an appraiser

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appraiser-capstone-art-collection
Hiring a qualified appraiser is one step in protecting the value of your collection.

Fluctuations in the value of your collection can affect your decisions regarding insurance, estate planning and more. Are values climbing, falling or steady?

Resources available through online auction databases can help you research and track the value of your collection and the current market conditions. But what if you need a more precise valuation?

For this, you must hire an appraiser, and it is a good idea to consider an appraisal every five years or so.

When hiring an appraiser, consider these tips:

  • Seek out a recommendation from a knowledgeable and trusted source, such as your local insurance agent, a museum professional, fine art dealer or another collector.
  • Contact any of the three professional appraisal organizations for access to a certified appraiser:
    • Appraisers Association of America (AAA)
    • American Society of Appraisers (ASA)
    • International Society of Appraisers (ISA)
  • Evaluate your collection and its specific needs, especially if your collection consists of various types of objects. You may require appraisers with differing areas of expertise.
  • Review the level of experience for each appraiser you are considering. You should ask for a professional resume that shows education, qualifications and previous experience.
  • Ask if the appraisal you will receive is compliant with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).
  • Request a sample appraisal to review from any appraiser you are using for the first time.
  • Require the appraiser to explain the fee structure.
  • Fees should not be based on commission or directly tied in any other way to the value of the appraised item.

Protect your collection by having it professionally appraised and insured. To make sure your collection is adequately insured, contact your local insurance agent.

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Be alert for skimmers and scammers!

<!– March 7, 2017

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skimmers-gas-pump
Beware when paying at the pump; criminals often use gas pumps to skim credit and debit cards.

Before you swipe your bank card or credit card to make a payment or complete a bank transaction, be alert for skimmer devices attached inside or over the real card reader. Criminals use skimmers to capture the information from the magnetic strip on credit or debit cards, gaining unauthorized access to consumer accounts.

Skimmers have become increasingly prevalent as they are easy to put in place. The skimmer device fits right over or inside the real card reader. When the card is swiped, it passes through the skimmer before going into the real reader. Skimmers have popped up at bank drive-through ATMs, gas stations and other businesses, especially in remote locations or places that are difficult to monitor.

There are a few things you can do to make sure your account information stays safe.

Look before you swipe

Look for signs of tampering or bulkiness of the card reader you are about to use. If it looks too thick, damaged, loose or just does not look right, report it to the bank or business and use a different machine. Consumers have even reported parts of skimmers coming off the ATM. The FBI offers additional tips and illustrations of what to look for.  If you see someone tampering with or hanging around an ATM machine, report this information as soon as possible to law enforcement or the bank or related business hosting the machine. Sometimes criminals hang around machines to collect information via a Bluetooth connection or wait for an opportunity to add a skimmer or make changes to a machine.

Protect your chipped card

Many newer credit cards have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. The chips use a wireless, electromagnetic field to transmit information across short distances. Criminals use small remote skimmers that can be concealed in a pocket to collect information from the RFID chip. With these skimmers, the card need not be physically swiped to compromise the information. The electronic pickpocket need only walk a few feet away from you to collect information from the chip.

To prevent information theft, use a card carrier with a lined casing to shield the signal from the card. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation put out a Consumer Alert describing additional measures you can take, such as stacking several RFID-equipped cards together.

What to do if you’re hacked

If you do fall victim to a skimmer or RFID scam, immediately report it to law enforcement, providing as many details as possible. Contact the security department of your bank or the retailer whose card was compromised. Close the account and put a fraud alert on your credit file. Find additional information to protect your accounts on our identity theft prevention site and from the Federal Trade Commission.

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3 Ways to Minimize Combustible Dust Hazards

Dust is the byproduct from work in many industries, and it’s found nearly everywhere: drifting from materials such as agricultural products, chemicals, plastic, metals and more; during processes ranging from grinding, cutting and blasting. The truth is, where there is dust, there is also a potential for fire or explosions.

Knowing the basics of dust and how it can lead to combustion is crucial for controlling the dangers you may be facing. Fires and explosions occur when there is fuel (that’s the dust), along with oxygen (it’s all around us) and ignition (this can be caused by a spark, an open flame or by heat). You need to know how to stay in control of these elements to reduce the chances of an unwanted fire. While you can’t easily control oxygen, you can take steps to avoid the fuel and ignition sources.

1. Manage dust. A good dust collection system located outside of the building can pick up small particles. It should be equipped with both spark detection and an explosion suppression system. Since no collection system can remove 100 percent of the dust, good housekeeping practices are important. Cleaning needs to be a regular part of the work schedule, and should include checking areas where dust may hide from view, such as on elevated horizontal surfaces and inside electrical enclosures that aren’t dust-proof. Use only approved cleaning equipment, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum cleaners rated for combustible dusts. Avoid using compressed air as a cleaning method.

2. Control ignition sources. If your facility has equipment that gets hot when it’s running, vehicles moving in and out of your work areas or open flames, you have an ignition source. Be aware of less obvious sources of ignition such as bearings that may overheat if not maintained properly, accidental electrical arcing or an electrostatic discharge. It’s important to have written, assigned procedures for regularly checking and then immediately fixing equipment that may become a problem. You can help control ignition dangers by ensuring that all equipment and machinery is bonded and grounded, and by implementing both an ignition control plan and a hot work permit program. The EMC Hot Work Program template can help you develop a plan including both ignition control and hot work procedures.

3. Train your workforce. Workplace explosions make major news, often injuring and killing many workers and destroying entire buildings in a single incident. To prevent deadly situations, everyone in your workplace must work to prevent dust buildup. Every on-site worker needs to know the explosion hazards of combustible dust and their part in preventing problems.

Recommendations include:

  • Inspect your workplace regularly for hazards, including dust accumulations and ignition sources
  • Maintain cleaning equipment and ensure and that workers are trained on and follow correct cleanup procedures
  • Incorporate damage-control methods into your workplace, including fire suppression and explosion protection systems
  • Develop an emergency action plan and train all employees on the plan in case of emergency
  • Keep emergency exit routes clear at all times

Assistance Available
Contact your EMC loss control representative to help you manage dust, control ignition sources and develop training programs for your employees. There are many other sources of information to help develop safe dust management and cleaning practices, including National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and OSHA, as well as vendors who can provide professional assistance in setting up collection and cleaning systems.

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