Tornado truths that can help you stay safe

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Tornadoes have caused severe and irreparable damage to tens of thousands of Americans and their property in recent years. On top of the physical and emotional fallout, many have also lost their lives as a direct result of a tornado.

Although you can never control the weather or the outcome of a destructive storm, there are steps you can take to help you and your family remain protected in the event of a tornado. Those steps of action begin with knowing fact from myth.

Here are a few tornado truths that could help keep you and those you love safe:

  • When indoors, shut all windows and doors. Do not leave them open in an attempt to follow the mythical need to “pressurize” your home because the result would more likely be debris flying through the window and causing severe harm, or wind pressure working to lift the roof off the house from the inside.
  • If you are inside your home or other structure, retreat to the lowest level (a basement is ideal) or the room closest to the middle of the home or farthest from windows and doors. Do not seek a “corner” of the structure for your retreat; instead, go to the center-most point, away from windows and anything heavy that could fall on your head.
  • If you’re outdoors, find the lowest spot, such as a ditch or dry river bed, and lie flat on your stomach, covering the back of your head with your hands. Do not follow the myth of seeking shelter underneath a bridge or overpass because it could collapse on top of you or large debris and winds could come rushing underneath and potentially sweep you up into the tornado itself.
  • If you are in a vehicle, abandon the vehicle and try to find shelter in a structure or outdoors in a low place where you should lay stomach-down and cover the back of your head with your hands. Most importantly, do not attempt to drive away from the storm unless it’s very obviously far away and moving in the opposite direction.
  • Do not take shelter near a road or foothill and expect the tornado to miss you. Some myths say that tornadoes will reverse their directions when nearing a road or foothill, but a tornado doesn’t discriminate and will keep on its path.
  • Keep head gear handy. Head protection can be the number-one most important factor in remaining protected from flying debris—indoors or outdoors—so know where bike, football, batting, boxing and other helmets are in the house, and make them easily accessible.

At West Town Insurance Agency, we want to help you know the tornado truths that will help keep you and your family safe. For more tornado safety tips, visit the Storm Prediction Center’s comprehensive guide at http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/safety.html.

 Contact Us!

 At West Town Insurance Agency, we can work with you to make sure you’ve got the coverage you need, while at the same time using all possible credits and discounts to make that coverage affordable. Just give us a call at 252-368-4017 or send us a note at info@westtownins.com. We want to help you meet your goals, and make sure what’s important to you is protected!

Content provided by Safeco Insurance

Protect Yourself Against Holiday/Winter Fires

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The holiday season is brightened with creative decorations using candles and electric lights, and colder weather offers the chance to finally start cozy fires in unused fireplaces. Unfortunately, winter is also a prime time for fire-related injuries, property damage and even deaths. Trusted Choice® agents can help families prepare for fire risks and hazards that may come during the colder months.

Lighting and Flames

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2014 alone, more than 3,000 civilians died from fires and almost 16,000 were injured. Additionally, 97 firefighters died and almost 66,000 were injured in the same year.

To help families and businesses enjoy the holiday season and protect themselves against winter fire risks, West Town Insurance Agency, a Trusted Choice® agency, offers the following tips to ensure a fire-safe home this winter:

  • COOKING FIRES: Cooking is the number one cause of home fires. Never leave anything cooking unattended and keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
  • CANDLES: Avoid using lit candles. If you do use candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Also keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Never leave a home, or even a room, with unattended candles burning.
  • SMOKE ALARMS: Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Test the batteries each month and change them at least once a year.
  • CHIMNEYS: Have the chimney, chimney vent and flue cleaned and inspected annually. Never burn trash or wood that is painted or pressure-treated inside the home. Never put Christmas tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • FUELS: Never use gasoline or other alternative fuels in a kerosene heater.
  • CHRISTMAS TREES: A dry Christmas tree in the house can act as kindling for a fire. A tree should never be placed close to a heat source, including a fireplace, heater, candle or a heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree faster, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Keep fresh trees watered at all times. When a Christmas tree becomes dry, promptly discard it.
  • HOLIDAY LIGHTS: Inspect all decorative lights for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Inspect them again when you take them down. Do not leave lit decorative lights unattended and only use UL approved lighting. Check to see if lights are indoor or outdoor lights before putting them up.
  • OUTLETS: Do not overload outlets and use surge protectors. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord and/or surge protector before plugging the cord into the outlet.
  • THE ELDERLY: Check on older adults and help them inspect their homes and holiday decor. Older people have a higher risk of injury from fires and are also more likely to die in fires or of fire-related injuries than those in younger age groups.

Keeping Warm

There are more ways to keep warm than just using the fireplace. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Never leave fireplaces, woodstoves or space heaters unattended. Always use extreme caution with auxiliary heat sources.
  • Speak with a trusted contractor about doing a winter inspection on your home. You may want to install plastic coating over your windows and doors, a sump pump in your basement, storm windows or consider purchasing special padding or foam to prevent drafts around cracks where air can escape or enter. If a complete storm window upgrade is not in the budget, consider replacing old storm windows on just the northern exposure of your home where it is vulnerable to the cold.
  • Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Ideally, the attic should be five to ten degrees warmer than the outside air during colder months.
  • Have the heating system regularly serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.

West Town Insurance Agency is a local Trusted Choice® agency that represents multiple insurance companies.  We can offer you a variety of personal and business coverage choices and can customize an insurance plan to meet your specialized needs. Our firm adheres to a pledge of performance, committing us to providing excellent customer service. You can visit us online at http://www.westtownins.com or call us at (252) 368-4017.

Vehicle-Animal Collisions

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Steering Clear of Wildlife

 America’s roads are full of cars — but often, they’re also full of wildlife. That’s why an estimated 2 million vehicle-animal collisions happen each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fall and winter constitute the most dangerous periods for these incidents. Visibility is reduced, thanks to the shorter days and inclement weather, it’s migration and mating season for many animals, and also deer hunting season. But, you can still take steps to decrease the chances you’ll hit an animal. Here are five things to do:

  1. Be particularly alert at dawn and dusk. Visibility is low at these times, and animal activity is high.
  2. Keep an eye out for signs. If you’re in an area where wildlife is common, you may see posted warnings.
  3. Watch your speed. Avoiding any kind of collision is easier if you’re travelling at an appropriate rate of speed. And, it’s not just about the speed limit. In certain conditions, driving under the speed limit is more optimal.
  4. See an animal? Look for more. Missing one animal doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods, so to speak. There are probably others around.
  5. Don’t swerve. If possible, don’t make any wild maneuvers. You could end up hitting something worse than an animal — like another car — or going into a ditch or down an embankment. Use your brakes, use your horn, and use your good judgment.

Sometimes, though, collisions just can’t be avoided. If you do hit an animal, here’s what to do next:

  • Call 911 for assistance, especially if there are injuries to you or passengers.
  • Don’t touch the animal. They can be dangerous, even when hurt.
  • Document the accident scene and the damage to your car.
  • Get in touch with your insurance carrier or with us.

Keep in mind that the same attributes that make for safe everyday driving can also help you avoid animal collisions: Remain alert, maintain a safe speed for conditions and avoid distractions. Also, be sure to carry adequate car insurance in case something – animal-related or otherwise – does happen.

Fireworks Safety Tips

For most of us, the Fourth of July is a time to enjoy the company of family and friends, having fun and creating memories – whether at home or away on vacation.

But for some families, the holiday is a nightmare. Homes each year are damaged by wayward fireworks. Thousands of people are injured in accidents.

At West Town Insurance Agency, we want your holiday to be happy, but also safe. So here are some tips to help you protect yourself and your property on the Fourth.

Protecting yourself (and others)

  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
  • To minimize the risk of injury, don’t use consumer fireworks. Attend a public display conducted by professionals in downtown Edenton or elsewhere.
  • If using consumer fireworks, always follow instructions. Do not attempt to re-light “duds” or create homemade fireworks.
  • Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
  • Never let children handle or light fireworks. Even sparklers, which burn at more than 1,000 degrees, can cause third-degree burns. Kids under the age of 15 account for approximately 40% of fireworks injuries, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
  • A responsible adult should always be present when children – even teenagers – are around fireworks. More than half of fireworks injuries happen to those younger than 20 years old.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.  Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.

Fireworks Graphic

Source: Graphic courtesy of United States Consumer Product Safety Commission: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Fireworks/

Protecting your home

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, the best way to protect your home is to not use fireworks at home.
  • Remember, fireworks can cause grass fires and other types of blazes as well. Make sure you light fireworks in a safe area, away from homes and buildings, as well as other combustible material. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency.
  • Look out for tree limbs or bushes that could catch fire. Trimming vegetation to keep it away from your home is a good idea anyway, but it could save you from a catastrophic fire on the Fourth of July.
  • If your gutters have accumulated leaves, pine needles or other flammable material, clean them before using fireworks near your home.
  • Finally, if you won’t be home on the holiday, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house if others in your neighborhood will be using fireworks.

With some common sense and planning, the Fourth of July can be both safe and enjoyable for everyone. Whether you’re staying at home or heading to downtown Edenton, everyone at West Town Insurance Agency hopes you have a wonderful time celebrating our independence!

 

Should You Be Worried About Your Appliance Hoses?

Water Damage to Home

There’s a ticking time bomb in your house right now, waiting to strike when you least expect it. In fact, there might even be more than one. And each can cause thousands and thousands of dollars in damage.

We are talking about faulty appliance hoses, of course.

Consider your humble washing machine: According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), washing-machine failures cost an average of more than $5,000, and faulty hoses are responsible for more than half of those failures.

You can take steps to defuse these ticking time bombs — or at least make them less likely to go off. Here are the common hoses and tubes you should be checking:

Washing Machine

Most washing machines come with rubber hoses that connect to your water supply — hoses that can wear out and eventually burst. The IBHS says to check frequently for blisters, worn tubing, stress cracks and loose connections. Even if there is no obvious wear, replace hoses every five years. Use a reinforced steel-braided hose, as they are less likely to fail.

Dryer

Although you should clean the lint trap in your dryer with every load, danger lurks behind the dryer as well. Flexible plastic or foil ducting can easily trap lint and increase the risk of fire, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency recommends the use of a rigid or semi-rigid metal duct instead. Whichever you use, be sure to disconnect and clean the ducting annually.

Refrigerator

If your refrigerator has an icemaker or water dispenser, it also has a hose connecting it to the water supply. Replace the standard hose with a steel-braided line for added security.

Dishwasher

Dishwasher leaks can easily go undetected, so it’s important to check these connections regularly as well. Make sure that hoses and lines have no kinks, and periodically remove and clean the filter in the dishwasher, which is designed to stop food pieces from making it into the drain hose.

Gas Grills

At least once a year (typically when you fire up the grill for the first time after winter), check the hose connecting the fuel source to the burners. Simply brush it with some soapy water, turn the gas on (do not light the grill) and check the hose for air bubbles. If you see any, replace the hose and fitting.

In addition to checking your hoses regularly and replacing them when needed, there are monitoring systems available now that can automatically shut off your water supply in the event of a failure. Some detect leaks with moisture indicators, while at least one new system actually checks your water meter for unusual activity.

To further protect you, your homeowners insurance may cover certain damage that results from appliance hose failures. But, it all depends on the circumstances of your situation and on your specific policy. You may find that an appliance hose failure is not covered by your insurance, so it’s best to maintain your appliances to avoid damage in the first place.

If you have questions about your homeowners insurance coverage or need help with a claim, we here at West Town Insurance Agency are happy to help.  Give us a call at 252-368-4017 or stop by our office at 216 S. Broad Street, Suite 301, Edenton, NC.

 

Emergency Preparedness Kit

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What You Need in an Emergency Kit

You never know when a natural disaster is going to hit North Carolina — or even just a big storm that knocks out the power for a few days.

Since June 1st marked the beginning of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season, now is a good time to prepare an emergency kit for you and your family. It’s not hard to put one together, yet there are still many households that would be completely unprepared if they had to evacuate their home for a few days. Or, for that matter, remain in their home without access to running water or electricity.

Below is a list of basic items for your emergency kit, as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Of course, you can add or remove items as needed to meet the specific needs of you and your family.

  • One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days.
  • A three-day supply of nonperishable food for people and pets. (Note that the Red Cross recommends keeping a two-week supply of food and water on hand at home.)
  • A battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights and extra batteries.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • Prescription medications and glasses.
  • Dust masks to filter contaminated air, along with plastic sheeting and duct tape to create a makeshift shelter if necessary.
  • A whistle to signal for help.
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
  • A tool to turn off utilities.
  • A can opener.
  • Local maps.

Additional items that are likely to be useful:

  • Important documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and birth certificates, bank account records, etc. Be sure to keep these in a watertight container.
  • Extra cash or traveler’s checks.
  • Warm blankets or sleeping bags for each person in your family.
  • Matches.
  • Paper plates, plastic cups and utensils and paper towels.
  • Paper and pencils.
  • Books and activities to keep kids busy.
  • Emergency reference material, such as a first-aid book.
  • A complete change of clothing for everyone in the family, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. If you live in a cold climate, you might pack additional clothing and bedding.

Keep in mind, when you need your emergency kit, you really need it. It’s a small investment of time and effort that can have a huge benefit in case of a disaster. And you don’t have to spend your whole day putting it together — spread out the work over a few days and you’ll be prepared in no time.

 

10 Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft

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Easy Steps to Help Protect Your Identity

Shopping online.  Visiting the doctor.  Buying gas.  In nearly all of the things we do from day to day, there’s the risk of identity theft.

You could unknowingly give your information to a fraudster thinking you’re shopping at a legitimate site.  Your doctor’s office could experience a data breach.  Or, you could come across a tampered credit card reader at the gas pump.

The risks your identity faces go on and on.  So, what can you do to stop it?  Unfortunately, virtually no one today can completely negate the risk of identity theft.  But, we can all take some important steps to help prevent it.

Here are 10 sensible habits to adopt that will help you protect your identity:

  1. Limit what you carry in your wallet, and know what’s there in case it goes missing. First things first, don’t carry your Social Security card on a regular basis. Instead, keep it in a locked safe at home. Have a form of identification or some other card with your Social Security number (SSN) on it? Carry a photocopy of it instead of the real thing, and cut out or otherwise render your SSN unreadable. As for credit cards, only carry the ones you need. Finally, make photocopies of the front and back of the cards you always keep in your wallet and store them in your home safe. If one (or all of them) goes missing, you won’t have to search high and low for the card issuer’s contact information.
  2. Keep your computers, software and other electronics secure and up to date. This means using strong passwords or enabling passcodes – remember not to write them down. It also means installing firewall, spyware and virus protection. Keep everything up to date (and backed up) for the latest security enhancements. For your portable devices, consider installing software to remotely wipe your data or locate the device if it’s ever lost or stolen.
  3. Don’t over share. Does every entity that asks for your (or your child’s) SSN really need it? Take a moment to think instead of automatically jotting it down. At the very least, maybe only the last four digits will do. In addition, be careful what you share online. Posting your full address, phone number, license plate number or your birth date online, even if it’s in a photo, may help others piece together a full picture of your identity.
  4. Do check your credit reports throughout the year. You’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three bureaus once a year. And, since the information on each report is oftentimes largely the same, you can stagger your requests and receive a different report once every four months. Once you receive it, check your report for accounts and other activity you don’t recognize. Even a credit check from a company you haven’t done business with could be an attempt at identity theft. To order your free credit reports, call 1-877-322-8228 or visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
  5. Keep an eye on your accounts. Your account statements can alert you to identity theft sooner than your credit report, in most cases. Check regularly for unauthorized charges or withdrawals and other illicit activity, such as address changes or additional cards you didn’t request.
  6. Watch your surroundings. Whether you’re using the ATM or a portable device, you want to be sure others nearby aren’t watching as you type in your PIN or password. And, just because you don’t see anyone nearby doesn’t mean they’re not there. If you’re using a shared or public WiFi, everyone else on the same network may see the data, including passwords or account numbers, you submit. Be sure to conduct sensitive transactions on secure networks.
  7. Reduce your mail. Start by opting out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT and following the prompts. This should stay in effect for five years and help curb the risk of someone else obtaining a new credit card in your name. Next, sign up for paperless billing with your financial and service providers and/or schedule automatic payments through your bank. The less mail containing personal and account details that comes to your home, the less likely it is to fall into the wrong hands.
  8. Be skeptical when someone asks for your information. Scam artists don’t always have to steal your information. Sometimes they convince you to give it up willingly by telling you via a phone call, email, snail mail or text that you won a prize or need to verify your account. To claim the prize or account, you’ll, of course, need to supply some sensitive information. Requests like these are almost always inauthentic – what’s known as a “phishing” scam. So, stay on guard and contact the entity through a known, verified method to inquire about the matter, rather than providing personal details on the spot.
  9. Mind your garbage. If you’re throwing out account statements or other documents with personal information, you’re making it easy for dumpster divers to learn a little, perhaps a lot, about you. They may even learn enough to take over one of your accounts. So, shred your sensitive documents and then recycle them – don’t just throw them out in the garbage.
  10. Tidy up at home. Tax returns, credit cards you use infrequently, checkbooks, passports, birth certificates – these and other important documents should all be stored under lock and key. Whether it’s in a home safe or a locking desk or file cabinet is up to you. And, don’t leave the code or key in an easily discoverable place.

Despite your best efforts, you may still discover that your identity has been stolen, If so, take immediate action to:

  • Fill out the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Affidavit.
  • Take your affidavit to the police and file a report. Be sure to get a copy for your records. It will come in handy if you need to close fraudulent accounts, straighten out your credit report and more.
  • Call your financial providers to request new account numbers and, if needed, cards.
  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert, which will encourage creditors to contact you before opening new lines of credit, on your credit report. The bureau you contact will share it with the other two.
    Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    Transunion: 1-800-680-7289

And, if you’re involved in a data breach and offered free credit monitoring, be sure to take advantage of it.

In today’s world of hyper connectivity and speed, it’s easy for your information to end up in the wrong hands. But, by being cautious with how you use and share your information, and checking for misuse, you can help keep your identity secure.

 Add Identity Recovery Coverage to Your Home Policy

Your homeowners policy no doubt already covers stolen personal property.  You can add Identity Recovery Coverage to your policy, and, if your identity is stolen, it will help with certain recovery efforts, too. Talk to your independent insurance agent  at West Town Insurance Agency to see if Identity Recovery Coverage is already included in your policy or about adding this optional coverage to your policy today, for as little as $1 a month.

Topics: Safety Tips