Editor’s Note: This column was originally published by The Huffington Post.
“Where do broken hearts go?”
I was lucky. I had tornados go directly over my house on two different days last week, and not touch down.
Many of my neighbors in Kentucky and surrounding states weren’t as lucky.
They lost their homes, businesses and cars. Several lost their lives.
Now that the tornado has hit, what do you do?
My first suggestion is to let everyone in your social media world know your situation.
Relief groups are organizing on Facebook and Twitter and that allows people who need help to be matched with people willing to offer it.
I saw a Facebook request for a man needing XXL size shirts — the size I wear. I’m working to get him a couple of mine. It’s hard to find a big and tall man’s store in a relief and recovery zone.
Victims often need specific items. Social media helps cut through the bureaucracy and boundaries for people who need help.
Angie Fenton, The Voice-Tribune’s Managing Editor, has been working non-stop for the town of Henryville, Ind., a city north of Louisville that was basically wiped off the map by tornados.
She has been a one-person information service of where people can find help and encouraging people who want to help to get to the right places.
There are many like Angie all over the social media.
The second thing you need to do is contact your insurance agent.
Although agents are rapidly becoming replaced by 800 numbers and websites, they really come in handy when disaster strikes.
I’m a licensed insurance adjuster. I know from experience that a good agent can break through insurance company bureaucracy and get money to their clients more quickly.
It beats calling an 800 number.
You need to find out quickly if you are covered and for what you are covered. Few people buy renters insurance, so apartment dwellers and people who rent houses often lose everything.
The Insurance Information Institute noted standard homeowners and business insurance policies cover wind damage. Cars are covered if the auto policy contains comprehensive coverage.
If you only have collision coverage auto insurance, you may not be covered.
An agent can help you get answers.
If you have access to a lawyer, talk to one immediately. Having a good lawyer on your side can help guide you through the insurance claims process and on other issues.
During times of disaster, bar associations and trial lawyers volunteer their services for free.
An example in my home state is an effort sponsored by the Kentucky Justice Association (www.kentuckyjusticeassociation.org).
It recruited members for a “volunteer disaster legal services program.”
According to a statement from the association, the volunteer attorneys help with things like “assistance with insurance claims, counseling on landlord-tenant problems, assistance with home repair contracts, assisting in consumer protection matters, counseling on mortgage foreclosure problems, replacement of important legal documents and referring individuals to local or state agencies that might be of further assistance.”
As Senator Trent Lott and others who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina found out, a lawyer can come in handy during a crisis.
Several insurance carriers denied coverage to people who lost homes in Katrina, claiming their damages resulted from flooding, which is rarely covered by standard insurance policies, rather than from the wind damage that destroyed their homes.
If an insurance company starts playing that kind of game, it’s definitely time to get a lawyer.
Disasters bring out the best in Americans. They dig in their pockets to help.
It also brings out the worst in people wanting to make a quick buck.
Rip-offs occur for necessities like food and water.
Gasoline and fuel suppliers have been known to price gouge and many scams take place in the restoration and clean-up process.
If you run across a scam or rip off, you need to call them out.
Social media is an easy and fast way to do it. Contacting traditional media sources is even better. Many people, like me, were attracted to journalism as a way to go after bad people. Leading the evening news or hitting the front page of a newspaper will make sure a bad actor goes out of business.
Also, most state attorneys general and law enforcement officials have consumer protection services, but those services can be overwhelmed during times of crisis.
Don McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com.