Members of the Department of Financial Services’ two law enforcement agencies have been dispatched to assist in search and rescue efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Dennis and will be in the northwest Florida area today assessing damage and directing the department’s operations.
“Once again, Governor Bush deserves enormous credit for mobilizing the state’s resources ahead of this disaster,” CFO Tom Gallagher said. “Those of us in public office can now pool the full resources of the state to speed recovery from these storms and help our friends and neighbors get their lives back to normal.”
The department’s Division of Consumer Services has mobile response units moving into the area. The first unit will begin operations tomorrow at the Gateway Plaza, 6588 Caroline St., in Milton, Fla. Its hours will be from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. A second location will be announced as soon as it can be confirmed.
DFS law enforcement personnel will assist the Office of Financial Regulation with the transport and set up of ATMs in the storm-damaged areas.
The department’s two law enforcement agencies are the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, a unit of the Division of State Fire Marshal. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts from the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency.
Gallagher, in his role as State Fire Marshal, cautioned Floridians without power to be extremely careful when using candles or portable generators. “The time following a storm can be just as dangerous as the storm itself. If you use candles, place them in stable, fire-safe holders, never leave them unattended, and extinguish them before going to sleep. Never operate a generator indoors. Report downed power wires immediately, avoid flooded areas where standing water could be charged by an unseen power line, and keep children indoors until debris is cleared away.”
Gallagher provided the following tips and warnings to those with property damage:
• Beware of signing contracts with public adjusters. Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies or independent adjusting firms. Public adjusters contract with the policyholders to settle claims and are paid a percentage of any claim settlement.
• If available, use a credit card to finance emergency repairs and document all transactions. Your policy allows you to make emergency repairs to prevent further damage to your home or its contents. Materials such as plywood, tarp and duct tape used to keep rain from entering your home are reimbursable as well as labor costs to complete repairs.
• Keep all receipts and take photographs of the damage, before and after repair, to submit with your claim.
• Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed service and repair people. Beware of anyone offering to help after a storm who wants cash only. Call the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395, or go to www.state.fl.us/dbpr to make sure contractors are licensed or to file a complaint.
• Beware of fraud. If you suspect insurance fraud, call the DFS Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-800-378-0445.
• Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company. Your company will issue a special reference number for your claim — make sure you write it down. You will need to keep this number handy in all your dealings with the company. Your agent or company should arrange for a licensed insurance adjuster to visit your property and assess the damage.
• The additional living expense feature of homeowners policies pays some expenses for covered losses that leave homes so damaged that residents can’t live there during repairs. Keep all receipts during this period.
Floridians needing assistance with hurricane recovery can get help by calling 1-800-22-STORM or by going to www.fldfs.com. Gallagher said mediation centers set up in the wake of last year’s hurricanes are still open and can help Floridians having trouble settling claims with their insurance companies.
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