Volume 1 Number 28
July 12, 2004


Bureau Helps Prepare Consumers in Case of Natural Disaster

When it comes to hurricane season, even lifelong Floridians can be blasé. After all, they hear the same warnings every year: Take inventory of your household items. Keep copies of your policy. Buy lots of bottled water and nonperishable foods. And so on and so forth.


That’s just the type of attitude that Laurie Cain, Consumer Outreach Chief, Consumer Services, and her staff try to eliminate each and every hurricane season through community outreach programs, expos and other events.                                 An aerial view of a hurricane.
“Our big concern…is that everyone takes a hurricane warning seriously,” Cain says.

In fact, she says, so many people move to Florida each year--800 to 900 a day, according to CFO Tom Gallagher in a recent news release--that there are now many residents who have never experienced a hurricane. And even many lifelong Floridians have had no direct experience with these natural disasters. Many newer residents have moved here since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which had estimated total losses of almost $30 billion.

Cain says that because Florida “has been lucky” during the last few years, many residents may have been lulled into complacency. But the National Weather Service predicts that 12 to 15 tropical storms will form this year, and that six to eight of these will become hurricanes, with two to four of the hurricanes becoming major storms.

Consumer Outreach, which has 11 Service Offices in every region throughout the state, conducts expos and community outreach programs on a variety of topics related to the Department’s mission, such as insurance and financial information, fire safety and senior exploitation. Leading up to and during hurricane season, which runs from June through November, a number of these events focus specifically on being prepared should a hurricane strike.

This year, the Consumer Services Division is helping to spread the word about the value of “mitigation”-- retrofitting the home with features that reduce property damage from windstorms--to homeowners insurance. Most homeowners insurance products offer a discount for including certain protective features in the construction or improvement of their homes.

For the past several years, DFS has partnered with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), The Home Depot, the American Red Cross and other organizations to provide Floridians with disaster-preparedness information. Hurricane Awareness Expos are planned this year in Port Orange, Fort Myers, Daytona Beach and other cities throughout the state. The Bureau also conducts programs at libraries, schools, malls and other sites.

Joy Merrill, Insurance Specialist III, and Patricia Commander, Regional Director, both of Consumer Outreach (West Palm Beach) at the 2004 South Florida Fair.

During a typical hurricane expo, Consumer Outreach staff hand out home inventory checklists, consumer guides and other materials, and answer consumers’ questions.

“We want people to know we’re a resource for them,” Cain says.

A community outreach program may result from an organization requesting it, or from the Department marketing this free service. These programs are usually more specific, more “one on one” and are tailored to a particular audience.

The main issue, Cain says, is, “Where can we be where people can get to us? We’ll talk to just about anyone who wants to work with us.”

OFR and the divisions of State Fire Marshal and Insurance Fraud often participate in expos and other events with the Bureau, and representatives from private industry also often take part.

In addition to disaster-preparedness information, the Bureau also stresses to consumers the importance of regular financial checkups, and how to avoid financial scam artists, who often prey on people when they are most vulnerable, such as after a natural disaster.

In addition to helping prepare Floridians for natural disasters, DFS is a First Responder—one of the first organizations on the scene in the event of natural disaster. In this capacity, Consumer Outreach personnel, as well as other Consumer Services employees, inform residents of a storm’s status, expedite the filing of insurance claims, and coordinate with law enforcement and other organizations to prevent illegal activity and perform other needed services.

“We have a pretty strong role in a natural disaster—both before and after. We take that role very seriously,” Cain says.

For example, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, many then-DOI employees were dispatched to Dade County to assist victims.

Cain says she would like the entire state—not just coastal areas—to be ready during hurricane season, as all Floridians are affected by hurricanes, even if indirectly.

“Prepare for a safe season,” she says.