Harvey recovery seminar shares practical information with the Rice community

By Kendall Schoemann
Originally Posted to Rice News & Media

In the aftermath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, the Rice Crisis Management Team and the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies hosted a Harvey recovery seminar for faculty, staff and students in Duncan Hall’s McMurtry Auditorium Sept. 8.

The seminar targeted topics such as property and flood insurance and working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as a number of issues faced by homeowners whose property was flooded, including working with contractors, the benefits of public adjusters, rebuilding in a flood plain, home elevation recommendations and FEMA mitigation grants.

Faculty and staff members assembled to share their personal and professional expertise and experience to help the Rice community rebuild, obtain assistance and avoid costly scams.

Renee Block, Rice’s director of risk management, and Jim McCann, managing director at Wortham Insurance & Risk Management, began the seminar by explaining how FEMA can help Houstonians.

“We’ve never seen stress on the system like this — both on the insurance and FEMA side,” McCann said. “We’re experiencing losses the country has never experienced before.”

According to McCann, 80,000 Harvey-related FEMA claims were filed by Sept. 6.

“Harvey flooded 25,000 homes and 70 percent of those homes have no insurance,” he said. “This was a 500-year if not a 1,000-year storm. Many people were caught by this.”

McCann reminded the community there are additional organizations to get assistance from besides FEMA. He urged audience members to visit disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance.

Block then offered tips for working with FEMA.

“It’s a three-prong process: Report the claim, contact your flood insurance carrier if you have it and file a claim with FEMA,” she said.

Those affected by Harvey have 60 days from the date of disaster to apply for FEMA assistance.

“To avoid disaster-related scams, ask for photo identification from the FEMA inspector on first and subsequent visits,” Block said. “Remember, a FEMA inspection is free, and the inspector will not ask for Social Security or bank account numbers.”

Rob Raphael, associate professor of bioengineering, and Cesare Wright, outreach and leadership specialist for the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, shared tips for working with contractors and public adjusters as well as home elevation recommendations.

“If you are in the 100-year flood plain and your house is ‘substantially damaged,’ you are required to bring it into compliance by elevating the structure one foot above base flood elevation,” said Raphael.

A house is substantially damaged if the cost to repair the house divided by the value of the house is greater than 50 percent. For example, more than $100,000 of damage in a house valued at $200,000. Houses that are substantially damaged require a permit from the flood plain office.

They said the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is $25 billion in debt, which will only worsen after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. If your house is below base flood elevation, insurance rates are rising. NFIP is raising rates by 25 percent per year.

“Before you jump into repairs, be aware that your property may be considered a severe repetitive loss,” Raphael said. “In which case, you must buy insurance directly from the NFIP.”

Severe repetitive loss refers to a home that has had two floods in 10 years where value exceeds the value of house or four separate flood claims in the life of the property.

“FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grants provide funds to homeowners to raise the structure,” Raphael said. “These grants are competitive and depend on flood history and likelihood of future flooding.”

Wright, whose house has flooded twice, then shared his personal recovery experience.

“My house was just finished a week before this flood from the flood two years ago,” he said. “This is a long process, which is why you should be leery of out-of-state crews. Is a crew from Mississippi going to stick around for two years?”

Wright cautioned against throwing out all of your personal property because you assume it isn’t covered. There may be a way to become eligible for low-interest loans, even if you aren’t compensated for your personal property losses, he said.

“Be aware of unscrupulous contractors,” Wright said. “I’ve had people come by with high-pressure contracts, saying, ‘Sign with us! We’re filling up fast! You need the water out of your house now before the black mold kills you.”

Wright concluded by sharing his experience using a public adjuster, an insurance adjuster who works for the policyholder instead of for the insurance company.

“I was initially awarded $60,000 for my house, and I ended up getting $146,000 due to the public adjuster,” Wright said. “However, don’t sign with them until you have an initial proof of loss because they get a percentage of any new money they make you.”

The recorded presentations are available for Rice faculty, staff and students to view at people.rice.edu/emergency-weather-resources. A Rice NetID and password are needed to access the video.

Feature Image: From left, Cesare Wright, Rob Raphael, Renee Block and Jim McCann shared expert advice for recovering from Tropical Storm Harvey during a seminar for Rice faculty, staff and students. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)