Spring Cleaning Tips

Spring has arrived, which means it's time for spring-cleaning! You may not be looking forward to spending the next few weekends removing the grime that winter left behind, but you know the result is worth it: a cleaner, brighter, fresher home. To help you get started, we put together a list of tips you can use for your annual cleaning project.

Clean light fixtures using a stepladder, sponge, all-purpose cleaner and a cloth. If you don't own a stepladder, use an extended-reach tool. Polish light bulbs with a microfiber cloth dampened with water.

Restore wood furniture with a microfiber cloth and a mixture of ½ teaspoon of olive oil and ½ cup of vinegar or lemon juice in a spray bottle.

Clean synthetic carpeting with a shampooer or extractor. Hire a contractor for delicate carpeting.

Smooth leather can be restored with an upholstery cleaner and conditioner.

Polish stainless steel with a light mist of wax-based aerosol spray and a clean, lint-free cloth to give it a shiny look. Don't use abrasive cleaners that might scratch or ruin the surface of stainless steel.

Wash windows on a cloudy day. Washing windows on a sunny day can dry the cleaning solution too quickly, leaving streaks on the glass. Use rubber-edged squeegees and a screw-on extension to reach high spots.

Refresh curtains by vacuuming, steam-cleaning or dry-cleaning them. You can also clean sheer curtains in the dryer on a low setting with a fabric-softener sheet.

Clean under appliances and furniture. Move heavy furniture (such as sofas and beds) and kitchen appliances just enough to vacuum the areas underneath.

Wash walls, baseboards and woodwork with a sponge and a mixture of warm water and dishwashing liquid. Dry the surfaces after cleaning using a piece of cloth.

Brush dust from your refrigerator's condenser coil (typically found behind the toe grille) to prevent it from overheating. Use a long-handled bottle brush and a vacuum cleaner with an attachment hose.

Check your crawl space for any signs of water damage, mold, pest infestation, damage of windows and vents, worn out insulation, and humidity levels. Call a professional to investigate any signs of water damage, as this could weaken the integrity of your walls and the strength of your foundation. For signs of mold, decide if it's something you can clean yourself, or if not... then a mold specialist should be called.


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Facts About Flash Floods

Flash floods occur as a result of heavy rainfall, rapid snow thaw, city drains overflowing or dam/levee failures. They occur quickly and unexpectedly, within 6 hours of the events that caused them. Here are more facts to give you an idea of how dangerous flash floods can be:

  • Every region in the United States can be affected by flash floods, especially low-lying areas: near river beds and coastlines.
  • Cities are more likely to be affected by flash floods due to the predominant impermeable surfaces, such as asphalt, and the lack of natural drainage systems.
  • The water from flash floods can reach a height of 20 feet, which can severely damage anything in its path.
  • Just 2 feet of floodwater moving at 9 feet per second (standard speed of flash floods) is enough to sweep vehicles away, move 100 pound rocks, uproot trees or level buildings.
  • Just 6 inches of rapidly moving floodwater can sweep someone off their feet.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, an average of 75 people have died from flash floods in the United States per year.
  • Nearly all who perished during flash floods tried to outrun the waters rather than going to a higher area.
  • Two thirds of the deaths claimed by flash floods occur in vehicles, when the drivers try to pass through the floodwater.
  • Flash floods can cause extensive structural damage: 12” of floodwater on a 2,000 square foot building can cause $50,000 worth of damage or more.
  • Flash flood warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when a flash flood is imminent.

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Why Every American Needs an Independent Agent

Independent Agents do all the work– We are advocates who can check on several markets for clients to ensure they have the best premiums and plan provisions based on their information and needs. Clients only have to give us their information once, and we take it from there. For consumers, it's like having a personal shopper for insurance.

Independent Agents deliver outstanding service– when our clients have a coverage question or have a problem with a claim, they get to speak with a live person who they know and trust. We can quickly help our clients with a tricky coverage question or get them the assistance they need.

Clear Benefits of an Independent Agent:

Personal Service
An experienced professional to assess your needs, offer unbiased advice and support you should the unexpected happen.

Peace Of Mind
Your independent agent is a member of your local community and can handle your full range of insurance needs all in one place.

Value
Your independent agent can access insurance coverage from multiple carriers to provide you with the best mix of savings and pricing. When it comes to financial security and insurance protection, your insurance agent is a trusted advisor who offers personalized and expert advice to you and your family, now and in the future.

Relationships Matter
Despite what you might think by seeing all the insurance commercials out there, three out of four Americans insist on using an agent when purchasing insurance.


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It’s Tax Season. It’s Also IRS Phone Scam Season.

It's Tax Season. Prepare Yourself for IRS Phone Scams

Your phone rings. When you check, the caller ID shows it's the IRS calling. (Three letters that can give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.) But you think to yourself: I don't believe I owe any taxes. And I haven't even submitted this year's return. Why are they calling me? But it says it's the IRS, so it must be them…right?

WRONG.

For a number of years scammers have been calling people across the country, spoofing the caller ID, claiming to be IRS officials, and demanding immediate payment of fines or back taxes. Their goal is to trick you into giving them personal information and/or get you to send cash.

So the REAL IRS has assembled a number of tips to help you understand what the criminals are doing and how to avoid becoming a victim of one of their scams:

  • Scammers try to scare you. Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully you into paying a bogus tax bill, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may even threaten to arrest, deport, or revoke your license if they don't get the money. (If they don't get through to you, they may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via phishing email.)
  • Scams use caller ID spoofing. Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use your name, address and other personal information (even your Social Security Number) to make the call sound official.
  • Cons try new tricks all the time. Some schemes provide an actual IRS address where they tell you to mail a receipt for the payment you make. Others use emails that contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for a reply. These scams often use official-looking IRS letterhead in emails or regular mail that they send you. They try these ploys to make the ruse look official.
  • Scams cost victims over $23 million. You probably think “I've heard this before; they won't fool me.” But the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports of about 736,000 scam contacts between October 2013 and November 2015. Nearly 4,550 victims have collectively paid over $23 million as a result of the scam. The crooks get more sophisticated every year. The communications look and sound more real all the time too. And we'll bet that a certain number of those 4,550 victims thought they wouldn't be scammed either.

So to protect yourself, remember the following:

  • The IRS will NOT call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
  • The IRS will NOT demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
  • The IRS will NOT require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • The IRS will NOT ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • The IRS will NOT threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

Phone scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants to the U.S. and those who speak English as a second language. But it has become such a profitable enterprise, the crooks now try to swindle just about anyone. And they've ripped-off people in every state in the nation. Stay alert. Don't let the next victim be you!


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Keep Your Trick or Treaters Safe This Halloween

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It's dark, and the sidewalks are full of young kids walking up to every house on the block and declaring, “trick or treat!” — all while wearing masks. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but we all know that Halloween is great fun for children and adults alike.

Before all that fun, however, there are some basic precautions you should take to ensure the whole family has a safe and sane Halloween. Here are some tips from the experts at the U.S. Product Safety Commission and other agencies:

Get the right fit for costumes.
Masks that are too big can slide around and block a child's vision. A cape that is too long can cause trips and falls. Baggy clothing can easily brush against a candle and catch fire. So make sure those costumes fit. And don't forget accessories. Whether they're play swords or wands, they should be soft and flexible.

Know where you're going before you leave.
If you're going to be out after dark, it makes sense to stick to places you know. Go to familiar neighborhoods and only approach houses that have their outside lights on. Finally, never let kids enter a stranger's home without an adult accompanying them.

Keep things bright.
Because you'll likely be walking around at night, it's crucial that drivers and other people can see your group. Carry glow sticks and strong flashlights, both for your own vision and so you're visible to others. Put reflective tape (usually available at hardware and sporting-goods stores) on costumes, clothing and candy bags. And, if you're taking pets out with you, make sure they can be seen, too. You can add reflective tape or attach a flashing light to collars or leashes.

Check out the candy.
Your kids are going to be eating the stuff, so, when you get home, make sure nobody has tampered with it. You'll want to watch for choking hazards as well if you have young children. Finally, be sure to keep the loot away from your pets. Candy isn't good for them, and some ingredients, such as chocolate, can be toxic.

There are plenty of opportunities for fun on Halloween, but dangerous situations are lurking as well. Remember that a little planning will go a long way toward safety on October 31.

And don't forget moderation. A little candy goes a long way, too!


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Burn, Rake, or Mow? A Seasonal Question?

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The warm days and cool nights of autumn will soon arrive along with those beautiful leaves that we all enjoy so much. As majestic as those trees look while the leaves are still attached, what do we do when leaves begin falling to the ground, covering the landscape?

Many of us have happy childhood memories of burning leaves. But is that really the best alternative?

Many municipalities now either ban or discourage the burning of yard waste. Before you burn, check with local authorities or your state's department of natural resources to see whether a permit is required. If you live in an area prone to forest or wildfires, you may have “red flag” burning restrictions in place.

Leaf burning contributes to air pollution, health risks for some, and fire hazards:

  • Smoke from burning leaves contains toxic or irritating particles and gases that can increase the risk of respiratory infection.
  • Carbon monoxide can result from incomplete burning, especially when leaves are wet. Inhaled carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can reduce the amount of oxygen that red blood cells carry.
  • Local fire departments can attest to house fires that have resulted due to unsafe burning of leaves.

Fortunately, there are some very good alternatives to traditional leaf burning. You may be fortunate to have a municipality that will pick up the raked leaves if left at the curb, either in a pile or in appropriate bags. Check with your city or county government for details.

Another great option is to compost the leaves yourself or to use the leaves as mulch around garden and landscape beds.

Of course, you also have the option of just mulching the leaves with the lawnmower. They make an excellent soil conditioner. Today's mowers do an excellent job of shredding the leaves into very small pieces.

After you're done with your yard work, you can always enjoy a safe fire in your fireplace!

Source: The Cincinnati Insurance Companies blog


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Heating Systems Need Preseason Maintenance & Inspection

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With football season already upon us, can winter heating season be far behind? Whether you are maintaining a home heating system or equipment at your business, preventive maintenance is important, especially for hot water or steam heating boilers.

Heating boilers can cause extensive damage due to explosion and can be more costly to replace than gas or electric furnaces.

Neglected maintenance can be costly for owners who may overlook this important and expensive equipment. A modest investment in a sound maintenance program for gas furnaces, hot water boilers, steam boilers and high-efficiency boilers can return dividends all winter long for owners or operators.

For many business owners or homeowners, this can mean fewer emergency repair bills, more efficient operation (lower fuel costs) and longer equipment life.

YOUR PRESEASON CHECKLIST

For hot water or steam boilers:

  • Clean the internal (water) side of the boiler
  • Inspect and clean burners
  • Ensure that low water fuel cutouts are functioning properly
  • Inspect and test all controls and safety devices
  • Clean or replace all air inlet filters as needed

In addition, make sure the automatic dampers for outside air are working properly so the boiler room does not freeze due to broken windows or damper control issues.

For gas furnaces:

  • Inspect and clean burners
  • Inspect and test all controls and safety devices
  • Check the combustion blower housing for lint or debris and clean as needed
  • Clean or replace all air inlet filters as needed

Ensure the inlet/return air and exhaust flues cannot be blocked by snow or pest infestation, such as a bird's nest.

DURING THE HEATING SEASON

Test the low water cutout control on any steam heating boiler at least once each week, and test other safety devices regularly.

Owners or operators who are unfamiliar with controls and safety devices can hire a reliable service organization to check and service the equipment prior to and during the heating season. Most heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractors will inspect and check over 20 different items on a gas furnace during their inspection.

Remember, the best offense is a good defense when it comes to taking care of your heating equipment! A planned preventive maintenance program may be just the ticket.


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Protect Your College Student’s Possessions

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Do you have a young adult attending college?

College can be a fun time for the student but a stressful one for the parent. Reduce some of the stress by planning ahead to make sure your college student has appropriate insurance protection while away at school.

Insurance companies cover full-time students under age 25 in various ways. If you have any questions at all you'll want to consult with us about your specific policy and situation.

There are three basic ways a student may have coverage:

  1. As a percentage of the personal property limit on the parents' homeowner policy. Many insurance companies consider campus housing a secondary residence for the student and may cover your student's possessions as a percentage of the personal property limit on your homeowner policy – personal property means items you can remove from your home or premises. For example, if you have $75,000 in personal property coverage, your student may have 10 percent of that, or up to $7,500, in coverage for belongings taken to school. Liability coverage – which insures legal liability for bodily injury or property damage to others – may not be included.
  2. As part of the personal property limit included in the parents' homeowner policy. Some insurance companies offer broader coverage through their homeowner policies. These companies allow the parents' personal property limit to include the student's belongings and liability without defining a percentage. For example, if you have $75,000 in personal property coverage on your homeowner policy, this includes items you have in your home as well as those that your student takes to school, and liability coverage is automatically included.
  3. Under a separate renter's insurance policy in the student's name. Some insurance companies contend that being away at school for nine months of the year is long enough to require a separate renter's policy to cover belongings and liability. Liability insurance is usually included in a renter's policy. Keep in mind that a renter's policy in the student's name may be the more expensive option. However, renter's insurance does not cost much to being with. In most situations, each roommate will need a separate insurance policy.

As your child is away at school, remember to ask your independent insurance agent to review your policy if need be so that you and your student can make the transition to college as stress-free as possible.

Coverages described here are in the most general terms and are subject to actual policy conditions and exclusions. For actual coverage wording, conditions and exclusions, refer to the policy or contact your independent agent.

Source: The Cincinnati Insurance Companies blog


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Summer Party Safety

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Safety Makes Your Summer Party Memorable—In the Right Way

Summer is truly party time in America between friends and family. But homeowners should be aware of the risks associated with these get-togethers. Before reviewing safety tips, let's look at three common risks for which a homeowner might need insurance coverage:

Liquor liability: Most homeowners know that they bear some responsibility if a party guest becomes impaired after consuming alcoholic drinks at the homeowner's house, and then drives, causing a car accident. If the party-giver is sued, however, his/her homeowners and automobile insurance policies may not provide liability coverage. (Keep in mind that the legal defense against a claim is another significant expense for anyone who is sued in such a circumstance.)

Changes to homeowners insurance standard contracts over a decade ago may limit the coverage available under a homeowners policy. Homeowners might be well served to check their homeowners and auto insurance policies (contacting their agent, if necessary) to determine what protection they may have.

Personal accidents on the homeowner's property: A homeowners policy and an excess liability policy (dubbed an "umbrella" policy) provide broad protection for accidents on the party host's property. For instance, if a guest tumbles down the steps of an outdoor deck or a child is burned by the outdoor grill, the homeowners policy would pay medical costs for the guest (and, should a lawsuit follow, likely would pay the costs of defending against the lawsuit and any subsequent damages awarded in the case).

No one, of course, wants to see such events occur, but accidents can and do happen. Homeowners coverage is designed to "make whole" a homeowner who is facing a liability claim due to an accident on his or her property.

Property damage liability: When guests drive to your party and park their cars at your home, the homeowner assumes risk. The possibilities of property damage range from a simple dent from a stray baseball, to a young driver releasing the parking brake and rolling the car into a tree. A different example of property damage is the theft of a guest's purse/wallet or valuable articles from the party-giver's property.

Homeowners coverage pays for damage to another person's property, if the homeowner is held liable. A homeowner's negligence and omissions (i.e., failing to take steps that might have prevented an incident) are reasons that he or she can be found liable for damage to another person's property.

To prevent accidents, consider some sensible safety precautions:

Grilling

Some 5,000 people are injured by charcoal, wood-burning and propane grill fires each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Good safety practices include:

  • Before using a propane gas grill, check the connection between the tank and the fuel line. Make sure the Venturi tubes (where the air and gas mix) are not blocked, and check hoses for cracks or damage.
  • Never use a propane barbecue grill on a balcony, terrace or roof. And never grill/barbecue in enclosed areas, as deadly carbon monoxide can be produced.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or a source of water (a garden hose or four-gallon pail of water) near an outdoor grill or barbecue.
  • While barbecuing, don't wear loose clothing. Use long-handled barbecue tools and/or mitts that are flame resistant.
  • Don't squirt flammable liquids onto an open flame.
  • Don't leave a grill unattended.
  • Keep matches and lighters away from children. Supervise children around outdoor grills, which are objects of curiosity.
  • If using a charcoal or wood fire, dispose of hot coals properly by soaking them with water, then stirring to ensure that fire is extinguished. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill since they are flammable.

Drinking
Liquids containing alcohol cause the human body to lose more fluid, say health educators. So summertime drinking in the sun or heat can present hazards to health, including impaired judgment, balance and coordination. Consider these safety tips if serving:

  • Use designated drivers.
  • Make non-alcoholic beverages as available as alcoholic drinks.
  • Stop serving alcohol well before the party ends.
  • If children are attending the event, remember that alcohol may seem more available to them at a party.

Dining Outdoors
Food-borne illnesses favor the hot conditions found at outdoor events where food is not refrigerated or may be undercooked. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers food safety tips:

  • Cook foods thoroughly to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be heated and maintained at 140 °F or warmer. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Maintain cold by placing food dishes in bowls of ice or in a cooler.
  • Live by the "two-hour rule": Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

Everyone likes a great summer party, especially when they're safe. As always, if you have questions or desire more information about homeowners insurance and umbrella coverage simply contact us... you local independent insurance agent.

Source: The Cincinnati Insurance Companies blog


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Refresher on Water Sport and Boating Safety

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Stay safe while enjoying the water this summer.

As we enter the start of summer, people will spend more time on the water skiing, boating and riding personal watercraft.

But with more people on the water comes more potential for injuries. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 80 percent of all recreational boating injuries occur from May to September.

The personal and economic costs of boating injuries are high ̶-in 2013, the Coast Guard counted more than 4,000 accidents involving 560 deaths, 2,620 injuries and nearly $40 million in property damage.

According to the Boats U.S. trade association, 36 percent of boating fatalities involved an accident where someone went overboard, and 18 percent resulted from a collision ̶ usually with a pier or another boat.

What are the five primary contributing factors in recreational boating accidents? Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and defective machinery.

Here are some boating safety tips to prevent you from being injured while on the water this summer:

  • Wear a life jacket – In 2013, the Coast Guard reported 77 percent of boating deaths were caused by drowning, and a shocking 84 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets. Be sure to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Blow-up mattresses, water wings, foam "noodles" or inner tubes are not a substitute for life jackets.
  • Avoid alcohol – Whether boating, water-skiing or riding personal watercraft, alcohol greatly increases the risks of an accident, regardless of whether the operator or passengers are drinking. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are magnified by the summer sun and heat.According to the Coast Guard, where the primary accident cause is known, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in nearly 16 percent of all fatal boating accidents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates alcohol use may be involved in nearly 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation.
  • Use the buddy system if swimming – Make sure someone knows where you are at all times and know the water terrain. Scan swimming areas for drop-offs, and be aware of hidden obstacles in the water.
  • Watch for rip tides – Rip tides can occur along any coastline. Signs of a rip tide include discolored or foamy water that moves in a narrow channel away from the shore. If you find yourself caught in a rip tide, remember to swim parallel to shore until you're outside the current, when you can swim back in
  • Be Aware of Dehydration – Perhaps the most unrecognized danger to water skiers and personal watercraft riders is dehydration. This is especially common when riding on salt water. Water skiing and riding personal watercraft can be a vigorous physical activity, and it is possible to lose a great deal of water without realizing it. When a person becomes dehydrated, reaction time and awareness are impaired.
  • Don't Let Cool Summer Winds Fool You – While Frank Sinatra sang glowingly about the "Summer Wind," there is a hidden danger. Cooling winds on the water can convince water skiers, personal watercraft riders or boaters that they are not receiving much direct sunlight. This is false, and many people sustain skin damage from sunburns.

Follow precautions so you can avoid the emergency room and spend more time outside enjoying the water this summer.

Sources
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Water-Related Injuries" (2014)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the United States Coast Guard 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics Report


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Time to Inspect Your Deck

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There are roughly 40 million wood decks in use across the U.S., most of them between 10 and 15 years old, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA). While decks do not collapse every day, when they do, people can be injured or killed. You can help protect family and visitors to your home or business by keeping deck safety in mind.

Permits and Licenses

  • As with any building, renovation or addition, be sure the deck has the required planning and building department approvals, including a building permit. Check with your local building department if you don't have copies of these documents.
  • Engage only licensed tradespeople, and check their license with your state before signing a contract or paying anyone. Furthermore, ensure that they have general liability insurance and adequate coverage limits. Ask for certificate of insurance to verify that the contractor is insured.
  • Check your deck regularly for wear and tear or more serious deterioration. Have an inspection done by a professional if you are unsure what to look for or if you think there are any problems.

Before you entertain on a deck, think about the reasonable number of people that the structure can support. The deck may not have been designed to accommodate large groups of people and lively activities, such as dancing, which can impose a significant additional load.

Maintenance Checks

All the components that make up our homes and other buildings – including decks – require routine, regular maintenance to keep them in good repair.

In promoting May as Deck Safety Month, NADRA urges consumers to take time to Check Your Deck® for safety. NADRA offers a 10-point Deck Safety Checklist you can download to check your deck for conditions that could cause injuries from falls, fires, collapses, electrical shock and downed limbs from nearby trees. There is also a more technical Deck Evaluation Checklist to assist builders and inspectors.

As summer entertaining season heats up, be sure to Check Your Deck for safety.

Additional Resources

Deck Safety Video - Courtesy of YouTube

It's estimated that about half of the decks in the U.S. are unsafe to some degree and need repair, or need to be replaced altogether. This video shares info about how to build and maintain a safe, strong deck.


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Building A Better Summer Camp Experience

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Careful planning can help keep summer camp fun and safe.

Spring is a busy season for parents reserving spots for their children in summer camps and activities, and many health, tennis, racquet and athletic clubs are starting to ramp up for summer.

If you are a club owner, you are probably finalizing the types of camps you will offer. Once you decide among sports, arts and crafts, adventure or other activities and determine the age groups you will serve, you can move on to other details. Here are some areas of primary concern:

Hiring/Leadership

Putting the right person in position to lead your camp programs is vital. You may not be around every minute of every camp day, and you want someone in charge who shares your vision and understands the mission of your organization.

The right leader can:

  • manage staff expectations
  • keep everyone organized and on task
  • react to a quickly changing environment
  • keep safety a top priority
  • communicate well

Get your leadership team in place early, and then involve them in hiring and training any remaining staff.

Training

Training for camp leaders and staff should cover:

  • emergency medical response – defibrillator (AED), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid
  • your established camp policies and protocols
  • swim safety, including lifeguard training
  • emergency weather training
  • discipline policies
  • abuse awareness and protocols
  • communication plans and other safety protocols for field trips and activities

Partnering with recognized community organizations – such as the Red Cross for lifeguard or CPR training, child advocacy groups, local hospitals or local police, fire and EMS services – can increase the credibility and effectiveness of your training. Make sure your staff members – especially younger members – gain some basic understanding of childhood development and behavior.

Activities

Pools – Define expectations and responsibilities for your camp staff and lifeguards to assure smooth swim times. Be clear if camp staff need to remain in the pool area to provide extra supervision while lifeguards are in charge.

Field Trips – A cornerstone of most summer camp programs, field trips also present some of the biggest safety challenges. Unfamiliar locations with unknown hazards – along with the added element of contact with the public – call for heightened awareness and protocols. Increase staffing or add volunteers to reduce the ratio of children to adults. Take frequent head counts and position staff members where they are most needed. Protocols should prevent a sole staff member or volunteer from being alone with children.

Transportation – Whether you use parent volunteer drivers, own or lease vans or buses or contract a third-party bus company, have measures in place to assure safety.. When using a bus company, your contract should hold the company liable for any injury that occurs while campers are on the bus. For in-house transportation, hire trained drivers and check their driving credentials.

Allergies – As you prepare for summer camp thoroughly review participant applications for allergies, medical conditions or personal issues. Involve staff in action planning and in sit-down meetings with parents and guardians to assure each child has a safe and fun summer.

Equipment – Inspect the play set and other equipment, picnic tables and anything that may have been in storage since last summer to make sure everything is in good working order.

Providing a wonderful camp experience for the children you serve can be a rewarding experience for you and your staff, create memories for the youth and help cement the families as dedicated, satisfied members of your club. Planning for the expected – and the unexpected – can help everyone involved confidently focus on the fun!

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.


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The Insurance Side of House Flipping

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Remember insurance needs when flipping a house.

It's now a popular reality TV show scenario: A young, ambitious couple purchases a foreclosed property and flips it for a huge profit. This quick cash flow seems too good to be true... and certainly can be.

The thrill of flipping a home often overshadows the harsh reality that profitable house-flipping opportunities are few and far between. Potential house flippers should consider some insurance coverage issues before making a commitment:

  • Contemplate the cost of insurance when purchasing a home. If the house does not sell within a few months, insurance is a continuing expense that needs to be included in your budget.
  • Make sure you do your research when selecting an insurance company and policy. Your local independent agent can help you. Some insurance policies provide additional coverages you may need. Consider choosing one that provides limited coverage for water damage and fungi, wet or dry rot or bacteria. These issues often go unnoticed until after a remodeling project begins.
  • Discuss with your agent the need to insure the home for its reconstruction cost. Just because you purchased a home for a certain price does not mean that the home can be replaced for that amount. There can be a huge discrepancy between market and replacement cost values. Your agent can also recommend builders' risk coverage for the remodeling cost of the project.
  • Consider the cost of building materials going into the refurbished home. Your insurance agent can add an installation floater – coverage for movable property – to your policy to insure construction materials in transit and at the jobsite.
  • Allow plenty of time to purchase insurance rather than waiting until the last minute. Contact your agent and consider an insurance company that will provide coverage for a house undergoing renovation. Some companies may consider this a vacant home and deny or limit coverage for vandalism, theft or other perils.
  • Before you allow contractors to start work on your investment, first confirm that they are insured. The safest bet is to request a copy of each contractor's general liability policy declarations page. Make sure that the policy has at least a $1 million per occurrence and general aggregate limit.

By keeping these insurance needs in mind, you will better position yourself to reap in the benefits and rewards of house flipping, protecting your investment and personal assets at the same time.


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Planning a Hotel or Motel Stay? Think About Fire Safety

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Count the doors between your room and the exit.

An estimated 3,900 hotel and motel fires are reported each year in the United States. Use these tips to ensure that you stay safe during your vacation or business overnight.

Plan Ahead

  • Choose a hotel or motel that is protected by both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system. The U.S. Fire Administration provides a master list you can search to find hotels and motels that adhere to life safety requirements.
  • Pack a flashlight and keep it on your nightstand in case you need to escape in the dark.

Familiarize Yourself

  • Read the fire evacuation plan carefully. If one is not posted in your room, request one from the front desk.
  • Locate the two exits nearest your room and fire alarms on your floor.
  • Count the number of doors between your room and the exits to assist you in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Escape Safely

  • If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk.
  • If the fire is not in your room, touch the door with the back of your hand to see if it is safe to leave.
    • If your room door is hot, do not open it. Instead, seal the door with wet towels or sheets. Turn off the fan, heater and air conditioner. Call the fire department to give your location.
    • If the door is cool, open it slowly. Be ready to close it quickly if there are flames on the other side. Take your room key with you in case fire blocks your escape and you need to re-enter your room.
  • Stay low by crawling on the ground, where the smoke is the least dense, to the nearest exit.
  • Always use a stairwell, never an elevator.

Source: U.S. Fire Administration website. Download the complete USFA Hotel Fire Safety handbook.


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Teens, Social Media and a Parent’s Liability

For many the high school experience comes with social pressures and obligations to fit in and belong, and sadly this can lead to exclusion and isolation of some students. At some point everyone probably said something in their teen years in the heat of the moment that they now wish could be taken back, but today's teens face the added burden that if they convey those statements on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, their words could be around for a lot longer than just the heat of the moment.

In addition to hurt feelings, cyber bullying could potentially damage someone's reputation. With college admissions offices and employers beginning to look up applicants on social networking sites, rumors and gossip have the very serious potential to damage someone's ability to get into the college of their choice, or find a job. For parents, this could create a potentially serious exposure to a lawsuit if their children engage in cyber bullying.

Aren't my kids covered under my insurance?

Generally speaking, any coverage a parent has through their homeowners or renters insurance policy also provides coverage to other residents of the household, including teenage children. Standard homeowners and renters policies include liability protection for bodily injury or property damage, which would pay for the costs to cover medical bills or repair/replacement costs if a child injured a friend in a pick-up basketball game or if they were at a friend's house and accidentally spilled soda on a $13,000 oriental rug, subject to the policy's deductible.

But what if a child were to post rumors about other teens online that implied negative information that could damage that person's reputation? Interestingly, a standard homeowners or renters policy would not cover these instances.

What can be done?

In order to cover claims from that kind of situation, homeowners and renters policies must have what is called an endorsement- extra language that is inserted into the policy to expand coverage- in order to have liability protection extended to cover "personal injury".

As insurance professionals we will be able to tell you if your current insurance policy already has this personal injury endorsement by reviewing it, and if it doesn't, we would be able to help you get one. You may be surprised to find that this expanded coverage may not cost you much in additional premium. A personal injury endorsement will pay the costs up to the limits of your policy to defend you, pay a judgment or settle a case when legal action is brought against you or your children for defamation.

Make sure that if you're a parent, you talk to your children about social media, how they use it and what's expected of them regarding personal responsibility. It's critical that they understand how their use of social media not only has the potential to hurt others, but that it could impact your family as well.

Some parents choose to actively monitor their children's use of social media, and there are various software programs available to assist those who want to closely monitor what their children do in social spaces for parents who want access to their children's profiles. No matter what you choose to do, begin with treating others with respect as the best way to avoid this type of risk.

Be Aware of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

  • Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they're going, what they're doing, and who they're doing it with.
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child's online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you'll only use them in case of emergency.
  • Ask to "friend" or "follow" your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyber bullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.


Sources: stopbullying.gov | trustedchoice.com


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Don’t Be Fooled: Auto Insurance State Minimums Probably Aren’t Enough

There are a wide variety of silly and somewhat funny things we can do from time to time, like telling people that dihydrogen monoxide is coming out of the sink (dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water), but one thing you should avoid falling for as a consumer is being told that carrying only the state mandated minimum coverage is adequate auto insurance protection.

In an auto accident, drivers can be legally liable for their passengers' injuries. While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements may not be sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. In some states, this required amount may be as little as $25,000 per person and $50,000 total for all injuries in an accident - which may not be enough when you consider the severity of certain injuries and the number of passengers that could be involved. Remember that this limit also applies for all injuries caused by an accident for which you are liable, including passengers of other cars.

So what are the right limits? Like many answers... It depends. Everyone's situation is different, but as an independent insurance agency we can help you understand what issues you should consider when evaluating what liability limits to purchase.

For Instance:

  1. How much would it take to compensate a victim? If you were to cause a severe, life altering injury to someone, consider how much money it would cost over time to compensate them. It's likely higher than $25,000.
  2. What assets do you have and what is your net worth? Think about your home, your car, savings, investments, etc. Having adequate insurance to protect these assets is something you should consider.

Naturally you might wonder if increasing your liability limits will increase the price of your insurance premiums. While you'll pay more for the additional coverage, it's likely that it won't be very much to raise your liability limits, and in the long run it offers you more financial protection. You may be able to offset some of those expenses by raising your deductible or through other discounts. This is where we can help identify the different options available to you.

There is no definitive rule of thumb for making sure you have "enough" insurance but it's important that you feel comfortable with the amount you have, because nobody likes to be made a fool of when it comes to an insurance claim.



Source: trustedchoice.com


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Was Your Home Loan Sold? Quick, Call Your Insurance Agent!

Do you have a mortgage? Yes? Then at some point in your home-owning life, you have received a letter telling you that your mortgage has been sold to another lender. There's certainly nothing unusual about it when this happens, as home loans are sold every day in the United States. It is a very common practice. Typically, the letter tells you that nothing will change for you and – "you do not need to do anything."

WRONG!!! - You should contact the insurance agent that handles your home insurance.

Here's Why: If your home insurance is part of your escrow then your agent needs to know and needs to change the Mortgagee endorsement on your policy.

Every year your insurance company sends a bill to the company that owns your loan. Your lender sends a check from your escrow account to pay for your Homeowner’s insurance for the next year. If your insurance company does not have the correct lender information the bill will be sent to the wrong company and the bill will not be paid. Believe it or not – that is not the big problem.

Here is the BIG PROBLEM. Your new lender wants to know you have insurance that will pay to replace your home in case of a total loss – they want to know they will get their money! If your new lender does not get a bill or see some form of proof that you have insurance – then the lender will put insurance in place for you. And guess what? The insurance the bank puts in place can cost up to THREE TIMES MORE than what you are paying now and that is just for your house and wouldn't include insurance for all your belongings inside your home.

If this occurs the lender is simply going to pass the high-cost of this other insurance along to the home owner in the form of a much higher mortgage payment on your next statement, which can cause unnecessary panic and confusion.

The lesson – keep your Insurance Agent updated on any change regarding not only your home, but your lender as well. Your agent wants to be up to date and will appreciate the call and it's a simple change that only requires a few moments to complete.


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Home Inspections Before Winter Weather Comes

This time of year can be just great here in Mississippi. However, you won't get much fireside snuggling done if your chimney clogs or your roof springs a leak. And while prepping your home for winter weather isn't much fun, once you do it, your peace of mind can last all season long.

Here's a handy checklist to make sure the weather stays outside where it ought to be.

Furnace Follies
If you have a forced-air furnace, visually inspect the outside of your system, the ducts, and other points attached to the unit. Repairing potential air leaks is easy to do with a little duct tape. It's also a great time to clean or replace the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you can reach them, vacuum off the blower blades while you're in there.

Winter Weather Stripping
A common source of heat loss and drafty spaces is faulty door or window weather-stripping. Check for drafts by holding a lit candle a couple of inches from the seam. If the flame moves (and you're sure it's not the dog breathing over your shoulder) you could have a leak. Typically these are easier to replace entirely than "spot repairing" and kits for doing so may be found at any hardware store.

Chim Chim Cher-ee
Creosote is the black, scaly deposit left behind in wood-burning chimneys. It slows airflow and is an enormous fire hazard. While the chimney is cool, take a flashlight and look for build-up past the damper (at the mouth of the flue near the base of the chimney). If you burn a lot of wood during the season–or very resinous wood like pine–cleaning the chimney is an annual must-do. This is one repair where hiring qualified professionals is best because they have the proper tools and experience to make sure it's done right.

Stormin' the Doors
Operational storm doors and windows prevent additional drafts and save energy costs. Make sure the hinges are lubricated and adjusted so they close properly. If you have interchangeable glass panels, make sure to install them instead of leaving the screens over winter.

Rain Gutter Braining
Clean gutters help prevent many cold weather problems from arising, such as basement flooding, siding damage, and door and window leaks. Clean gutters also help keep your foundation dry and repair-free. Plus, if your gutters are holding too much water they can pull free of eaves and fall off at any time, posing a hazard to your noggin.

Show Your Best Siding
In some cases you'll need to hire a professional to make siding (or paint) repairs, but you can easily inspect for cracks and separations, peeling paint, or other damage that's not difficult to repair yourself. Usually, a little caulk and some paint do the trick. But don't leave it to chance–or leave it too long–because when water gets behind siding it's expensive to repair as well as a health hazard.

Put a Lid On It
If possible, check your roof close up. You can use binoculars to inspect safely from the ground. Look for missing tiles, cracked shingles, and "bald spots". If you have a composition roof past its warranty, make sure to check for brittleness, a sure sign it needs replacing. Also, if you notice lots of asphalt granules in your newly spotless rain gutters, it's a sign your roof is eroding and needs replacing soon. Lastly, make sure to check the flashing around the edges of the roof for damage.

Taking just a few minutes this time of year to inspect your home for these common cold weather entry points and it will prevent more costly repairs, reward you with a lower energy bill, and help you have a relaxing holiday season.


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5 Big Insurance Mistakes

TRYING TO SAVE MONEY? AVOID THE FIVE BIGGEST INSURANCE MISTAKES.

With far too many Americans out of work, and others forced to make ends meet with less money, many people are looking for ways to cut costs. There are smart ways to save on home and auto insurance; however, there are also mistakes that can result in being significantly underinsured.

When money is tight, it is extremely important to be financially protected against a catastrophe with the right amount and type of insurance by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to cut costs and still be protected should disaster strike.

Following are five of the biggest insurance mistakes that consumers should look out for:

Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas.

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to check whether it is in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a flood zone area, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance.

Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket—and those costs may be steep

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

If you don't own your home, neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to a disaster. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer will generally provide surmountable savings.


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Scheduling Under Homeowners

SCHEDULING ITEMS UNDER YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE

Perhaps it's the latest electronic gadget or large screen hi-def television, or new sporting goods gear or maybe a piece of sparkling jewelry. If you happen to receive or purchase a particularly expensive item, you may consider purchasing extra protection, just in case.

Why would I need to schedule valuable items?

The protection provided for personal property under the typical homeowners, condo or renters policy is very broad, and includes coverage for your furniture, clothing, and appliances. It only provides limited coverage for valuable items such as jewelry, silverware, furs, and art. It may not cover some types of loss that may be important to you, such as the stone falling out of your diamond ring, your china being accidentally broken or your rare coins being stolen.

What types of property can be covered?

Here's a quick listing of some of the items typically covered:

cameras (video or still) and related equipment
china and crystal
coins (rare and current)
firearms
furs
golfer's equipment
jewelry
musical instruments
personal computers
stamps (rare and current)
silverware
works of fine art, including paintings, etchings, pictures and other bona fide works of art (such as oriental rugs, statuary, rare books, manuscripts and bric-a-brac) of rarity, historical value or artistic merit.

If you own something of value that is not listed above, it may still be eligible for coverage.

How to Schedule Personal Property

The process for scheduling valuable personal property differs from one insurance company to another. The insurance company keeps copies of appraisals or recent receipts for the items on file. The dollar amount of the value of the items added determines the price of scheduled property insurance.

Scheduling items allows you to purchase better protection for your special property than would be available under the typical homeowners policy. In addition to being able to purchase higher limits of coverage, more perils are covered.


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