State Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Encourages Preparedness in Advance of Major Snow Storm
BOSTON - With the some parts of the state expecting nearly two feet of snow beginning Friday, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation encourages consumers to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their property from storm damage.
"Although snow storms are not new for New Englanders, this storm could be one of historic proportions. And, it is always better to be over prepared for weather events in order to avoid fire drills and major headaches down the road,” said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony. “We encourage consumers to take our tips to heart in order to be safe, and to save time and money down the road.”
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation oversees the Division of Banks, Division of Insurance, Division of Professional Licensure, Division of Standards, and the Department of Telecommunications and Cable.
In preparation for the storm, on Thursday, the Division of Standards put its weights and measures compliance officers on alert to look for any possible motor fuel price irregularities, including price gouging. Any instances of these types of irregularities or of suspected price gouging should be reported immediately to the Division of Standards at 617-727-3480.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offer the following advice for dealing with the storm and its aftermath:
Prepare the outside. Trim dead wood and weak or overhanging branches from all trees. Check and secure anchoring for covered porches. Reinforce garage doors and install head and foot bolts to external doors so that they are able to withstand high winds.
Take a home inventory. An inventory should include all information about your belongings and be accompanied by photos of the items. If you do not have time to create a comprehensive list of the items in your home, then quickly videotape and/or photograph every room. The more detail you include, the easier it will be for your insurance company to evaluate any loss when going through the claims process. In case of power outages, inventory any perishable food in the event it is covered by your insurance policy.
Know your insurance policy. Read through your policy and keep the documents available. Make sure you know what kinds of damage can be covered. Insurance will not cover tree removal unless the fallen tree has done property damage. Call your company or agent with any questions.
Check your utilities. Make sure to have a working water heater and adequate home heating, and contact your landlord or property manager if you find any problems. Charge any electronic devices fully and check on the battery backup system that a cable voice or "VoIP" phone uses, so that connectivity (especially with a wireless phone) can be maintained in the case of power outages. After charging, unplug all electronics so that when the power comes back on there is not a power surge.
Stock up on essentials. Keep an excess of sand and/or rock salt to melt snow or ice and make arrangements for snow removal. Have some emergency cash on hand in case you are unable to visit a bank branch or ATM. Make sure to have enough food and blankets for the weekend.
Avoid fires. Make sure space heaters have three to four feet of space around them to avoid igniting flammable objects, like bed sheets or curtains. Use space heaters only as supplemental heat, not as a substitute for home heating. Do not leave heaters on while sleeping or out of the house. Keep fireplaces adequately covered and protected from young children and pets.
Beware icy paths. If you must go out, be mindful of walkways covered with snow and ice. Make sure to shovel or to arrange for shoveling, salting or sanding to reduce the chances of slips and falls.
Report outages to your carrier. If your phone, cable, or other utilities stop working, contact the company directly. Check the company website to see if outages have been reported in your area and to find out the status of a previously reported outage.
Be vigilant. Keep children and pets away from downed or low-hanging power lines. Do not attempt repairs until it is safe to do so.
Document everything. Take pictures of any storm related damage to your property or belongings. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to file a claim. Keep a record of all receipts, and document any time you spent securing your property, and your conversations with the insurance company. Do not make permanent repairs until a claims adjuster has inspected the property. However, do take action to prevent further damage, like covering holes in the roof or patching windows. Consumers with insurance concerns should contact the Division of Insurance at (877) 563-4467 or (617) 521-7794.
Report problems with outages. The Department of Telecommunications and Cable’s customer service representatives can assist consumers with continued outages or loss of service, or other issues. Contact the Consumer Division’s toll-free line at (800) 392-6066 or locally at (617) 305-3531.
Avoid scams. Avoid being pressured into hiring cleanup crews that appear in your neighborhood. Always get a proposal in writing, do not pay more than one-third of the cost up-front, and do not pay in cash. Make sure to use a registered home improvement contractor or licensed professional to do work. Contractor registrations and histories can be looked up online at www.mass.gov/consumer. Electricians, plumbers and other professional licenses can be checked at www.mass.gov/dpl. Tree removers are not required to be licensed, so check with the Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbb.org/ to see if the company or individual has any complaints.
Consumers are advised to check the state website www.mass.gov/ for additional information regarding alerts, power outages, and road conditions.