Take quick action to alleviate water damage

Sometimes an ounce of prevention doesn’t feel like it’s worth anything – because accidents just happen. You installed a backup sump pump kit. You even re-graded your yard, trimmed all the trees, and keep your belongings off your basement floor. And you’ve taken the steps to prevent ice dams from causing water damage to your walls.

But water can be an unstoppable force. So you have damage to your home. Now what?

1. Pretend you’re a photographer and take lots of pictures. Chances are, a claims adjuster or restoration specialist won’t need them upon inspection, but it’s good to have evidence of where things started.

2. Find your homeowners insurance policy number. It will be on your policy’s declarations page.

3. Call your insurance agent or company as soon as possible. They’ll want to move quickly to file a claim if you’re insured for the water damage. Someone probably will be over to inspect your property within several days. If you’re a SECURA policyholder, you’ll receive a call within eight business hours of reporting the issue.

4. Start bailing and drying. Clean up as much of the water as possible, and dry things out with dehumidifiers and fans. Unfortunately, mold still can grow, but these steps still help.

* If you have standing water or damage near electrical sources, exercise extreme caution. Disconnect power if necessary.

5. Wait. This is the hardest part because you just want to feel whole again. If a major storm caused the harm to your home, chances are it impacted others in your area. That means contractors get a little backed up, and it could be weeks before they start repairs.

What’s covered?
There are numerous types of water damage, and not all of it’s covered. For example, most standard insurance policies don’t protect against floods.

Because every policy is different, you’ll want to read the language in yours carefully. Or contact your insurance agent or company to ask where you’re protected. 

12 common poisonous plants of the Midwest

It's warm, it's sunny, it's a gardener's paradise.

However, along with delicious seasonal crops and beautiful flowers, we see more bothersome plants. Pesky dandelions may litter your lawn, but when it comes to health and safety, they're the least of your concerns.

Let's talk about poisonous plants so common you might not even realize they're dangerous, especially to children and pets. Learn to identify these plants and educate yourself about what to do if you're exposed to them.

1. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac; and wild parsnip
You may have heard the popular saying, "Leaves of three, let them be." When you come into contact with the oil from any part of these plants, you'll likely develop small bumps, itchy skin, redness, hives, or fluid-filled blisters. That can happen from five hours to 15 days after contact, but most commonly it occurs eight to 48 hours after.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac

2. Elderberry, nightshade, and poison hemlock
These plants can be found in forests, ditches, and along fence lines. If ingested, they can cause upset stomach, weakness, jitters, mental confusion, convulsions, and sudden death.

Pictured here is poison nightshade, whose berries are especially attractive to children.

3. Iris, daffodil, foxglove, azaleas, and Dutchman's breeches/bleeding hearts
Don't be fooled by their beauty. These common flowers have more bite than bark. When eaten, they can be deadly. Other symptoms include vomiting, trouble breathing, convulsions, mental confusion, dizziness, and heart trouble.

Iris, foxglove, and Dutchman's breeches

Treating poison ivy, oak, sumac, and wild parsnip contact
If you've been exposed, wash the affected skin with rubbing alcohol, then with water. Do NOT use soap until you've done this, because it will move the oils around your body. Finally, take a shower with soap and water.

What to do during a poison emergency
1. Remain calm.
2. Call 911 if the person has collapsed or is having trouble breathing.
3. Call 800-222-1222, Poison Help, which connects you to your local poison center.
They'll be able to give you the proper information.

For more help identifying poisonous plants in your area, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Safe Kids, Kalamazoo County
Network Health Wellness

Less is more, and other sunscreen myths

You’ve heard the saying, “less is more.” But when it comes to sunscreen, the opposite is true. Most people put on less than half the recommended amount of sunscreen, leaving them vulnerable to sunburn and increased risk of skin cancer.

If not used properly, sunscreen doesn’t offer effective protection. Here are four common sunscreen myths and the facts behind them.

1. Myth:
One coat of sunscreen is good for the day.
Truth: You need to reapply at least every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Each time you put it on, use at least one ounce (about a shot glass full) to cover your skin. One convenient way to reapply after your first coat of lotion is with a spray-on sunscreen.

2. Myth:
Using SPF 100 gives me three times the protection of
SPF 30.
Truth: Although the protection increases the higher the SPF, the gains are minimal. SPF 30 provides 97 percent protection, SPF 50 reaches 98 percent, and SPF 100 offers 99 percent. No sunscreen provides 100 percent protection. Plus, a higher SPF may tempt you to stay in the sun longer, but you still need to reapply every two hours. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using an SPF 30 or higher.

3. Myth:
All sunscreens do the same thing.
Truth: Sunlight is made up of UVA and UVB rays, which both can cause skin cancer. Choose a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” for protection against both types of ray.

4. Myth:
The clouds will protect me from the sun.
Truth: UV rays can travel through clouds. If you’re going to be outside (any time of the year), you should wear sunscreen on unprotected skin.

Get more information from the American Cancer Society or the AAD, and learn about sunscreen options at www.ewg.org/2013sunscreen.

Protect your employees from unwelcome intruders

It’s unpleasant to imagine an armed intruder making his or her way into your building to cause harm. Though you may think it’s unlikely, it is a possibility – and the best way to protect yourself from a life-threatening scenario is through proper planning and prevention efforts.

Essential preparation is creating an emergency action plan and conducting training exercises, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Read the information below to start working toward a safer workplace.

Create an emergency action plan
Get input from your HR and training departments, building/engineering staff, local law enforcement, and emergency responders to help create your emergency action plan, which can include:

•  An evacuation plan: Similar to a fire escape route, the map should show the quickest and easiest paths
   out of the building. Employees should only evacuate if it’s safe to do so.

•  Safe areas to hide out: Create safe areas around your workplace that are out of view from the intruder.
   Those areas should offer some sort of protection, such as doors that lock.

•  A method to communicate the emergency: Have a system for alerting employees to the danger and a
   way to contact local law enforcement and hospitals.

Conduct training exercises

Run drills occasionally to get your employees (and any guests) used to reacting correctly. Employees should be able to recognize an intruder alert and follow your emergency plan.

Additionally, have a local law enforcement officer on hand during your training drills to evaluate your emergency action plan and offer improvements.

For much more on how to secure your workplace and how to best respond to a threat, visit http://1.usa.gov/13jLLeA.

9 tips for a safe fireworks show

Fireworks are one of the highlights of the summer. But a show can rapidly turn into a disaster with one wayward firework. Here are some of the risks of using fireworks, and how you can avoid them.

Extreme danger for extremities
Hands and fingers are the body parts most injured by fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of the estimated 9,600 injuries caused by fireworks in 2011, approximately 46 percent were to hands and fingers. And more than half of the injuries were burns.

Take the fire out of fireworks
Not only can fireworks injure bystanders, they also can damage surrounding property. Fireworks caused 15,500 fires in 2010 — resulting in $36 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

You could experience significant damage to your home if a spark landed in dry grass or hit your roof. That’s why it’s crucial to light fireworks away from any homes, buildings, or other flammable materials.

More than just a sparkle
Although marketed toward children, sparklers actually lead to more injuries than any other type of firework. When lit, they can reach temperatures up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to melt glass and some metals. If you choose to use sparklers, supervise children to prevent burns.

Fireworks safety tips
  1. Observe local laws and don’t attempt to create your own fireworks.
  2. Store fireworks according to the instructions on the packaging.
  3. Always supervise children.
  4. Keep a bucket of water or a hose nearby.
  5. Maintain a safe distance from all bystanders and any other fireworks when lighting. Don’t lean over a
         firework while lighting it, and move back immediately after.
  6. Don’t hold any lit fireworks unless they are intended to be held.
  7. Never aim fireworks at another person or building.
  8. Soak all fireworks in water before disposing of them.
  9. Soak and throw away any “duds.” Don’t attempt to relight them.