Hello 911? What Tech Do I Need For a House Fire?

by John Woodring in


Hello, 911? My house is on fire. I had to make this dreaded phone call right before Memorial Day. Fortunately for my wife's sweet tooth I spotted the blaze in our garage on my way out for ice cream. After getting everyone one out of the house and calling 911, I had the presence of mind or stupidity of grabbing both my MacBook Pro and iPad as we were leaving. I figured I would need the devices to communicate with the insurance company, family and friends, and others as we picked up the pieces. A note on safety: Both devices happened to be close at hand and I did not grab the chargers. Do not stay in a burning building to collect valuables, get out immediately! They can be replaced, you cannot. Hours later, the American Red Cross put us up in a hotel for a few days to give us time to start working out the claim with our insurance company. The first thing I did was to get on the computer and start the claims process. It turned out this was the first of technology needs I would have in the three months my family was out of the house as it was being repaired. Here are the technology items I found useful:
Laptop Computer: This was the key piece of equipment I needed to communicate with my insurance company. Emails to claims adjusters and scans of receipts and other documents had to go through my MacBook Pro. Also, it helped in communicating with concerned family and friends through email and Facebook. The photos I uploaded to my website of the fire damage and repair progress also had to be done on my laptop. The family was staying in hotels so the ability to watch videos on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video saved our sanity when there was nothing on the regular television.
iPad: The iPad came in handy in taking notes about repairs and replacing items. We had the document of items that were to be replaced and the values loaded so we could reference it whenever we were in a store. Sometimes we took pictures of damage, repairs, and items were were considering purchasing but not too often. I did come to like using iPhoto to process photos that were taken with other cameras. A sketch app came in handy when drawing what various rooms looked like and how new furniture could be placed. When it was bedtime, the White Noise app helped us drift off to sleep. Finally, when the MacBook was in use or impractical, we could watch video and communicate via email or Facebook.
iPhone: We had to temporarily suspend our account with our telephone service so the iPhones were our means of telephone communications. The cameras on the phones were also very handy for taking necessary photos as well as using Facebook.
Handheld Scanner: Insurance companies love their documentation so a handheld scanner is a must. We purchased a VuPoint Solutions Magic Wand but I wished I could have shopped around a little more. The Magic Wand was inexpensive but it only scans JPEG files so information from receipts could not be transferred to a spreadsheet app. There are scanners that can transfer this information and it will save you lots of time in the long-run. However, for what it does, the Magic Wand does it very well.
Camera: Again, documentation is key when working with insurance companies so a camera is another must. While I did take majority of photos with my iPhone, several were taken using a Nikon D5100 DSLR. The photo detail is better and the zoom lenses do a better job than the iPhone. Also, become familiar with photo enhancing apps such as iPhoto. We realized a mistake when my son claimed his new car stereo was not on the inventory of lost items. Fortunately, we found a picture that included the stereo and forwarded it, along with an enlargement, to our adjuster.
Other Items: I mentioned a sketching app that we used to help pick out furniture. If you can actually get an app that helps draw rooms to scale it would be helpful. Also, learn how to create a screenshot on the iPhone or iPad by simultaneously pressing the home button at the bottom of the screen and the on/off button at the top. I noticed some crown molding was off so I used a level app to check. Sure enough it was off by about 1.8 degrees. I was wondering how to prove this to the contractor when I saw the bubble could be frozen and I took a screenshot. When I emailed the photo to the contractor, I was imagining all of the curses he would say when he saw the email. Later, when I asked him about this, he told me he actually thought it was cool and downloaded the app for himself. Finally, we used Awesome Note to create a folder so we could note down information on items such as ceiling fans and blinds so the contractor could purchase them. Awesome Note allows users to email out notes directly from the app which was another handy time saver. My Livescribe pen was useful in recording notes taken during various conversations and allowing me to keep a digital record or share the information.
I hope you never have to go through the experience my family went through this past summer. However, it pays to be prepared for things such as fires, tornados, floods, hurricanes, and other means to destroy your home. As I have learned, it pays to make sure technology is part of your preparation plans. At least, you can point to my experience whenever students ask, "When will we ever need to use this stuff?"