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Debris and rubble were all that remained after a severely destructive tornado ripped through Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., on New Year's Eve. Four Fort Sill claims volunteers traveled there to lend a hand and learn procedures for handling claims resulting from a disaster.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Unexpected disasters occur at any minute. Everyone needs to be prepared and ready to handle the worst-case scenario.

Four volunteers from the Fort Sill claims department traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. after a sudden New Year's Eve tornado destroyed 35 homes and left 141 damaged.

"Our mission, when we got there, was to fit in and do whatever was needed," said Capt. Dana Cook, Fort Sill chief of claims. "We departed from Fort Sill on Jan. 6, one week after the tornado touched down, to assist in the claims process."

The volunteers stayed two days and left with a great deal of knowledge on how to handle claims after a disaster.

"This experience was more of a learning point for us in how we would handle a Fort Sill disaster," explained Cook. "By the time we arrived, the Fort Leonard Wood claims office had set up a very methodical, quick processing method to handle the claims. We helped wrap everything up and took a lot of lessons home."

The claims volunteers brought home the lessons they learned and want to make the information public.

"We learned big lessons in terms of preparedness," added Cook. "Step one in being prepared is to have an idea of what they have at home. People should go through and periodically inventory what they own. It is possible to lose absolutely everything. The claims department needs to know what you have so you can be properly compensated for your belongings.

"Step two, that I would recommend, is to make sure they have proper insurance."

"Most people would probably need renter's insurance to help compensate for the loss," explained Cpl. Analiz Bermudez, legal assistance and claims noncommissioned officer.

"Renter's insurance is always a good thing to have," said Cook. "We have a response time of 24 to 72 hours."

"People who live on post will get some coverage from the housing contractor, but if you start looking at your things, it's not going to cover much of your loss," said Vicki Mitchell, claims examiner. "You need to have renter's insurance on top of that and in many cases, the private insurance kicked in before the housing insurance because the process was a lot quicker. One insurance company was there within 24 hours. When you start looking at your things and adding it up, the coverage through the housing contractor isn't going to be enough."

"People travel and accumulate nice, expensive things that you can't buy stateside," said Cook. "They need to be properly insured to be able to replace those things."

The claims volunteers assert that they are more than prepared to handle any disaster that could potentially affect Fort Sill.

"Going over there, we learned a lot," said Bermudez. "It was an eye-opening experience for us."

"Everyone needs to be an informed consumer," explained Capt. Jesse Rongitsch, operational law attorney. "You need to know where your insurance is and what you have. Get down to every little thing, 'I have 50 shirts, a pot set.' You need to know every little thing you have."

Being prepared is key to overcoming a disaster. Having adequate insurance, taking inventory of what you own and having a plan can make the entire process easier and faster for everyone.

Page last updated Thu February 10th, 2011 at 00:00