Step to it! Making streets safe for pedestrians

By Laura Hobbs

Step to it! Making streets safe for pedestrians

Americans are increasingly including walking as part of their regular exercise program, and pedestrian activity naturally increases during the warmer months. More than 145 million adults in the U.S. walk for exercise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With all those extra feet out and about, it’s important for both walkers and drivers to keep safety in mind. According to statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), walking is riskier in the evening and at night. Seniors and children are also more likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents. To keep everyone safe, the NHTSA offers the following reminders:

For Pedestrians
  • Walk on a sidewalk or path when one is available. If no sidewalk or path is available, walk on the shoulder, facing traffic.
  • Stay alert; don’t be distracted by electronic devices, including smart phones, MP3 players and other devices that take your eyes (and ears) off the road.
  • Be cautious night and day when sharing the road with vehicles. Never assume a driver sees you (he or she could be distracted, under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or just not see you). Make eye contact with drivers as they approach.
  • Be predictable. Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections when possible. This is where drivers expect pedestrians.
  • If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area, wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely and continue to watch for traffic as you cross.
  • Be visible. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flash light at night.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs when walking; they impair your judgment and coordination.
For Drivers
  • Look for pedestrians everywhere. Pedestrians may not be walking where they should be or may be hard to see—especially in poorly lit conditions, including dusk, dawn, night and poor weather.

  • Always stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk or where pedestrian crosswalk signs are posted.
  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. They may be stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the street.
  • Slow down and look for pedestrians. Be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Follow the speed limit; slow down around pedestrians.
  • Stay focused and slow down where children may be present, like in school zones and neighborhoods.

With everyone doing their part, walking can be a safe, healthy and practical activity.

For more information:

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Time to prepare for tornado season

By Laura Hobbs

Time to prepare for tornado season

Spring signals the start of tornado season for most of the United States, with a peak in May and June. Now is a good time to prepare by checking your emergency kit, buying fresh batteries and updating your family’s emergency communication plan.

“Tornado alley” in the southern Plains states has a statistically higher tornado occurrence, but National Climatic Data Center records show tornadoes can happen in any state. While there is nothing you can do to prevent a tornado, there is much you can do to prepare your family for recovery from a tornado.

Think about your home, school, place of worship or other locations where family members are likely to spend time, and discuss a safe location where you might go for shelter in those locations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tornado preparedness website advises that you go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. also urges all families to create a family communication plan and to assemble a disaster preparedness kit.

Family communication plan

Because your family may not be together when disaster strikes, FEMA recommends that you create contact cards for adult family members to keep in your wallet or purse. Put copies in each child’s backpack or book bag, too.

Designate an out-of-town friend or relative to act as a contact point. If your family is separated, have family members check in with your contact person using a cell phone or prepaid calling card. Families who text may find that text messages can get through when cell phone or landline calls cannot.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit

FEMA recommends you assemble a supply kit that includes three days of food and water for each member of your household. You can assemble one yourself or purchase pre-assembled kits in storage buckets from your local shopping club. Store the items in your designated household safe location for immediate access in an emergency.

Remember to include:

  • flashlight and batteries
  • emergency radio
  • first aid kit
  • whistle to signal for help
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Call before you dig – 811 nationwide

By Marty Skidmore

Call before you dig – 811 nationwide

The snow has melted, the temperatures are moderating, and it’s time to get started on that springtime project list: planting a tree, installing a fence or building a new deck. Perhaps you’ve even made arrangements to rent that post-hole digger, and you’re all ready to go, right?

Well, not so quick. Make sure you haven’t forgotten an important factor before you contemplate digging: underground utilities.

You certainly don’t want to find out by accident that utilities are buried in your yard. Before you dig, please call the toll-free 811 line to have underground utilities mapped. The mapping service is free.

Digging without calling can result in service disruption to an entire subdivision, harm you and those around you and potentially result in fines and repair costs. Even if there are no injuries, the resulting utility outage can be an unnecessary nuisance. It’s not the recommended choice for meeting neighbors for most of us!

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a utility industry organization dedicated to preventing damage to underground utilities and ensuring public safety, collects statistics about underground utility damage incidents. The most recent report for 2013 shows about 25 percent of incidents occurred because no one reported the digging job in advance, and underground utilities were never mapped. Not surprisingly, most incidents occur mid-April through mid-October, according to CGA.

But when a call is made requesting location of underground utilities, 99 percent of the resulting jobs are completed without incident, the report shows.

Your homeowner insurance policy will likely provide liability coverage, up to the limit of your policy, for damage to others in the event you have an accident. But it’s always better to prevent an incident.

In most jurisdictions, a professional contractor you hired to complete a project is responsible for making the call to report a planned dig. But homeowners and other do-it-yourselfers also share responsibility for protecting underground utilities.

Every project, no matter how small, warrants a call:

  • Planting trees or hedges
  • Setting fence or mailbox posts
  • Excavating for ponds, pools or concrete constructions
  • Placing decking supports

When you call the centralized 811 number, you are connected to the “one call” service in your state. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and some Canadian provinces operate these services, allowing a customer’s single call to alert all affected utility providers. Additional information is available at, and in some areas you can submit information online rather than through a phone call.

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Tasting rooms and tours: Consider guest safety first

By Kevin Getz

Most breweries, wineries or distilleries offer tours and a tasting room where guests can enjoy a sample of the product or purchase drinks made on-site. These operations present a different set of exposures than a typical beverage manufacturing facility. If you own a beverage business, closely evaluate your operation to ensure guest safety.

The most common source of liability claims for these businesses are slip-and-fall hazards. To complicate this exposure, many establishments also offer tours that lead guests through the manufacturing side of the establishment, the vineyard or storage areas.

Tours are a terrific way to display your establishment, help guests understand how the product is made and further engage them in your craft. Use caution when creating your facility tour to ensure guest safety.

Here are some items to consider when planning your tour route, tasting room or taproom space:

  • Use nonskid flooring wherever possible, and make sure all spills are cleaned up immediately.
  • While it’s best to have a level flooring surface throughout, if there are changes in elevation, make sure all steps are marked appropriately and are well lit.
  • Ensure that handrails on stairways are secured, that stair treads are a solid surface or that carpeting is properly secured and free of tears.
  • Be sure walkways around the exterior of the establishment (including parking areas) and outdoor gathering areas are in good condition and well lit.
  • Use surveillance cameras where possible.
  • Assign guides for all tours, and train them in safety procedures. Limit the number of guests per tour. Keep guests at a safe distance from operational traffic, moving machinery and hot surfaces.
  • Don’t permit guests to carry food or beverages with them during the tour.
  • Post warnings and liability disclaimers at the tour site and on your website to assure visitors understand potential physical and operational hazards.
  • Provide any necessary safety gear, such as safety glasses or hearing protection.
  • Be sure to follow any state or local safety regulations or health restrictions, including occupancy restrictions for fire evacuation.

By ensuring a safe visit, you protect your business while building customer goodwill.

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Phished! What now? Some steps to recovery

By Ronda Bradley

Phished! What now? Some steps to recovery

It could happen to anyone. You’re innocently browsing news headlines, checking the latest sports scores or searching for the perfect pair of shoes when out of nowhere you get a pop-up warning that a virus was detected on your computer and you need to contact Microsoft immediately. Conveniently enough, the pop-up also provides you with the Microsoft support number. It says Microsoft and seems legitimate. What could go wrong?

A friend – we’ll call him Wilson – recently received a warning like this on his personal laptop. Wilson tried closing the pop-up, but it wouldn’t close. He tried rebooting his computer, but the pop-up just came back (warning sign #1), so he figured it must be legitimate. He called the phone number provided in the warning. A nice person identifying himself as “Microsoft Support” answered, gained access to the computer and quickly began to assist in removing the virus from Wilson’s computer.

The representative claiming to be from Microsoft said he needed a credit card number (warning sign #2) to work on eliminating the problem. Reluctantly, Wilson gave the representative the information because he wanted to restore his laptop. The rep gave Wilson the option to pay $249.99 to eliminate the virus and receive three years of protection against getting a virus in the future, which Wilson declined. The representative identified the virus as Zeus Trojan and indicated that this type of software problem wasn’t covered under any warranty.

Wilson received an email from a payment service company asking if he approved $249.99 charges for services rendered and if the services provided were satisfactory before they processed the charge. His immediate response was that he had not authorized any charges and would challenge any charges. Needless to say, the charges went through anyway.

Wilson teamed up with The Geek Squad and is still trying to recover from the incident. To avoid being phished in the first place, Wilson could have called his own tech support service to confirm the message on the pop-up warning. He could have sought Microsoft support himself through independent channels, not through the phone number on the pop-up.

So what do you do after your information is compromised?

Know the background of those interacting with your clients

By Christina Meyer

A common denominator for social service organizations is the desire to improve the lives of their clients. No organization wants to be involved in an incident that causes harm to a client. One of the most important steps an organization can take to protect their clients – and the organization – is to implement high-quality pre-employment and pre-volunteer screening procedures.

If you operate a social service agency, such as community outreach, elder services, disabled services or youth services, multiple layers of screening services are available and can be an invaluable advantage to your clients and organization.

Establish a screening policy

An employee screening policy guides staff members who are tasked with hiring, provides the tools necessary to enlist superior volunteers and employees and decreases the risk of litigation.

Consider including the following in your screening policy:

  • Ensure consistent standards apply to everyone
  • Detail the methods used to screen prospective employees and volunteers
  • Designate who is responsible for employment screening decisions

Keys to an effective policy

Application – Use an application for both employees and volunteers.

  • Consider including the following in your employee application:

    • Work history and explanations for any gaps – make sure the experience matches the specific needs of your organization
    • Credentials – review all listed credentials
    • References – it is crucial to contact references
  • Consider including the following in your volunteer application:
    • Current employment information, if available; retired persons may not have current employment information
    • Volunteer history
    • References

In-person Interviews – The value of meeting a person and looking them in the eyes is often overlooked in this fast-paced world.

  • Ask questions specific to the applicant’s experience in the industry
  • Inquire as to what motivates the applicant
  • Probe into any gaps in employment

Background Checks – Consider whether background checks are appropriate for the position being filled. Be certain that your background check procedures comply with state and federal laws. Consult with your organization’s legal counsel to ensure compliance – additional guidance on background checks is available from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The following is some key information that may be available through background checks and screening procedures:

  • Criminal records
  • Sexual offender records
  • Social Security number verification
  • Education verification
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Drug screening
  • Professional licensing verification

By establishing and following an effective screening policy, your social service agency can protect your clients and your organization’s reputation.

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Conversion privileges: Invaluable life insurance benefits

By Nathan Otto

You made the most important step. You recognized a need in your financial safety net and purchased term life insurance. Now time has passed, and your situation has changed. Perhaps your income increased, you purchased a home or you started a family. Your coverage needs constantly evolve. These changes may provide an excellent opportunity to leverage a powerful benefit of your policy: the conversion provision.

Conversion Option

The conversion provision available in many term life insurance policies allows you to convert your term policy, in whole or in part, to permanent life insurance (such as whole life or universal life). While your term coverage met your needs when it was issued, permanent insurance provides benefits that can last a lifetime. Some of these include:

  • Lifelong coverage that in most cases extends well beyond the original term period
  • Potential access to loans or withdrawals of policy cash values that build over time
  • Premiums that generally remain lower the earlier you convert (due to your age)
  • Living benefits that can be triggered by terminal illness or nursing home confinement, often available on both term and permanent insurance

Conversion options that can be exercised at later ages and with fewer restrictions are ideal. If you choose a new life insurance policy, pay close attention to the policy language that specifies how such a privilege may be used.


Perhaps the greatest point to consider is the potential to convert without proof of medical insurability. For example, if you purchased a term policy with this provision and then later are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you could still be eligible to obtain permanent life insurance coverage. Converting your policy might be your only option, ensuring continued life insurance coverage after your term contract ends.

While term life insurance provides excellent protection for replacement income or outstanding debt, permanent life insurance enhances your estate and covers final expenses, creating a plan to leave proceeds to your heirs, business partners or charities. The conversion provision in your term policy can help you reach those goals.


As your goals for your life insurance plan change, conversion options allow you flexibility to adapt your policy to achieve them. Understanding a policy’s conversion provision is critical when developing your life insurance plan. It is worth the time to contact your independent agent to review your policy and find out if converting your current term policy or purchasing a new policy with a conversion provision is the right option …read more

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4 questions to ask your agent about auto insurance

By Don Rigney

4 questions to ask your agent about auto insurance

Not all automobile insurance policies are the same. When you’re shopping for auto insurance, ask your agent questions about coverage BEFORE you buy. You will have peace of mind that your car and your passengers are protected, reducing the chance of unwanted surprises should you have a claim.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

    1. My state requires me to show that I have a minimum amount of insurance whenever I renew my driver’s license. Am I covered? Your local, independent agent understands the minimum coverage requirements in your state and can assure that you meet those standards. However, you may want to consider that many state minimums are quite low and may not protect you from the financial consequences of a serious accident. If you have an auto loan, your lender may require additional coverage on the car. Ask your agent to advise you about an appropriate amount of insurance for your situation.
    2. I recently bought a brand new car. I have heard that the car depreciates as soon as you drive it home, and that in the event of a total loss, insurance may not pay the entire value. What can I do? Ask your agent about how your policy pays in the event of the total loss of a new vehicle. Some policies include coverage to protect you from the gap between the depreciated value and the cost of a new vehicle and provide replacement cost for qualifying vehicles. If your policy does not include this coverage, ask your agent if you can purchase gap coverage for an additional premium. (Read our related blog: How to keep that new car feeling alive.)
    3. What is uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, and do I need it? Uninsured motorist coverage may pay for damages arising from bodily injury to a covered person when another driver is legally responsible for the auto accident and does not have liability coverage, or their liability limits fall below state minimum requirements. Underinsured motorist coverage may pay for damages when another driver is legally responsible for the accident but has liability limits lower than those on your policy. Ask your agent to advise you, about financial protection for these situations. Medical and repair costs have been increasing in recent years and could quickly exceed your financial resources. (Read our related blog: 7 coverages to look for in an auto policy.)
    4. How can I …read more

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Creating a crisis plan for your health club

By Cincinnati Insurance

Creating a crisis plan for your health club

The March 2 edition of ClubSolutions Magazine, a publication for health club operators, features an article by Brian Rawlings, Target Market Manager for Cincinnati’s Fitness & Recreation program. He advises health clubs to create a crisis response plan and offers practical tips for the process.

Preparing for Emergencies to Minimize Your Risk

A health club’s purpose is to improve its members’ health. Hours are devoted to developing new group exercise routines and client training plans. The time you spend assessing risk and preparing the proper response plans also supports your clients’ health and well-being. Members appreciate a safe, welcoming environment and will recommend your club to their friends.

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