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The Summertime Backyard Safety Checklist

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana
After the first hot day of the year, hopefully, many of you were enjoying the warm sun.  Now that the nice weather is here (cross your fingers because New England weather is always unpredictable) it’s a great time to survey your backyard to make sure it’s safe to host pool parties, Wiffle ball games, and the frequent backyard BBQs.

Grilling in the Backyard

I’m sure you’ve been salivating all winter at the thought of hosting your friends, firing up the grill, throwing on some burgers and hotdogs, and watching a few baseball games. Before you do, here’s a few things to remind yourself of before you lite up the grille.

  • If you’re a charcoal grille master, make sure to never store your grill in your garage after grilling because charcoal emits harmful carbon monoxide until it’s completely extinguished.
  • To help extinguish charcoal completely, break up the burning charcoal with a strong stick or grilling tool after you’re done cooking. Then cover the grill with the lid for roughly 30 minutes to deprive the embers of oxygen. If you’re in a rush to put out the fire, spray some water on the embers.
  • Make sure to grill away from any flammable objects especially if it’s a windy day.
  • Make it a habit to check for hose leaks, holes, and any type of blockage.

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

Be smart about pesticides

Everyone wants that green lawn. We want to be known as the home of the street with the best-looking grass. Sometimes that means that we opt for those strong chemicals that deter bugs and help our lawns grow. There are non-chemical options to keeping your lawn healthy, but if you must use pesticides, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep your pets and children away from the lawn when you’re applying these chemicals. Don’t let them touch the grass until the pesticides have completely dried.
  • Even though it may be hot out, while applying pesticides, wear long sleeves, eye protection (if it’s windy out) and always remember to wash your hands afterward and wash the bottoms of your shoes off before walking inside.
  • Make sure you’re abiding by the manufacture’s recommendation for how much to apply.

Swimming in your backyard

It’s frightening to hear, but according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, thousands of pool-related injuries and drowning incidents occur every year. Many of these accidents include children. If you have a pool or know of someone who has a pool, always remember these safety tips:

  • Never allow your children to swim without an adult around. Have a policy of “no parents, no swimming.”
  • The USCPSC recommends at least a four-foot-high fence around your pool.
  • Always have safety equipment and safety items nearby. That means having a floatation device handy, a pool hook close by, and someone who is trained in CPR. If you’re a parent and you own a pool, it would be wise to get CPR trained, just in case.
  • Most importantly, check your pool’s drain and suction covers. If they’re broken or missing, please repair them immediately and don’t allow anyone to swim until they’re fixed because faulty drains can cause accidental drowning.

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

These are just a few tips to keep your backyard safe this summer!

Distracted Driving Stats

In case you haven’t noticed, people are distracted drivers.

Distracted Driving - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted drivers took 3,179 lives in 2014 alone.

More people have cell phones, more people are playing with their entertainment systems, and more people are saying, “I’m a good driver, those accidents will never happen to me.”  This illusion of vulnerability is a problem.

Odds are is that most of you reading this article have engaged in some form of distracted driving.  Distracted driving can be using your phone, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, reading maps, using navigation systems, or adjusting the music. While driving, we have the temptation to distract ourselves by reading that text or eating that burger; however, no matter how hard it may be, we urge you to reflect on your own driving habits and correct some of these distractions.

To highlight the need for safer, more educated drivers, here are a few distracted driving stats.

  • 1 in 3 drivers acknowledge that they text and drive.
  • 1 in 10 cars that drive past you admit to either “frequently” or “always” texting and driving.
  • When you text, your eyes are off the road for 5 seconds. That means that if you’re driving on the highway going 65 MPH, you’re essentially not looking at the road for the length of a football field.
  • When texting and driving, you are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
  • 70% of drivers admit that they’re not good at texting or talking while driving. (Yet, 33% of drivers admit they text and drive.)
  • 94% of teenagers say they understand the effects of texting and driving, but 35% of them admitted that the risk deters them from texting and driving.
  • About 50% of respondents said that their parents were the most influential when it comes to learning what to do and what not to do behind the wheel.

While these numbers are shocking, and it’s the reality we live in, distracted driving can be changed, reduced, and even stopped.  So before you get into your car for tomorrow’s commute, remind yourself of these stats and think twice before opening that text message behind the wheel.

Data from:

  • https://www.nhtsa.gov
  • http://distracteddriveraccidents.com

Avoiding Those Nasty Potholes

Potholes

Why is a “pothole” called a “pothole?”

Well, turns out the term was originally used (as cited in 1826) to describe deep, cylindrical-shaped holes in glaciers and gravel beds. So, as a result, it made sense calling the holes that form in the road, which has a similar shape, a “pothole.”

February, March, and April are the months when potholes wreak havoc on your car. The consistent thawing and freezing – not to mention the water in the mix – is the perfect combination for creating these nasty street surprises.

If you live in an area that is currently thawing from the harsh winter, you’ll need to keep a vigilant eye when driving. So, as you hit the road here are tips to help reduce the impact and minimize the damage on your car.

How to avoid the potholes

Potholes can be avoided. The Michigan Department of Transportation advises you to do these three things to help avoid these little buggers.

  • Drive at a safe speed so you can avoid them – this will give you more time to react.
  • Make sure your car is in good condition – because well-conditioned cars that hit potholes have less impact.
  • Avoid the puddles because those can hide dangerous potholes.
  • Never swerve last second. Please, never swerve last second.

However, if you do hit a pothole, here’s what to do…

“I hit a pothole”

Say you’re driving through town and BOOM you hit a pothole. Your suspension buckles and something under your car starts to rattle. Now you need to head into the mechanic to get your car fixed. “Thanks, pothole,” you say to yourself.

What could you have done next time to lessen the impact?

The Michigan Department of Transportation suggests you don’t hit the brakes as you hit the pothole. This helps your car and wheels absorb the impact better. The more you resist by pressing the breaks, the more your car will resist.

In addition, try hitting the pothole straight on. Hitting it flush will lessen the angle that your wheels hit the pothole and will lessen the impact and damage on your car.

In conclusion, be safe on the roads this time of year, and always remember that being vigilant is the best way to avoid suddenly hitting a pothole and having to take your car to the mechanic.

Is Your Business PCI Compliant?

If you own a business that accepts credit cards, listen up. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to you.

Think about this, every time a customer swipes his/her card, they’re entrusting you with their personal information. They have absolute confidence that their information is safe and free of a hacker getting their hands on it. This is where PCI compliance comes in.

To uphold your end of this security relationship, PCI compliance is a standard that protects your customer’s digital cardholder data. To adhere to this standard, it’s encouraged to host your cardholder data securely with a PCI compliant hosting provider.

So, if your business DOES accept credit cards, there are 12 PCI compliant requirements that you should be aware of. Meeting these will help your business be secure.

Encrypt cardholder data across public networks
If you encrypted your credit card data a hacker without the proper cryptographic keys will not be able to read or use the information. Cryptographic keys change plain text into ciphertext. Ciphertext is unreadable without the proper cipher, the algorithm to read the text.

Install and maintain a firewall
You need two firewalls and one test procedure. You as a company must create your own firewall to protect your customer’s data, and a test procedure to consistently monitor their security. The hosting company where you store the data should have their own firewall, too.

Protect stored data
If you’re not a security company, and you store the credit card data yourself, you’re more vulnerable to a breach. If you don’t store the data yourself, the company you store it will most likely have more security standards.

Change the vendor-supplied password defaults
This goes without saying but change all vendor supplied passwords the moment you can. The fewer people who know your password the better.

Have secure applications
If your system finds new security holes, it should notify you. Having these alerts will help you stay on top of your system’s security.

Update your anti-virus software
This goes without saying, if you don’t have an anti-virus software, you need one. In addition, frequently updating the software will help strengthen your security wall making it harder to penetrate.

Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
If you abide by best practice standards you’re doing two things: 1. Individual IDs for each member with access, and 2. Make them update their password every 30 – days, with specific log-in times.

Protect cardholder data with lower “business need-to-know”
Limiting the number of personnel that has access to cardholder data will lessen the chances of a security breach.

Track and monitor all access to network resources
Implement a logging system that monitors who is looking at your data and when. So, if there is ever a breach, you’ll be able to look back at who was looking at it.

Have information security policy
This policy will document everything that you have in place for security. If anyone ever asks about what you’re doing to secure credit card information, you’ll have this policy to share.

Restrict physical access the servers
If you host your data on a PCI compliant server, make sure they’re protecting your data by limiting the number of people who physically have access to the server.

Frequently test your security
Again, it’s best practice to always monitor your systems. It’s better to test here and there than to miss a hole in your security for someone to breach.

Winter Driving Safety Tips

If you’ve lived in New England, you know how easy it is to become accustomed to winter weather and not think about the risk of winter driving. Therefore, if you’re planning on hitting the roads this winter (most likely all of you will say yes) here are some winter driving tips to keep you safe.

Safe Snow Driving

How to stock your vehicle

Even if you like keeping your car clear of clutter, having these essential items is critical for smart winter driving:

  • A bag of kitty litter or sand just in case your car get’s stuck. If it does, spread the sand or kitty litter under your tire to give it traction.
  • Regardless of the time of year, you should always have jumper cables, a flashlight, and some emergency markers in your trunk.
  • Store a blanket in your backseat. There is nothing better than surprising your loved ones with a blanket when they’re cold.
  • Purchase a pack of water bottles, some granola bars, and any necessary medicine you’ll need as you’re driving on those longer, more remote, trips.
  • Shovel, broom, scraper. Say that again, shovel, broom, scraper.

What to THINK about when driving in winter weather

  • Drive slowly. Let us repeat that. Drive slowly. Don’t be rushed and give yourself enough time to get to your destination 10 minutes early, even if you have to change a flat tire.
  • Remind yourself that it’s MUCH harder to control or stop your vehicle during winter condition. Even if those slick looking car commercials show the newest model ripping through snow piles, it’s not practical, nor realistic.
  • Test and learn about your antilock brake system. This system prevents your wheels from locking up during braking. You know that vibrating feeling in the brake pedal when you break on ice? Well, those are your antilock breaks. If you catch yourself sliding on ice, and you have antilock breaks, apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal. If you don’t have antilock breaks, you may need to pump your breaks if you feel your wheels starting to lock up.

Be friendly to those Snow Plows

  • Give the snow plows plenty of room! Snow plows tend to take wide turns, they stop often, they overlap lanes, and they exit the road frequently so give them their s.
  • The road in front of the snow plow is more dangerous than the road behind the snow plow. So stay behind the plows.

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Every winter, ice dams take their toll on houses all across America. They ruin roofs, walls, and can create a massive mess for homeowners. Understanding the components of ice dams will help you take the right steps for preventing them from happening.

How do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams form when snow or ice melts on your roof, drips to the edge of the roof, then refreezes. This results in having a thick ridge of ice along the edge of your roof near your gutters. Ice dams are also occasionally found near skylights and vents as well.

The issue with ice dams is that when these pretty looking icicles melt, instead of draining into your gutters, like they should, they find alternative routes into the walls of your house. As you can imagine, water dripping down the inside of your walls can quickly lead to expensive unwanted repairs.

How do I know if my House is at Risk?

Now, this isn’t 100% fool proof. We can’t control Mother Nature. However, we can do these few things to better equip your home before something like this starts.

  1. The name of the game for preventing ice dams is proper ventilation. Soffit vents under the eaves of your roof keep air flowing through your attic. Soffit vents should always be clear and unobstructed, especially during winter.
  2. The problem with snow melting from the heat within the house is that the snow melts from below. In order to make sure it doesn’t, let your roof get plenty of sunlight. This helps the snow melt naturally from top to bottom, not bottom to top. To get more sunlight, have a professional remove the limbs and branches that are preventing the sun from hitting your roof.
  3. Make sure you properly seal common places where warm air escapes. This means having the right insulation for attic hatches, vent pipes, and exhaust fans.
  4. Make sure your attic is insulated properly. This will prevent the snow from excessively melting on your roof. A good rule of thumb is to keep your attic cool – about 10 degrees colder than the outside air.

How can I prevent ice dams?

Even if you have proper ventilation there are a few products that you can use to help prevent ice dams.

  1. As the snow falls, remove the snow from 3 feet back from the edge of the roof. We don’t recommend doing this while standing on the roof because it’s too dangerous getting close to the edge. Do your best to remove your roof’s snow from the ground using an elongated tool. Make sure to use specific snow removal tools because you don’t want to ruin your roof’s shingles.
  2. You can install heated cables into the eaves if your roof. However, have a professional do this because you don’t want to intensify the rate at which the ice melts.
  3. A good option is installing snow and ice slides during the off-season. These slides are placed on top of your shingles and prevent ice from coming in contact with your roof, gutters, and eaves.

As you can see, ice dams are not fun. Taking the right precautions will possibly help save your house from further damage. Finally, if you do see ice dams forming, please contact your local professional to have them remove the snow and ice for you.

2017 Resolutions: Safer Credit Card Practices

Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana Insurance - Safe Credit Card Practices

Cue the whistles and bells. It’s the New Year! Have you made your resolutions yet? If so (or not) It’s important to know that worldwide fraud losses on credit, debit and prepaid cards in 2014 topped $16 billion, according to the Nilson Report, a trade publication for the global credit-card and mobile-payment industry. Thus, we urge you to put safer credit card use on your list.

Here are a few tips:

  • Try to practice the one card philosophy. This means using one card that isn’t shared between family members.
  • Use your judgment and refrain giving your card to anyone who you feel isn’t trustworthy. Even the slightest amount of doubt is worthy of questioning who you’re talking to. If you’re providing your card information online, make sure the website is secure by having the green lock in the URL.
  • A lot of people simply toss their receipts and statements. Please do NOT do this in 2017, and every year proceeding. Instead of tossing, shred them – even if they don’t list your full account number.
  • Check your statement every month. Instead of looking at the sum and saying, “That looks accurate,” do a full scan on your statement and be aware of anything that looks off. Also, draw a line through any blank spaces in your receipts above the total before you sign, and always review the charges.
  • Finally, always remember if something seems funny, or weird just walk away from the situation. It’s your year this year. Make it safe and make it great.

As always, we’re here to answer any insurance questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us.

How to Stay Safe on New Year’s Eve

2017 is right around the corner and whether 2016 was the best or worst year, everyone always loves sending it off with a bang on new years eve. To make sure your New Year’s Eve is fun and safe, here are a few safety tips to ensure you start 2017 off right.

Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana New Year's Eve Safety Tips

Plan your Transportation

Don’t drink and drive. In fact, let’s rephrase that – NEVER drink and drive. Unless you’re hosting a party at your house, you’ll most likely be spending New Year’s Eve with friends and family that is a drive away, either at their house or at a bar. Plan to have a designated driver, call an Uber/cab, or crash on your friend’s couch. The surge pricing of an Uber or the restless night of sleep on a couch is far better than a DUI, or worse an accident.

There is no excuse for drinking and driving, so make sure your transportation is scheduled and taken care of before you clank your glass in celebration.

Safety in Numbers

It’s always better traveling with the ones you love, so make sure you’re never traveling alone on New Year’s Eve. A good portion of the population will be drinking that night, which by default will make traveling a little more dangerous. So always make sure you know where you’re going, and let people know so they can expect you. And above anything else, if you ever feel that you’re in an area (street or bar) that isn’t safe, simply leave with your friends.

Eat Your Dinner

Make sure that before you head out, you’re leaving with a full stomach. It’s the end of the year, so why not celebrate with your friends and family by eating a nice meal. Eating before drinking is always a good idea. It will help soak up the alcohol and keep you from snacking on the apps and candy at your friend’s party.

Communication is Key

Communication is everything and everything is communication. Make sure everyone in your party knows what you’re doing at all times. If you need to leave, let them know. If you’re heading to another party, let those people know that you’re on your way. Keeping them in the loop is just the kind thing to do on New Year’s Eve.

Have Fun

Finally, remember to have fun. Whether you’re standing in Times Square watching the ball drop, at a bar, with friends and family, or hanging in, say thank you for all the wonderful things that happened in 2016, and get ready to make 2017 a year full of love and happy memories.

12 Must-Have Items for Your Winter Storm Emergency Kit

While the cold weather has suggested that winter has been here for a while, the season officially began Wednesday.

Ready or not, the first day of winter is here. While many people are hustling and bustling to get those last minute gifts, here is a friendly safety reminder of the practical items you should have in your winter storm emergency kit.

What to Include in Your Winter Storm Emergency Kit - Chase Clarke Stewart & Fontana

Winter Storm Emergency Kit

  • First aid kit, including over-the-counter painkillers, rubbing alcohol, eye wash kit, and vomit-inducing medicine
  • Rock salt or ice melt, sand, and snow shovels
  • Water and nonperishable food (for three days)
  • Emergency lighting and flashlights with extra batteries
  • Whistles to signal and direct attention during and after the storm
  • Battery or crank-powered radio
  • Walkie-talkies and/or cellular phones (with spare chargers and  portable batteries)
  • Batteries
  • Blankets and extra clothing
  • Hand and power tools
  • Portable pumps and hoses
  • Plastic covers and tarpaulins

With these items stored away, you should have an extensive and well-put-together emergency kit to combat any winter storm that decides to swing by.

On behalf of everyone here at Chase Clarke Stewart & Fontana, we would like to wish you a festive holiday season and a happy, healthy new year!

“Does My Homeowners Insurance Cover That?”

If you have homeowners insurance, you know that you’re covered in the event of fire damage or if you encounter a few sticky finger thieves. Now that the holidays are right around the corner and more people will be visiting your home, it’s time to cover three potential scenarios that may happen to you this holiday season and the likely coverage that each one has:

The Thirsty College Student

Every happy holiday party has three essentials: festive lights, sweets, and a large punchbowl of spiked egg nog. Your brother’s son, a recent college freshman on winter break, dunks his moose shaped mug into the punchbowl – once…twice…three times more. As the party ends, he gets into his car, backs down your driveway and injures one of the other guests. The guest turns around and sues you.In this situation, be very careful about serving alcohol at your house.  Some carriers are excluding coverage for Host Liquor Liability.  This means that you as the homeowner, will have to defend yourself in court.  So take the time to call your agent and confirm the language within your policy before throwing that big Holiday Celebration!!

The Brightest House on the Block

You just finished watching Christmas Vacation and you turn to your wife and say, “honey, I’m going to make our house the brightest house on the block!” She rolls her eyes and you start planning the masterpiece. Two weekends pass, and you’re on the last few strands. As you reach to staple the final light you slip off the ladder and fracture your arm. Your homeowner’s policy will not cover injuries to you, only injuries to others. This accent will fall under your health insurance coverage.

Black Friday Madness

You’ve never missed a deal on black Friday and this year wasn’t going to be your first. Your daughter asked for the new what-cha-ma-call-it and she HAS to have it. The morning of Black Friday, you turn the corner of aisle 12 and see two what-cha-ma-call-its remaining on the shelf. You don’t remember throwing an elbow and breaking the person’s wrist as you clawed to grabbed for the remaining two, but witnesses claimed otherwise. Now you’re being sued. This may be considered as an intentional act and may not be covered.

As the holiday season continues to strengthen, remember to review your policy. Give us a call and we’ll gladly let you know the nuances of your coverage.