Don’t be a victim twice! ‘Red Guide to Recovery’ helps navigate post disaster events

By Ashley Mackin

After 32 years as a fire restoration contractor, lifelong La Jollan Sean Scott said he’s seen a lot of tragedy — primarily, the challenges that come after a disaster strikes and people embark on the road to recovery.

To aid and simplify that confusing and complicated process, Scott wrote a how-to book that was published with the financial help of the American Red Cross and San Diego Fire Chiefs Association.

His “The Red Guide to Recovery,” is a step-by-step outline of what to do after any disaster — beginning with those heart- wrenching first 24 hours when emotions run high and thinking is blurred.

“People start off as survivors, and then weeks or months later, they become victims as a result of not knowing how to navigate through the insurance claim process. Many are taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors and there are just so many pitfalls,” he said.

“The Red Guide” offers tips on how to find trauma counseling, suggests things to consider before signing contracts and documents, and provides insight on obtaining immediate housing, federal assistance available, dealing with insurance forms and document replacement, and finding a competent, honest contractor. It is also available as an ebook and an app for smartphones.

“Whenever I was doing a job one-on-one with somebody, I was able to help them navigate through (the process), but when you have a disaster or catastrophe where thousands of homes are impacted, there’s no way any one person could share critical information with people,” he said, using the 2007 San Diego County wildfires as an example.

He said there are shelters for those displaced by a disaster, and those have tables and tables of paperwork that people have difficulty managing.

“It was all very confusing and people were left shaking their heads,” he recalled. “The information either wasn’t pertinent to them or just didn’t make sense or they were overwhelmed.”

Scott said it might come as a surprise that the biggest concern after a disaster is scam prevention.

“Let’s say today, there’s a fire in La Jolla. The fire department is going to be called by the homeowner through 911. As soon as that 911 dispatcher calls the fire station and says there is a fire at 123 Prospect St., that radio message is going over public airwaves where people with scanners are listening and they are going to show up at the scene before the fire is even out,” he said.

“Those people are typically the ones behind the scam. Some are good guys, some are bad guys, but a homeowner has no way of knowing which is which.”

“The Red Guide” reveals five con-artist scams, common home repair and contractor scams, and lists who to call to verify a contractor’s license and where to report scams.

Scott said the key to not getting scammed is not to make quick decisions.

Another challenge for disaster survivors is maneuvering the insurance claim process. “Imagine if your house burned to the ground and all your personal belongings inside were lost,” he said. “Your adjustor is going to come to you and say ‘we need an inventory of everything you had in your home; every CD, every utensil in your kitchen, food, clothes, shoes, toys, etc.” With most home insurance policies, a small amount of money is given immediately, and the rest comes after an inventory is taken and the insurance companies know how much to compensate.

“On one hand, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to commit insurance fraud by stating things I don’t have,’ and then on this side, you see your insurance policy has a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of coverage to replace those things. So how do you maximize the benefits of your insurance if you can’t remember what you had?”

For this reason, Scott also created the Personal Property Memory Jogger and Home Inventory Tool, available free for download at

It includes more than 6,000 common household items broken down by room (think holiday decorations and spices). “After downloading the spreadsheet, cross off what you don’t have and write in what you do have and take inventory before a disaster happens,” he said.

That “disaster” can be anything from a flood to a fire to a theft.

“The bottom line is that every household in America should have this tool because it’s not a matter of if people are going to need this, it’s when,” he said.

— The book is available on


for $19.95. Proceeds fund the donation and distribution of copies in cases of emergency. Scott said he is hopeful it may soon be available at Warwick’s.