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Homeowners Insurance: Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

by Joe Taylor Jr.

Hurricane Katrina, California brush fires, and Alabama ice storms all made headlines for the staggering damage they inflicted on homeowners. For some families that survive natural disasters, weathering the storm doesn't mean the end of hardship. Without the right kind of home insurance, a natural disaster can rob you of everything but the clothes on your back. Reviewing your policy now and understanding the right steps to take when making a claim can make a huge difference in your family's quality of life after a staggering loss.

Using Home Insurance and Simple Tools to Prepare for the Worst
To streamline the underwriting process and to minimize risk, many insurance providers protect homeowners from typical losses. Fire and theft cause most of the claims handled by adjusters on a regular basis. Few standard policies cover natural disasters, such as wildfires, ice storms, hurricanes, and tornados. Policies may also not cover:

  • Severe Winds
  • Floods
  • Sink Holes
  • Storm Surges
  • Earthquakes
Selecting comprehensive home insurance involves researching your region, partnering with your insurance agent, and coordinating coverage with state or federal assistance programs. For instance, in coastal regions and in parts of the country prone to severe flooding, homeowners can only receive flood insurance from the federal government.

Planning is Key
Surviving a natural disaster requires a willingness to imagine the impossible and to communicate a clear plan to your loved ones. First, review multiple emergency escape routes and shelter positions within your home. Learn where to exit or where to hide, depending on the nature of the emergency. Next, agree on a common meeting place in case you must evacuate your home or if you are separated during a sudden emergency.

Make copies of your important documents and store them securely, away from your home. Include an inventory and receipts of your major purchases, such as furniture and electronics. Some homeowners store these items in safe deposit boxes. Others prefer to scan documents and upload them to secure online services. Either way, choose a place that's unlikely to be affected if officials evacuate your entire street or neighborhood. Finally, store some emergency supplies in an attic or basement unlikely to be affected

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim after a Natural Disaster
After ensuring the physical safety of your loved ones, contact your home insurance provider's claims department as soon as possible. Many insurers now send field agents directly to the site of a natural disaster to process numerous claims at once. Missing out on that personal connection may result in weeks or months of delays. Take photographs of video of all damage before cleaning up your home or disposing of waste. Lacking evidence of specific damage could invalidate your claim.

Renewing home insurance after a natural disaster can also become a challenge. Some insurers pull out of states where they have sustained heavy financial losses, leaving former customers searching for new coverage. By seeking multiple quotes or by relying on brokers with multiple connections, you can understand all of your home insurance options.

Sources
Dallas Morning News, "Coverage at What Cost?" by Jennifer LaFleur and Ed Timms
HomeTips, Filing a Natural Diaster Policy Claim
Marketwatch, File Homeowners Claims as Soon as Possible After Disater Hits
Missouri State Government, Preparing for Severe Weather or Catastrophic Events
Mortgage Bankers Association, Natural Diaster Catastrophic Insurance
New Orleans Times-Picayune, "American Bar Association Recommends Flood Insurance Reform," by Rebecca Mowbray

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