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Hurricane season starts today. Are you prepared?

Jun 01, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

andrew_mediumWeather forecasters are expecting fewer storms than last year, but it only takes one hurricane to wreck havoc on your property and finances.

Expectations are for 12 storms for the 2009 Atlantic season, including six hurricanes and two storms that could reach major status with Category 3 winds or higher. Some forecasters are also predicating more activity on the East Coast this year than along the Gulf Coast.

“Forecasts of an average season should not lead to complacency,” warned Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. “An average hurricane season was also forecast in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed much of South Florida, causing more than $23 billion (in 2008 dollars) in property losses. The time to prepare is now.”

To prepare for a hurricane and other disasters, the insurance institute recommends the following:

Check your insurance coverage. You need enough insurance to rebuild your home and to replace all your personal belongings. If you have made a major alteration or improvement to your home or have made significant purchases, notify your insurance agent so that the increased value is reflected in your policy.

Check deductibles. Be aware that coastal residents have percentage deductibles for storm damage rather than the traditional dollar deductibles that are used for other types of losses such as fire or burglary.

Ask about flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered under most standard home insurance policies, as many Hurricane Katrina victims learned. Flood coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and some private insurance companies. It can generally be purchased from the same agent or broker who provides your homeowners or renters insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at FloodSmart.gov or by calling 888-379-9531.

Create a home inventory. An inventory helps ensure that you have purchased enough insurance to replace your personal possessions. It can also speed the claims process and substantiate losses for income tax purposes. A detailed home inventory is also helpful should you need to apply for disaster aid. (The I.I.I. provides free Web-based software at KnowYourStuff.org. Storing your inventory online gives you the ability to access it from any computer in the event your own computer is destroyed.)

Protect your property. Homeowners should secure loose roof shingles, seal openings, cracks and holes. Keep in mind that unsecured building materials or trash from partially completed homes could become airborne missiles impacting nearby buildings.

Plan your evacuation. Know where you will go and how you will get there. Try to have more than one option: the home of a friend or family member in another town; a hotel; or a shelter. Keep a map and the phone numbers and addresses of these locations handy. If you have a pet, identify locations where animals are welcome.

Pack an evacuation kit. Remember to have key items ready to take with you:

* Medicines, prescriptions and first aid kit.
* Bottled water
* Clothing and bedding (sleeping bags, pillows)
* Flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries
* Special items for infants or elderly or disabled family members
* Computer hard drive or laptop
* Photographs
* Pet food and other items for pets (litter boxes, leashes)
* Important documents such as insurance policies, passports, drivers licenses, wills and deeds, birth, adoption and marriage certificates, recent tax returns, stocks, bonds, and other negotiable certificates

Practice. Give yourself just 10 minutes to get your family and belongings into the car and on the road. You’ll find out if there is anything you need to modify in your emergency plan, and your family will know what to expect.

Need more info? Check out my columns for more tips and the latest on insurance policies:

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