Anyone who's ever survived a severe storm or hurricane knows that the damage to home and property can be overwhelming, emotionally and financially. The property damage attributed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 hit $81 billion, while the latest property damage estimates on Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are running as high as $50 billion. The annual hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 to November 30, but a severe storm can appear suddenly at any time of the year.
What can I do to be safer during a storm?
If you have advance notice that a powerful storm or hurricane is headed your way, here are some tips to help minimize damage to your property and increase your comfort level in the aftermath:
- Organize your important papers and store them off-site, in a bank safe-deposit box or some other secure location. Your mortgage, home and auto insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, and other important papers should be in a safe, dry location that you can access even if your home is damaged. Store other papers and keepsakes in plastic, sealable bags on a high shelf to avoid flood damage.
- Create a home inventory of your possessions to expedite insurance claims after the storm and keep it with your important papers off-site. It's much easier to file a claim with an existing inventory rather than trying to create one during the stressful post-storm period.
- Put together an emergency kit of bottled water, flashlights, crank- or battery-operated radio, non-spoilable food, extra clothing, sleeping bags and blankets. These items can come in handy if you have to leave your home and temporarily move into a public shelter.
- Create an easily accessible emergency fund, if possible, to streamline your post-storm recovery.
- Board up windows and glass doors with shutters or plywood to minimize damage from broken glass, in case of high winds.
- Move your car into the garage or some other place where it will be sheltered. If you don't have a garage, move it to higher ground, in case of flooding.
- Bring outdoor furniture and potted plants inside. Anything that can be picked up by the wind and subsequently blown against your home should be secured ahead of time.
- Store your gas grill safely indoors and shut off the propane tank.
- Turn off the circuit breaker to your outdoor pool and remove the motor to prevent damage.
- Prune branches that might break off during the storm and either hurt someone or cause damage to your home or vehicle.
- Rent or purchase an emergency generator, if feasible. A powerful storm can knock out power to your home for days, even weeks. With a generator, you can continue running your refrigerator and keep some lights on.
Do I have the right insurance?
Check to see if your homeowner's policy coverage has kept up with rising building costs. With construction costs rising faster than current real estate values, your present home insurance policy might not cover all of your outstanding rebuilding expenses. Also, severe storms can cause flooding. Most insurance companies do not offer flood insurance. However, flood coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Your agent can provide you with more information on both your homeowner's policy and NFIP.
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