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How to prepare for a hurricane

A quiet hurricane season can lull us into complacency, but it’s important for homeowners in hurricane-prone areas to stay on top of weather reports and their insurance policies.

“It’s important to keep in mind that even one major hurricane can do catastrophic damage and it’s important to be prepared just in case one strikes in 2014,” says Bonnie Schneider, national television meteorologist and author of “Extreme Weather.”

Here are tips from insurance and weather experts on surviving a hurricane season.

1. Have emergency supplies stocked year-round

If you have a flashlight, some water, a first aid kit and batteries stashed away for emergencies and think you’re ready for the next disaster, you’re not alone. You’re also not fully prepared. Just three in 100 people have all the emergency kit supplies recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to a survey of 1,000 adults commissioned by Insure.com.

Dust masks, plastic sheeting and whistles are the least likely items to be on hand, according to our emergency-preparedness survey.

2. Prepare for flooding

Flood insurance is increasingly important coverage, even if you don’t live along a coastline.

“It seems like no place is safe recently,” says Jeffrey O’Connor, vice president at Cleveland-based Alex N. Sill Adjustment Co. “Do you know where some of the highest winds from Superstorm Sandy were recorded? Cleveland, Ohio! We all know the coastal areas of the south and southeast are most susceptible to hurricane damage of flooding and wind, but it is not uncommon to have hurricane-force winds extending hundreds of miles inland. Remember that a hurricane often brings with it large amounts of rain even hundreds of miles away from the coastal area it originally strikes. Rivers, streams and creeks can overflow, causing tremendous damage.”

“Homeowners should be keenly aware that there is a difference between wind and water damage if the water comes as a flood. Carriers have been very reluctant to mesh the two types of damage together on claim payments, so property owners must insure the perils of wind and flood separately and adequately,” says Ray Altieri Jr., president at Tampa-based Altieri Transco American Claims Corp., a public insurance adjuster firm.

3. Know what your current home insurance policy covers

Don’t assume your homeowners insurance policy will cover hurricane damage.   Christie Alderman, vice president at Chubb Personal Insurance, says some insurers offer “named-peril” policies, meaning they cover only the perils listed in the policy, such as fire and theft. They might not encompass all weather events.

An “all-risk” policy will give you more protection.

“Chubb’s Masterpiece policy is an ‘all-risk’ policy and will respond to most weather events,” says Alderman.  “However, some coverage, such as coverage for flood, must be purchased separately.”

4. Obtain additional insurance coverage if needed

Once you figure out what your current policy covers, you’ll have a better understanding of what it doesn’t cover. This is the first step in deciding whether you need hurricane insurance for storm damage that won’t be covered by your homeowners policy.

“I recommend that homeowners discuss their policy coverage with their agents once a year, even if nothing has changed. The renewal period is the best time to do that because the topic is fresh on everyone’s mind at the time. Policyholders should review their renewal package and be sure to question their agent about any changes that are proposed for the new year of coverage, so they have a general understanding of matters. Homeowners also need to be aware that any changes to the property should be reported to their agent to be sure coverage is not altered in any way by a property’s physical or occupancy change,” says Altieri.

5. Put money aside for insurance deductibles

Weather-related insurance claims typically require that you pay your deductible toward the damage. Alderman says you should know how much that deductible will be and put that money aside in savings just in case you need to file a claim.

She also notes that your deductible for hurricane, hail or wind could be different from your standard homeowners deductible. For example, your policy might require a 2 percent deductible for wind but a flat $1,000 deductible for theft. Always check your policy’s current declarations page in case your insurer changed your deductible at renewal time.

“And they should check with their agents to see if the insurance company provides loss-prevention services like home appraisers who can provide guidance on how to protect a home from a wind event,” says Alderman.

6. Prepare your home for severe weather

Making some repairs in advance may help your home withstand storms better than if your home is already in need of maintenance. Alderman suggests that homeowners trim their trees and consider removal or review by an arborist if there are any trees within falling distance of the home. Other tips include checking for loose shingles, cleaning gutters and downspouts, and installing storm shutters and/or impact glass on all openings around the home.

“If your home does not meet current construction industry standards, some simple modifications can help to reduce property loss in the event of a hurricane,” says Alderman.

7. Be ready to evacuate

Whether by choice or by government order, many extreme weather situations require residents to evacuate their homes. A few preparations in advance can make this process a lot easier on everyone.

Alderman suggests that you make arrangements for your automobile, boat, pets and valuables before the storm hits.

“Have an evacuation plan and knowledge of local evacuation routes and shelters. Prepare medicines, important papers (in Ziploc or Tupperware container) and phone numbers, including your insurance information, and fill your car with gas,” says Alderman.

Insure.com’s emergency-preparedness survey revealed that 60 percent of Americans do not have a designated emergency meeting location for their families.

Ninety-six percent said their spouse has a cellphone, but 16 percent don’t know the number without looking it up.

8. Know others’ plans

You may be prepared, but what about others? Does your workplace have a disaster plan? Does your child’s school have a plan? Will they “shelter in place”? Disasters can strike when your family members are not under your control. Find out what plans are in place for other locations.

9. Track the weather

During storms, it’s critical to tune in to your local radio, television station or NOAA weather channel to keep track of the hurricane’s progress and location. John Marini, chief operating officer and vice president at Utica-based Adjusters International, also suggests that residents in tornado alley consider purchasing NOAA weather radios.

“These individual warning devices can really come in handy during the night when most people are sleeping and have their televisions off,” says Marini.

10. Make a home inventory before a storm strikes

Taking pictures and/or videos of every room in your house will help you create a record of your belongings if your home is destroyed in a hurricane.

The Insurance Information Institute’s free online Know Your Stuff home-inventory software can help you with this task.

“It’s important to have evidence of what your house and possessions looked like before the storm. Then you will also need to take photographs or video of the damage as soon as you can after the hurricane strikes and to continue to take photographs or video if the loss conditions worsen. Keeping detailed records both before and after the hurricane is critical when filing an insurance claim,” says O’Connor.

More than half of people surveyed by Insure.com (65 percent) said they do not have a complete inventory of everything in their house.

Making a home inventory is part of good financial planning: You won’t make a home insurance claim for items you don’t remember you had. Among those with an inventory, 79 percent keep it at home and 21 percent store their inventories elsewhere. Of those who keep their home inventory outside of the house, 31 percent have a family member safeguarding it and 18 percent stash it at work.

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