A few preparations in the days before a hurricane can save money, protect property and ease the process of filing an insurance claim.
Hurricane Irene is churning up the East Coast with a scheduled landfall Sunday in Connecticut. Now is the time to secure property, get supplies, check your insurance coverage and take inventory of your belongings before the storm hits, according to insurance and public safety experts.
Connecticut has $479.9 billion worth of property insured on its coastline, according to the Connecticut Insurance Department. Irene is expected to cause $1.9 billion in damage to insured property in the state, according to an estimate Thursday by Kinetic Analysis Corp. of Silver Spring, Md., which models catastrophes for insurers.
If the storm wrecks your home, you’ll have an easier time filing an insurance claim if you know what you had before it was destroyed.
“An up-to-date home inventory is one of four key steps that everyone should take to financially protect themselves against a disaster,” said Jeanne M. Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “The other steps are contacting your agent or insurance company representative to make sure that you have the right amount and type of insurance, protecting your property, and knowing where to go and what to take with you if you need to evacuate.”
For suggestions on how to make a home inventory with photos, go to the insurance institute’s KnowYourStuff.org. You could make an inventory with your smartphone, too. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ MyHome Scr.APP.book application is available on iTunes. The application allows people to take photos, write descriptions and even record bar codes and serial numbers for safekeeping.
Insurance coverage varies widely — even in policies sold by the same company. It’s best to take a look at your policy or call your agent to know your deductibles, or any limitations on special items such as jewelry or art. Check your policy’s “declarations” page to find out about different deductibles that apply if the storm is a hurricane or some lesser tropical storm. The “declarations” page also will have information about whether the insurer plans to pay a replacement cost or an actual cash value for various items.
Homeowners’ insurance will cover damage from rain, wind or wind-blown objects like fallen trees. A typical homeowners’ policy does not include flooding. Flood insurance is offered through the National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has a 30-day waiting period to prevent people from signing up days before a storm hits.
Homeowners’ coverage, put simply, covers water that falls from the sky. Flood insurance covers water that seeps up from the ground or pours into the house.
Insurers recommend securing your property by putting cars and motorcycles in a garage and hauling boats to a dry dock. Boats that can’t be taken out of the water should be tightly moored, said Steve Jones, assistant vice president in personal lines at The Harford Financial Services Group.
“The best thing to do for your automobile is to ensure that it’s garaged,” Jones said. “If that’s not possible, what The Hartford recommends is to be certain that it’s parked in a place that is clear of trees or outdoor basketball hoops or other things that could become airborne.”
Jones added, “For your home, what we recommend, if you have installed storm shutters, obviously use them. If not, you want to be certain that your lawn and the surrounding area is free from items that may become airborne.”
The Insurance Institute for Business Home Safety, an insurer-funded research group, recommends checking the caulking around windows and doors to make sure that it isn’t cracked or broken. Fill any holes or gaps around pipes or wires that enter the house, the institute said. Roll up rugs and get them off the floor to keep them from getting wet and moldy, and check sump pumps to make sure they’re working properly and have a battery backup, the institute said in a note.
“Any time a hurricane is on its way, people in the potential path of that strong combination of wind and water should prepare themselves as much as possible ahead of time to reduce their risk of personal injury and property damage,” said Julie Rochman, president of the Insurance Institute for Business Home Safety.
Homeowners and business owners should keep a copy of important documents in a waterproof place.
“With a business, they want to make sure they’re backing up any of their important documents, you know, payroll, orders . . . and storing it somewhere other than the premises,” said Ray Stone, vice president of catastrophe operations at The Travelers Cos.
Travelers recommends planning an evacuation route before the storm, boarding up windows, stocking up on drinking water and nonperishable food. Get batteries ready for flashlights and have a portable radio that is in good working condition. Travelers also recommends that all family members learn how to shut off electricity and other utilities in case of an emergency, like toppled power lines or broken gas pipes.
Stone suggests filling the gas tanks in your vehicles before the storm hits, and paying attention to emergency evacuation orders. Gas stations can have long lines right before a storm, and hurricanes often knock down power lines, making it difficult to find a place to refuel.
“From a homeowner’s standpoint, to facilitate … the claim process afterward, they want to make sure that they’ve taken those important documents with them — their insurance policy, who their agent is, contact numbers so that they can report the claim just as quick as they can,” Stone said.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an insurance trade organization, recommends keeping all receipts for repairs so that your insurer can reimburse you.
For information about preparing for a storm, or filing a claim afterward, check the Connecticut Insurance Department’s website, http://www.ct.gov/cid, or call its consumer help line at 800-203-3447.
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