Lessons from Storm Disasters Can Help You Be Better Prepared

Oct. 17, 2011 - Intense windstorms, hammering rain, flooding, tornadoes and an earthquake were alarming wake-up calls for many Americans this year, providing an important reminder about preparing for the effects of Mother Nature.

All of these events — the recent Virginia quake that shook the earth from Georgia to Canada, the spring tornado that touched down near Pittsburgh, Pa., and early fall flooding that forced evacuations in several states — can happen anywhere, at any time, without warning. It’s a stark reminder that we’re all at risk for catastrophic storms.

To protect yourself and your property from severe weather, review these six important steps recommended by consumer safety advocates, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

1. Check your insurance coverage and keep it up-to-date – Be sure you have the right kind and amount of insurance, enough to rebuild your home, replace your belongings and cover your vehicle. Coverage you may want to consider:

  • Flood insurance, which is not included in a standard homeowners policy. It is important to purchase flood coverage well in advance of a storm because there is a 30-day waiting period. Erie Insurance offers flood insurance coverage through American Bankers.
  • Earthquake endorsement, which helps you get things back to normal should your home suffer earthquake damage. In areas where earthquakes are uncommon, the coverage is priced accordingly and is not expensive. Without the earthquake endorsement, ERIE’s homeowners policy does not provide any coverage for damage due to earthquakes.
  • Comprehensive coverage under your auto insurance policy, which reimburses you for weather-related damage such as flooding or a tree falling on your car.

2. Inspect your roof and basement – Keeping wind and water out of your home is critical. Begin with a roof inspection. Make sure the roof covering is well-adhered and there are no missing pieces. Secure roof shingles and seal any openings, cracks or holes. In the basement, IBHS recommends using water-resistant paint on the interior basement walls and sump pumps, along with other methods that can prevent water damage to your home and belongings. Sump pumps are most often used in cases where the home’s basement is below the water table level and in places where flooding is common. If you have a sump pump, use a battery backup system in the event that the power goes out during a storm.

3. Prune the trees – Falling trees and limbs cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year. Good pruning can prevent many problems. Remove low hanging branches from trees that are close to your siding and roof. If a tree falls on a home or other insured structure such as a detached garage, most homeowner policies will provide coverage for damage to the structure of the home and contents inside it. Some insurance policies also provide coverage for the cost of removing the fallen tree. However, coverage for tree debris removal is often limited to trees downed by windstorms, hail and the weight of ice, snow or sleet. It does not extend to dead or diseased trees.

4. Create a home inventory – An up-to-date home inventory can help you take stock of your stuff and determine how much insurance to purchase. To make the process easier, the Insurance Information Institute offers free Web-based software at www.knowyourstuff.org and Erie Insurance has a home inventory formPDF that you can print out and fill in.

5. Have an evacuation plan – Decide where you will go and how you will get there, and have more than one option. Keep a map, phone numbers and addresses handy. Think about what you'll need to take with you — items like medicines, important documents, clothing and food — and have them ready to go. The Insurance Information Institute recommends practicing your evacuation plan by doing the 10-minute challenge — giving yourself just 10 minutes to pack up and get out.

6. Talk to your insurance agent – Schedule a time to talk to your insurance agent and review all of your policies — every year. Make sure you understand how much insurance you have and what disasters are covered and which are not. You’ll also want to account for any changes in your circumstances, such as building an addition to your home. Some policies require notice within 90 days of any improvements or additions to the dwelling above $5,000. If you need additional insurance protection, it’s best to get it right away.

More storm preparation information is available on www.iii.org or the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Web site, disastersafety.org.

Remember, a few minutes and a few dollars could make a big difference the next time the earth rumbles, the wind whips up a twister or it floods again.

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