This article appears in Disaster Prep 2018.
When your property or home is destroyed in a disaster, the key to finding help quickly is to turn to your insurer.
“Safety is always the first priority. If you were evacuated as a result of a natural disaster or severe weather, return home only after authorities advise it is safe to do so,” said Angi Orbann, vice president of product, personal insurance at Travelers. “After it is confirmed by authorities that the storm has passed and it is safe to go outdoors or return to your home, you can begin to assess any potential damage to your home and property.”
Provide your insurer with your policy number and the best phone number and email address at which to reach you. After a major storm, insurers visit those with the most severe damage first. Be prepared to provide an accurate description of the extent of the property damage. Explain any special needs of your family, particularly if personal circumstances require that you get priority.
Ask your insurer when you can expect to be contacted by an insurance adjuster so you are ready for the visit. Since adjusters may be in areas in which cellphone towers are damaged, it is also a good idea to get the phone number of your adjuster’s supervisor so you have an additional contact. If you have a flood insurance claim, contact the agent or broker who sold you the policy to start the claim.
Standard homeowners insurance provides specified limits of coverage for basic perils like fire, wind, tornado, hail and theft.
“Consumers should talk with their agent about their policy to know exactly what is and isn’t covered. For instance, homeowners are typically not covered for floods and earthquakes and need separate endorsements or policies for those disasters,” Orbann said.
Renters should have insurance as well, which typically covers personal belongings — the things inside a home, not the structure of the home, which should be insured by the owner.
“Keep in mind, most every insurance policy has a deductible, which is what the individual pays out of pocket. It’s important to consider how much of a deductible you can afford. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium will be,” Orbann said.
An insurance checkup
“Much like an annual health checkup for your kids, your pets and yourself, your insurance could use a checkup every year to make sure it’s up to date with the types of coverage and limits that you may need,” Orbann said. “From a financial perspective, waiting for a storm to hit is too late to start thinking about your insurance. You often can’t purchase insurance or make changes to your policy when a storm is imminent. So review your insurance now.”
A good place to start is with a call to your agent or insurance representative.
“Insurance policies are renewed each year, and the customer receives documents that detail the renewal. Review those documents and learn about anything that may be unclear,” Orbann said.
Think about things like what it would cost to rebuild if your house were a total loss.
“Rebuilding a home often costs more than its selling price. If insurance coverage hasn’t been adjusted to reflect this reality, there can be a shortfall in the event of a total loss. Also, consider any recent renovations or upgrades and discuss if your coverage needs to be adjusted,” Orbann said.
Before disaster strikes
“Not every disaster is predictable, but there are some things people can do to prepare if the unthinkable happens,” Orbann said.
— Keep mobile devices fully charged.
— Build an emergency kit with essential items and important documents in advance of evacuations.
— Know your evacuation route and leave as soon as an evacuation order is issued.
— Share your evacuation plans with someone outside of the storm area.
— Check your local news or sign up for weather alerts for updates on the potential for severe weather in your area.