By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA
Peak hurricane season is right around the corner, starting in mid-August and lasting through late October. Are you confident that your homeowner’s insurance policy will provide enough protection to cover the cost of potential damage?
The New England region is no stranger to the devastation caused by hurricanes. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused $65.7 billion in damages along the east coast, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Superstorm Sandy is considered the second most expensive federally declared disaster, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states that threats from hurricanes can include high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents and tornadoes. With wind speeds reaching 111 miles per hour or more, that could be enough to cause significant damage to your home. Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover the cost of wind damage.
Perhaps the biggest risk a hurricane presents to Massachusetts residents is flooding. FEMA states that inland flooding from tropical storms is a major threat to communities located hundreds of miles from the coast. Due to the rapid accumulation of rainfall, the ground can become saturated from the heavy rains, overwhelming the storm drains, which eventually leads to flooding.
Although a standard homeowner’s policy will cover water damage from above, such as wind-driven rain, damage caused from below, such as flooding and storm surge flooding, is not covered. The best way to protect your home and its contents from flooding is with a separate flood insurance policy.
Floods can happen anywhere and at any time. A flood is defined as overflow of inland or tidal waves, unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or mudflow. Flooding is the most common and most costly natural disaster in the United States, and according to the NFIP, all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods in the last five years.
Everyone is considered to live in a flood zone–it’s just a question of whether you live in a low, moderate, or high risk area. Although flood insurance is not required if you live in a moderate-to-low risk zone, coverage can still be purchased and is strongly recommended. If you have a mortgage and live in a high-risk flood zone, you will be required to have this added protection.
You can purchase flood insurance by contacting your local independent agent. Keep in mind that there is typically a 30-day waiting period from the date of purchase before your policy will take effect. So, it is best to purchase coverage sooner rather than later, especially with peak hurricane season on its way.
Since flood rates are set by the federal government, keep in mind that premiums for coverage won’t vary from agent to agent. Coverage for your dwelling and personal property is separate. You can insure your home for up to $250,000 and its contents for up to $100,000. Renters can also insure their belongings for up to $100,000.
Hurricane Preparation Tips
Knowing what is and isn’t covered by your insurance policy is an important first step when preparing for a disaster, but is your family and home ready for the unexpected? By making smart preparations beforehand, you can help keep your family and property safe in the event disaster strikes.
Create or update a home inventory. This can help ease the claims process in the event of a loss. To create a home inventory, carefully go through each room in your home and document its contents. Keep receipts on any large purchases, take videos or photos of your belongings, and schedule appraisals on items of exceptional value. Download our free Home Inventory Guide.
Put together an emergency supply kit. Include flashlights, batteries, prescription medications, a first aid kit, toiletries, a battery-powered radio and cash. At the very least, stock a week’s worth of water and non-perishable food and make sure you have enough for everyone in your family, including pets.
Prepare your home for the storm. Repair loose boards, shingles, shutters, gutters and downspouts. Move loose items that could become projectiles in high winds, such as toys, grills, planters, and lawn furniture, inside your home. Trim trees and remove fallen trees or branches from the ground. Cover all of your home’s windows with permanent storm shutters. Another option is to board up your windows with 5/8 inch exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.
Develop an evacuation and communication plan. Know where you need to go if you are ordered to evacuate the area. Create a family emergency communication plan, and map out how to get to a safe shelter, how to get in touch with your family should you be separated, and how you will find each other. Make a list of important phone numbers including family, friends, your local fire and police departments, and your insurance agent.
Remember, sending a text is often a faster and more reliable way to let family and friends know you are safe.
Keep devices fully charged. Make sure you have alternative charging methods, such as a power bank, for your phone or any device that requires power. Purchase battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms.
Sign up for weather alerts. Many local communities have text or email alert systems for emergency notifications. These communications can help keep you alert about severe weather and information on how to stay safe.
Perhaps the most important step you can take to prepare for a hurricane is to review your coverage with your local independent agent. A trusted insurance agent can advise you on whether your existing policies provide adequate protection and better assess if you will need any additional coverage.
Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at 508-347-6850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.