Every year in the United States from about June through November, Atlantic and eastern Pacific coasts brace themselves for “hurricane season,” preparing to either evacuate or hunker down and wait it out. When a hurricane begins to build over the ocean, a flurry of preparations begin ashore. However, it’s in the weeks and months leading up to hurricane season when important preparations must be done so you can remain calm and collected in the eye of a storm.
Following a hurricane, assessing necessary cleanup and potential repairs can feel daunting, and your homeowners insurance is vital Long before a storm makes landfall and the days and weeks in the aftermath, here’s a check-list to help you ride it out as comfortably as possible.
Before the Storm: Don’t Panic, Plan
Start with the basics: know your risk.
Some states are at a significantly higher risk of suffering damages to real estate than others (we’re looking at you, Florida and Texas), though all coastal states and cities along the Atlantic could potentially be in the path of storm surges. Resources like FloodSmart.gov and Ready.gov can help map out potential “hot spots” for hurricanes, arming you with data so that you can be prepared.
Plan ahead to protect yourself and your loved ones. When prioritizing your to-do list before a hurricane, that evacuation planning should be “number one on that list,” according to Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center states via AccuWeather. Many local governments in vulnerable areas will provide recommended evacuation routes. Get acquainted with these routes, drive them well before any storm watch or warning is in place and make sure you have established a safe destination to wait out the storm.
Keep an emergency kit in an easily accessible place, stocked with enough supplies for all family members for three full days. An ideal kit is fully supplied with food and water, batteries, cash, a flashlight, medications and first aid. In the event of a power outage, be sure to have a battery-powered radio can help keep you informed of the latest news and alerts. Also, set your fridge and freezer to the coldest settings to help keep your food fresh longer. Remember to check your supplies annually to ensure everything is up to date and in working order.
Check your homeowners insurance policy for coverage details. Make sure they’re up to date and make them part of your evacuation plan. Along with priceless items you may want to bring with you to protect from hurricane damage, your insurance documents may be necessary to account for things that are left behind.
Next, prepare your home.
We’re not just talking boards and sandbags — those should be on your list and already stockpiled at your home. Keep in mind, if you board up your windows, many home improvement and box stores will quickly run out of supply at the earliest hint of a hurricane. Stock for the season. It’s also a good idea to keep the trees around your home trimmed and other loose items removed. If you don’t have permanent storm shutters and choose to use temporary shutters, plan to begin installing those before wind gusts speed up significantly, as this will make the job much easier and safer to complete. Items like patio furniture and cars should be brought inside a garage or other secure area.
Once a hurricane watch has been issued, it’s time to start thinking of the nuts and bolts. Securing roof straps to your home may reduce potential roof damage or loss, while adding caulking around door jambs and windows will help prevent rain from being driven in through small crevices. If you do not have commercial-grade storm shutters and windows, you can reinforce these with plywood that is at least five-eighths of an inch thick and affixed tightly to the frames.
Homeowners insurance policies may have specifications for securing cars and other property in case of storms or floods. Safeguarding these items in accordance with your policy will help ensure they are covered. It’s a good idea to remember this when hurricane season begins, perhaps keep a printed copy of your policy specifications on your desk or fridge for easy reference. If you’ve taken additional measures to protect your home against an approaching storm like installing roof storm straps or installing certified storm shutters, as mentioned above, you may qualify for additional premium discounts.
Above all, knowledge is king.
Take advantage of the wealth of region-specific information to your geographic area in order to accurately plan for possible hurricanes and tropical storms. Often, in addition to government entities and meteorology tools, your homeowners insurance provider can provide helpful tips.
After the Storm: Don’t Panic, You Planned
The days following a hurricane can be overwhelming as you take inventory of the storm’s effects. But not to worry, you planned for this. After loved ones are cared and accounted for, there are some immediate steps to take to help mitigate the complications of repairing and rebuilding any damaged property.
If you evacuated, work with local law enforcement to confirm it’s safe to return home. When you do return home, first look around and take note of any areas that appear structurally unsound, water-damaged spots producing mold or roof areas that appear soft or sagging. If you feel that any area of your home poses imminent danger to you or your family, immediately exit the residence and contact safety authorities.
Typically following a severe hurricane, FEMA or local chapters of the National Guard will set up hotlines for reporting structurally dangerous homes and buildings. If necessary, call the hotline they provide you, then call your insurance company to file your claim.
Consult the Department of Insurance website for your state to get accurate information about your rights and policies
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about contractor requirements, rate hikes and scheduling parameters for projects and provide this to your insurance company so that you receive the best care at the fairest possible price. A qualified insurance carrier should update you regularly about your property and coverage for incidentals and other expenses, but you can reach out at any time with specific questions.
When it comes to repairing storm damage, this is not a DIY project. First, contact your insurance company to determine whether you should file a claim. If you choose to file, most insurance policies will include an “Additional Living Expenses” allowance to pay for hotel or housing during the repair process.
In the aftermath of a hurricane, it can be difficult to return to “normal,” but taking steps ahead of the storm can help keep you, your loved ones and your home protected. Be prepared, be informed and be proactive with your home protection and insurance needs.