Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

8 ways to prepare your insureds for a disaster

A tornado flipped a Breaux Bridge, La., mobile home on April 2, 2017, killing the mother and her daughter as a storm system with hurricane-force winds crawled across the Deep South, damaging homes and businesses. (Maj. Ginny Higgins/St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office via AP)
A tornado flipped a Breaux Bridge, La., mobile home on April 2, 2017, killing the mother and her daughter as a storm system with hurricane-force winds crawled across the Deep South, damaging homes and businesses. (Maj. Ginny Higgins/St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office via AP)

When spring comes many people are relieved that winter is over and the mess of snow and ice are behind us.

However, spring is just the beginning of seasonal weather that can cause significant damage to property and generate claims.

Flooding from snow melt


February to April is snow melt season; as the snow melts flooding is possible, and many people overlook flood insurance because they’re not by the ocean, a lake or river. Plenty of areas nowhere near water flood due to snow melt.

Tornado season begins April first, and runs through July. Already 2017 is predicted to have a record year of life-threatening tornadoes due to an active jet stream and warmer weather across the country. These two phenomena combine to make tornadoes more likely.

Hurricanes, wildfires, wind & drought


June brings both hurricane and wildfire season. While the east coast is threatened by hurricanes, the central and western parts of the country are threatened by droughts and wildfires. Along with the threat of wildfires the threat of dust storms exists; anytime you have droughts and dry land, dust storms can become an issue.

Related: Wildfires: An expanding threat?

As an agent, you want to do what you can to alert your insureds before weather gets ahead of them and they find themselves under or uninsured and unprepared to handle a claim. More importantly, there are steps they need to take to protect themselves from injury as well. Many things apply across all situations.

Here are eight important ways you can help your insurance clients prepare for potential disasters:

home inventory on computer tablet

Advise your clients to create a home inventory to catalog belongings. (Photo: Shutterstock)

1. Home inventory


One of the first things you want to do is to advise the insured to create a home inventory. That way, whether property is burned, flooded, blown away or otherwise destroyed, the insured has a way to catalog his belongings and create the inventory list required on the insurance policy.

There are many free smart phone apps including Know Your Stuff or Encircle; carriers also have their own apps or software on their website an insured can use to build an inventory. An advantage of a smart phone app is the ability to take pictures of items that immediately shows exactly what the insured had.

Couple organizing receipts

A record of receipts, especially for big purchase items, is important. (Photo: Shutterstock)

2. Receipts


Another important action is keeping receipts; while some carriers may not request receipts, especially in these days of identity theft where people are advised to shred documents, a record of receipts for big purchase items is important.

An insured can scan them into the computer or take photos of the receipts and store them electronically so that in case of a dispute there is a record of when and where the item was purchased and the purchase price. A copy of the inventory should be given to the agent or the company so that the record is safe in event of a total loss.

home furnishings

Make sure your clients don't underestimate the amount of property they have. (Photo: Shutterstock)

3. Is coverage adequate?


Once an inventory is created you want to look at the insured’s coverage; is it adequate? Many people underestimate the amount of property they have. Once you add up all the towels, lamps, silverware, CDs, DVDs, and other items including what’s in the junk drawers, the insured may need to increase limits.

Related: 10 questions to help assess your clients' changing insurance needs

Then look at the hazards the insured is most exposed to. Is he in a high snow area where snow melts routinely leads to flooding? Is the insured in a known flood, wildfire, earthquake, hurricane, tornado or other area?

A wildfire burns next to homes built near a hilltop in Azusa, Calif.

A wildfire burns next to homes built near a hilltop in Azusa, Calif., Monday, June 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

4. Wildfire defensible space


While fire is always a covered peril, there are areas where those in wildfire areas may be required to maintain defensible space; knowing how to do so, and being able to coach your insureds in doing so can help your insureds avoid or at least mitigate a fire loss.

Maintaining clear space around the dwelling, a certain amount of space between trees so fire cannot jump from one to another, planting drought resistant and native plants all help in wildfire areas.

Related: Here are 10 ways to prepare for a wildfire

A woman walks through her backyard covered by debris caused by severe weather

A woman walks through her backyard covered by debris caused by severe weather, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Miami Springs, Fla. The fatal storm system that caused destruction across the Southeast also downed trees and power lines around Florida. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

 5. Maintain a clear yard


With tornadoes or hurricanes the removal of anything that can become airborne is important; both tornadoes and hurricanes have great winds and can throw loose objects into or through dwellings and cause significant damage.

As tornadoes arise with little to no warning, encouraging an insured to maintain a clear yard is helpful.

Related: 10 windiest large U.S. cities

Jamie Gudino cleans up the damage from an early morning earthquak

In this Aug. 24, 2014 file photo, Jamie Gudino cleans up the damage from an early morning earthquake in Napa, Calif. A 65-year-old woman who suffered a head injury when a television struck her during last month's earthquake in California's wine country died Friday, Sept. 5, the first death attributed to the magnitude-6.0 temblor, sheriff's officials said. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

6. Earthquake preparation


Earthquakes require particular home maintenance as well. As items shake and fall during an earthquake, ensuring that pictures are hung securely to walls, items in cupboards or on mantels are secure or that items are not kept on mantels at all is important. Furniture should be anchored to the walls as well.

Another thing to consider aside from whether or not the insured is in a traditional earthquake zone is whether or not the insured is in an area where fracking has begun?

The United States Geological Survey now tracks earthquakes caused by fracking, and not just earthquakes caused by tectonics. As earth movement is not covered under traditional policies, advising insureds to add endorsements or purchase separate earthquake coverage is important for those exposed to the risk.

Related: Oil-rich Oklahoma still at highest risk of man-made earthquakes

Submerged automobiles are shown on flooded Nordale Avenue in San Jose, Calif

Submerged automobiles are shown on flooded Nordale Avenue in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Rising floodwaters sent thousands of residents fleeing inundated homes in San Jose and forced the shutdown of a major freeway. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

7. Flood risks


Every insurance agent knows homeowners and commercial property policies don’t cover flood; the National Flood Insurance Program starts running commercials in April advising people that standard property policies don’t cover flood yet still many, many people do not obtain a flood policy. While it may be expensive, it is usually much more expensive to sustain a loss and replace all the drywall in a lower level than purchase the coverage.

At the least, an insured should be made aware of the risks, and advised to not store items on the basement floor. Items should be kept up on shelves and off the floor, valuable items should be kept in other areas of the home. Remember, the flood policy has a 30-day waiting period, so the discussion should be have well before hurricane season starts.

Emergency kit and disaster preparation checklish

Encourage your insurance clients to have a disaster emergency kit prepared that includes medications and important papers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

8. Emergency kit & plan


One of the most important things an insured can do is have a plan and an emergency kit with medications, important papers, including medical records for pets, cash and basic first aid supplies. Also needed is knowledge of various safe actions — what areas of a building are safest in a tornado, and what to do if you are in a vehicle. What to in a vehicle if the road floods, or wildfires overtake you. Sharing this knowledge with your insured can help them be prepared in event of a disaster.

There are many online resources; Ready.gov provides information for biological, chemical, cyber, drought, earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, landslides, tornadoes, wildfires, and other types of disasters with instructions on what to do before, during, or after such an event.

Related: Helping homeowners recover after natural disasters

Christine G. Barlow, CPCU is managing editor with FC&S®, the premier resource for insurance coverage analysis. She has an extensive background in insurance underwriting. She may be reached at cbarlow@alm.com. Additional information about FC&S Online is available at www.NationalUnderwriter.com.

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