Favorable weather conditions produced one of the quietest seasons in recent memory. This year’s tornado season also produced a below-average number of twisters and statistically, the western wildfire season could be characterized as modest.

But for many people, 2013 didn’t feel as “tranquil” as the numbers suggest. Just ask East Coast residents who spent 2013 in recovery mode from Superstorm Sandy; those in the Oklahoma City area who were devastated by two deadly tornado outbreaks within 10 days; or the families forced to flee wildfires in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area.

As population trends continue, more Americans are living in disaster-prone areas. This not only increases the economic cost of recovery, but also leaves more Americans with a large portion of their personal net worth exposed to catastrophic loss.

Overall, the insurance industry has responded extremely well to natural catastrophe events impacting policyholders. According to the Insurance Information Institute, from 2003 to 2012 insurers have paid more than $239 billion in insured catastrophe losses to rebuild communities throughout the U.S.

On the other hand, a recent  Harris Interactive Poll found that just about half (54%) of U.S. adults say they are prepared for a long-term power outage or a disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, flood, wildfire or terrorist attack by having the necessary supplies for 3 days. And despite the disasters of the past few years, the percent of those prepared is down from 58% in 2007.

To highlight the lack of consumer preparedness, a National Association of Insurance Commissioners February 2012 survey reports that more than 50% of Americans don’t have a home inventory of their possessions, which puts them at risk for inadequate home insurance coverage should a disaster strike.

The implications of these survey results have broader consequences than just highlighting a need for more consumer education regarding insurance. The 2013 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling reports that 40% of adults give themselves a grade of C, D or F on their personal finance knowledge. The poll also revealed that 78% of adults want professional advice to everyday financial questions.

States Add Personal Finance to Curriculums

Collaborating with the financial services sector will expand education and understanding of insurance products and services. Additionally, educators should heed the call to better prepare students, both K-12 and post-secondary, to navigate our increasingly complex financial system.  As the nation continues to recover from the worst economic crisis in our lifetime, it is more important than ever that consumers are knowledgeable about the consequences of their financial decisions.

In 2013, many states recognized the need for personal finance education in public schools and enacted legislation. California’s A.B. 166 requires curriculum education on budgeting and managing credit, student loans, consumer debt and identity theft.

Florida passed sweeping education reform in the spring with S.B. 1076. As part of the legislation, financial literacy will be incorporated into high school economic courses.

In Utah, S.B. 43 required the state Board of Education to establish a task force to make recommendations on how to improve financial and economic literacy education. The task force asked schools to integrate general financial literacy concepts into other subjects and establish a program of robust professional development for instructors and expanding community partnerships.

Arizona (S.B. 1449) and Maine (L.D. 843) require a personal finance course as part of high school instruction.

Collaborating with the financial services sector will expand education and understanding of insurance products and services. The good news is that the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s Project InVest already are engaged in financial literacy efforts.

In an effort toward disaster preparation, Property Casualty Insurers Association (PCI) created a consumer education campaign to help policyholders better understand their insurance policies and take steps to be financially and physically prepared for natural disasters.

PCI’s Quick Steps for Disaster Preparedness and Recovery online program provides interactive tools, video, infographics and action steps to create a home inventory; a checklist for before, during and after a disaster; and access to mobile apps.

This New Year provides an excellent opportunity to recommit to consumer financial education and find ways to increase collaboration among regulators, trade associations, agents, companies, educators and the media to ensure our efforts at consumer education are maximized.