Do you want to learn how to secure your property before a disaster and recover afterwards? The topics below will help understand how to protect your homebase.
An important aspect of disaster preparedness is financial preparedness. This toolkit is designed to help you organize your financial information before and after a disaster. Keep several copies in safe places that you can access easily and, in the face of a disaster, keep a copy of this toolkit with you at all times.
Hurricanes aren't the only disasters that Floridians need to be prepared for each year. Wildfires, floods, tornadoes and sinkholes are other reasons why it pays to make sure your homeowners' insurance is adequate, and that your financial interests are up-to-date and protected.
This guide contains information that can be extremely valuable in the event of a natural disaster.
Hurricanes aren’t the only disasters that Floridians need to be prepared for each year. Wildfires, floods, tornadoes and sinkholes are other reasons why it pays to make sure your homeowners’ insurance is adequate, and that your financial interests are up-to-date and protected.
Do you need flood coverage?: Standard homeowners’ insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. If you live in a flood-prone area, contact your agent about obtaining flood insurance. Depending on your home’s location, you may qualify to enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Do you need windstorm coverage?: Some homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover damage caused by windstorms, such as hurricanes. If you have trouble obtaining a policy that does, you can check with Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, a state-run pool of last resort, by logging on to www.citizensfla.com or calling Citizens toll-free at 1-888-685-1555. Remember that insurance companies do not accept new applications or requests to increase coverage once a hurricane nears Florida.
Do you need more coverage?: The value of your home and possessions may have increased during the past several years, or you may have made improvements or purchased expensive items such as computers or major appliances. Review your insurance policy and check your coverage limits. Consider increasing your coverage if your policy doesn’t cover the value of your home and its contents. If you want to make policy changes concerning wind and water damage, it’s best to contact your agent before the start of hurricane season on June 1.
What does your policy cover and exclude?: Standard homeowners’ insurance policies usually limit coverage on valuables such as jewelry, silverware, guns, antiques or boats. Check your policy and contact your insurance agent or company with questions, or to request additional coverage.
If you live in a condominium, find out what coverage your condominium association provides. You may need your own policy for the interior of your unit. You also should check the deductible amounts contained in your policy. All policies include deductibles for perils, or causes of possible loss, such as fi re, hurricane, hail, etc. In Florida, most homeowners’ policies include a larger deductible for hurricane damage and a smaller deductible for other damage.
“Replacement Cost” vs. “Actual Cash Value”: If you bought a television for $700 in 1993, and it gets destroyed by lightning, a policy written to cover “actual cash value,” would pay an amount reflecting its current value, about $300. But if your policy is for “replacement cost,” it would pay the complete amount for a new TV of a similar type and size - about $900.
Most coverage of the contents of your home is written on a cash-value basis. Keep receipts when you buy high-value items such as televisions and computers. You might need this information to verify the age and value of your possessions.
Inflation, renovations and rising property values increase the replacement cost of your home and its contents. Actual cash value may decrease over time.
What about “additional living expenses”?: Additional living expense features of most homeowners’ policies pay some expenses for losses that leave homes unlivable during repairs. Such expenses could include limited motel, restaurant and storage costs. Keep all receipts during this period. This feature does not apply to flood insurance.
Civil authorities, such as law enforcement agencies and emergency management services, sometimes issue mandatory evacuation orders that affect thousands of residents. Find out whether lodging and meals are covered if you must evacuate but no damage occurs to your property. Does any deductible or coverage limit apply?
Most policies will provide additional living expense coverage when a civil authority prohibits the use of a residence due to direct damage to neighboring homes by a covered threat. Policies generally offer this coverage without any deductible, and for losses of up to two weeks. If you have any questions, call the Department of Financial Services’ toll-free Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Have a plan of evacuation, including a list of people to contact in the event you need to leave your home.
Home Information: List individuals to be contacted before and after evacuation (one person should be out of state). Include Name, email and phone number.
List Evacuation Route Option: Establish two evacuation locations where your family will meet if you are not directed to a location by local authorities.
Medical Information: Be sure to have key medical information with you (List of medications, Health Insurance ID Cards, Record of Immunizations/Allergies, etc). If you take prescription medications regularly, you should contact your pharmacy before a storm strikes to get prescriptions filled so that you don’t run out.
Make an itemized list of your belongings: Include costs, purchase dates and serial numbers. Attach receipts, especially for “big ticket” items. Your insurance company may require proof of the cost of any item for which you make a claim. Dated photographs or videotapes of your possessions also are good ideas.
Take copies of your legal, financial and medical documents with you: This should include bank statements, insurance policies, mortgage information, credit card addresses and toll-free phone numbers, wills, birth certificates, passports and medical prescriptions.
Know Your Insurers: Write down the names of your agent and agency, your insurance company, your policy number and telephone numbers to report claims. Remember that the name of your insurance company might differ from that of your agent, agency or underwriter.
Do you have enough cash?: Remember to withdraw money before a pending disaster. Since carrying or keeping large amounts of cash in your home can be unsafe, take out only as much as you’ll need. Financial institutions usually close for at least two days after a direct hit by a hurricane, and ATMs could be out of commission even longer. Be sure to get receipts for cash purchases right before a storm.
Do you have enough credit?: Keep and protect a credit card with an available balance of at least $1,000. Use credit cards to finance minimal repairs when necessary. Document all these transactions.
Paying bills: If you pay bills by phone or online, try to pay them before a disaster hits, even if they are not yet due. Hurricanes and wildfires could interrupt phone service, causing you to miss payments and incur late charges. If you pay by mail, send payments as soon as possible. The U.S. Postal Service will not pick up mail within 24 hours of a hurricane strike. Keep copies of all payments mailed within three days of a natural disaster, if possible. After a storm, contact those you've sent payments to and confirm they have received them.
How can you safeguard your records?: Keep insurance and financial papers in a secure and accessible place like a safe deposit box, or with a relative or friend. Include your insurance policy, inventory records, agent or company telephone numbers for reporting claims, mortgage and other loan contracts and payment records. You might need quick access to this information. If you need to evacuate, take records with you.
Make a pet plan: Inquire in advance how and where you can leave your pets; Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics and friends and relative out of harm’s way are ALL potential refuges for your pet during a disaster. (see http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pdfs/Pet_Plan.pdf for additional information)
Immediately report damage to your agent or insurance company. If you can’t contact your agent or insurance company, call the Department of Financial Services (DFS) for assistance at 1-800-22-STORM or (850) 413-3089.
Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation. This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
Make emergency repairs and document them. Take necessary steps to keep your family safe, but be sure to keep all receipts and take photographs of damage before and after any repairs.
Take precautions if the damage requires you to leave your home. Secure your property and turn off your gas and electricity. Contact your insurance agent and provide a phone number where you can be reached.
Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed, reputable, preferably local service people, and avoid any contractor or appraiser who says they can adjust your insurance claim. You can verify a contractor’s license and check to see if there are any complaints against them by calling the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395. Also ask for references from previous work, and be sure to report unlicensed contractors.
Know what kind of licensed adjuster you will deal with (i.e. company adjuster, independent adjuster or public adjuster). Ask for identification, and if a question arises, call the Department of Insurance hotline for assistance.
Beware of fraud. Insurance fraud costs each Florida family an additional $1,500 a year* in increased premiums. If you suspect insurance fraud, call the Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-800-378-0445. Financial fraud costs Floridians more than $40 billion annually. If you suspect financial fraud, call the Consumer Helpline toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236). *Source: The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud
All legitimate contractors must carry insurance. Ask for proof of liability and workers’ compensation coverage, then verify it by calling the Division of Workers’ Compensation at 1-800-742-2214.
Don’t rush into signing a contract. Get written estimates from at least three construction firms, and beware of contractors who ask you to pay for the entire job up front. Also, do not allow the contractor to adjust your claim with your insurance company. If you make a down payment, it should not be more than one-third of the total price. Pay ONLY by check or credit card, and never pay the final amount until the work is completed.
If you encounter any instances of price gouging call the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Consumer Services at 1-800-357-4273.
Being prepared can mean staying in business after a disaster.
The aftermath of a disaster is a challenge for anyone, but for students living away from home, it may leave them feeling particularly vulnerable. It is important for you to prepare for a disaster and to know what steps to take after one occurs. Most colleges and universities have disaster plans in place; be sure to check your school’s website for its disaster instructions.
For additional tips to help college students before and after a disaster, visit Affordable College Online’s Recovering from a Natural Disaster in College guide.
State Emergency Response Team (SERT)
Telephone Number: 1-800-342-3557
770-220-5200 (Local: Region IV Regional Office)