If you’re like many Americans, you’re proactive when it comes to fire safety at home and you’ve most likely installed fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. You also may have developed a detailed fire evacuation plan, just in case. But, when it comes to flood preparedness, you may not have done all you can despite the concern about the ravages of floods due to Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston and Irma blasting the Caribbean and about to strike Florida.
The reality concerns the entire country since every state has incurred flood losses. Despite that widespread concern, flood insurance is still not on the top of many home owners’ minds. A recent report from FEMA showed about 10 percent of the country’s approximately 95 million U.S. residences are in areas where flood insurance is required for federally-backed mortgages. Yet, fewer than half of these home owners carry the proper coverage. “Everyone says a flood is an anomaly yet 80 percent of homes in Houston are not insured,” says John Dickson, president of National Flood Services (NFS) Edge, a managing general agent based in Kalispell, Montana.
Rising costs and gaps in flood coverage raise questions for consumers and should spur those to act who remain unprepared and unprotected. Dickson has prepared a practical storm readiness guide for property owners. We also talked with him by phone regarding all the important steps to take before floodwaters come. Here are the top five:
- Be aware that home owners’ insurance typically doesn’t cover flood damage. Speak to your insurance agent to help you understand your risk and options for your best coverage.
- Once you have flood insurance, familiarize yourself with your policy so you know what you have and don’t have. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand.
- Be aware of certain limitations in your policy such as coverage for basements and enclosures, as well as “no additional living expenses post flood,” which may mean no costs are covered if you leave your home to stay in a hotel.
- Create a back-up emergency packet. Scan or include copies of important documents and give it to a friend or relative or store in a safe location away from the property at risk. You want to be sure you can get to it if your house is flooded. Never leave important documents in your car since that may be damaged in a flood.
- Prepare an evacuation plan for your family and pets. Map out multiple egress routes from your community in the event that exit roads are closed. Know where there are low points in the roads that may be more exposed to rising floodwaters.
While the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) continues to serve an important purpose for many, no single product meets everyone’s needs. In addition, while price often is the key factor whether you proceed and buy coverage, it’s important to bear in mind other considerations such as what’s covered. For example, you may not be able to afford full-risk rate premiums—the right rates for the risks involved, which are higher than subsidized ones.
But it’s still a good idea to explore all options. New ones, for example, are available now, says Dickson, which help you secure coverage tailored to your lifestyle, financial planning/budget and risk exposure.
You can also supplement NFIP coverage with private flood insurance options that can fill gaps in your coverage, which might involve:
- Added replacement cost coverage, which may be important to “restore” the lifestyle you previously enjoyed, e.g., big-screen TVs in most rooms or wall-to-wall carpeting in all bedrooms;
- Shorter wait periods before your coverage kicks in and becomes effective;
- Lower policy costs; and
- Possible elimination of the need to buy expensive elevation certificates.
To determine your best policy option, ask your insurance agent to explain your true flood risk. There are four key points that Dickson considers worth discussing and weighing:
The impact of a flood in your area. Ask about the history of floods in your area, so you can understand the potential risk and impact to your home and business, and if it’s real or a distant possibility.
Consider your property’s characteristics. Do you have a built-out man cave in the basement where you all can go to remain safe? Is your home elevated, or is it more exposed to flood waters? Are you at risk of being forced out of your home for weeks or even months if a flood happens? This information helps your agent match your needs with private flood insurance options.
Take advantage of online tools. Besides FEMA flood maps that you can access online, you can assess your flood risk through by studying tools such as www.floodtools.com. Enter an address, and you’ll gain a visual representation of where you are with respect to floodwaters and flood plains.
Find out about new, relevant private flood insurance options. These include additional living expenses, enhanced basement coverage, and increased limits for various risk classes.
To be prepared, be sure you have updated appraisals with photos of the contents of inventory in your home. After a flood occurs, remember to take photos on your phone or using another device to record condition and loss. Call a properly vetted recovery service and know how to file a claim. Following such steps can help you mitigate your exposure and go through a faster recovery process, Dickson says.
And in case you don’t have flood insurance and a flood hits, know that FEMA offers disaster assistance and apply for loans and other programs.
Finally, because hurricanes bring high waters and roaring winds, it’s smart if you’re in a single-family home, townhome or condo to assess the condition of trees on your property. Any, if weak or damaged, might topple over and add more headache, damage and expense to your home, cars, pets and people. You may want to have your arborist assess the condition and possibly trim some limbs how or remove them, or wait until spring, depending on species and their state.