Prepare Your Home and Finances for Hurricane Sandy
It sounds like Hurricane Sandy is on track to be a massive storm. What can I still do to prepare for it? And what should I do right away if I end up having storm damage?
Start with the basics. You probably already know to stock up on groceries and water, fully charge your cell phone and other electronics, and make sure that your car has a full tank of gas. You'll also want to have a battery-operated radio, flashlights and a phone that isn’t dependent on electricity in case the power is knocked out for a while. If you bank online, pay your bills now so they aren’t delayed if the power goes out. Check out FEMA's fact sheet on building a disaster-supplies kit.
Update your home inventory. People who have made insurance claims after weather disasters say that having an up-to-date home inventory is key. That way, you can file a claim on losses right away rather than having to try to remember everything you lost. If you have a smart phone, take photos or videos of everything -- including your valuables and the architectural details of your home -- and e-mail it to yourself so that you can access it from anywhere. Several insurance companies have apps that make it easy to maintain your inventory and file claims online. Or you can use the Insurance Information Institute's home inventory app or the inventory app from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Create an emergency kit and emergency file. Store cash, insurance policies, your home inventory (if it's on paper), tax records, other important papers and key contact information in a portable file that you can take with you if you are evacuated. Better yet, store key financial records online so that they are accessible wherever you are (hard copies are handy as a backup in case you don't have online access immediately.)
Protect your home. Trim shrubs and low-hanging tree branches -- trees tend to cause some of the biggest damage during a hurricane, and often such damage isn't covered by insurance. (See our story: When Your Tree Falls in Your Neighbor's Yard.) Clean your gutters of leaves and other debris so that they can handle heavy rains, and bring outdoor furniture and other loose items from your yard inside or secure them so that they don’t become projectiles in high winds. If you have time and are facing a direct hit, get plywood or storm shutters or other items to protect your home. Go to FEMA's hurricane preparation page and see our story How to Prepare for a Hurricane for more information.
Cover your bases on insurance. Wind damage and wind-driven rain that comes into your home through the roof, windows, doors or holes in the walls is generally covered by homeowners insurance. But water from the bottom up -- such as from the overflow of a body of water -- is not covered (for that, you'd need to by separate flood insurance). It's too late to buy a flood policy before next week's storm, but you may still be able to make changes to your homeowners insurance policy against other types of storm damage -- such as sewage backups, which are common after sewers overflow or a sump pump stops working during heavy rains. See our story Protect Your Home and Finances Against Floods for more information about flood insurance, sewage backups and other assistance you may qualify for if you have flood damage but no flood coverage.
Have an evacuation and communication plan ready. Find out now where to go if you are ordered to evacuate. Your local office of emergency management can keep you informed about evacuation orders, disaster assistance centers and local storm reports. You can also get disaster updates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA's Ready.gov site has a lot of helpful resources for preparing for an emergency and is featuring hurricane safety tips and Hurricane Sandy updates right now.
If you are evacuated, ask a family member or friend in another area to let others know your whereabouts and status. Have contact information for your insurance company and agent easily accessible in case you need to file a claim from a distance. And keep receipts for food and lodging, which may be reimbursed by your insurer even if you don't end up having damage. See the Insurance Information Institute's Preparing an Effective Evacuation Plan for more information.
Be prepared in case your home is damaged. Find out the procedures the insurer recommends for filing a claim. Some insurers now have apps that make it easy to take pictures of damage and send the files, claim report and home inventory directly to the insurance company. Many insurers also send mobile claims units to disaster areas so that you can file a claim and ask questions in person. See How to Get Insurance Companies to Pay Your Claims for more information about claims and 8 Steps to Help Get Your Hurricane Claim Paid Quickly. Also, check out Make Your Insurer Pay for advice from victims of Hurricane Katrina. Go to DisasterAssistance.gov for more information about federal, state and other assistance available in your area.
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