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‘TOP 50’ STORM-PREPAREDNESS TIPS

It’s important to take steps to help ensure that you’re ready for the potential damage that severe storms can cause. By taking the time to do things like check that your insurance policies are in order and create an inventory of your personal belongings, you’ll be better prepared.

That’s why the Department of Financial Services (DFS) is outlining a list of its ‘top 50’ storm-preparedness tips, including steps New Yorkers should take to help make certain their homes are storm ready and their property is adequately insured.

General Storm Preparedness Tips

  1. Sign up to receive storm updates as they come. Consider subscribing to NY-ALERT, New York State’s all hazards alert and notification system. You can subscribe by visiting www.nyalert.gov.
  2. Designate a person who is a central point of contact for you and your family members to call in an emergency, so everybody can check in and be accounted for. Don’t forget to alert the designated person.
  3. Have a personal evacuation plan that includes a place where you and your family can stay if your area is evacuated, and the nearest evacuation center.  Assemble an evacuation bag for every household member.  Pack lightly but bring essentials, including a supply of any medication.
  4. When flooding occurs, certain previously designated evacuation routes may be unusable.  For those living or working in New York City, don’t rely on the subway system when planning how you will get from your home to your planned evacuation destination.
  5. Don’t forget to plan for your pets when you evacuate: all evacuation centers centers allow pets with proper identification, though there may be more comfortable options for them.
  6. Most mobile homes are not strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds. If you live in a mobile home, evacuate before the storm hits.
  7. Be prepared to live without electricity. Keep flashlights and batteries on hand and learn how to operate your garage door manually. Charge cellphones while you still have power.
  8. Keep copies of family records (birth, marriage, and death certificates), your insurance policy, and other important documents in a waterproof container that you take with you when you evacuate or keep in a safe deposit box in a secure institution that is not in a flood hazard zone. 
  9. Before a storm, turn your refrigerator and freezer to a colder setting than usual to keep their contents cold for longer should you lose power. Remember to keep your freezer and refrigerator closed as much as possible while the power is out.
  10. If you choose to use an emergency generator, be careful to follow the instructions as generators can be dangerous. Keep the generator outside in a well-ventilated area.
  11. Before a storm hits, inspect, or have professionals inspect, trees on your property . Consider removing or pruning trees with forked, dead or diseased trunks, branches with dead tips, disease or rot, mounds or divots near roots, and other signs of decay.
  12. Install storm windows and replace old garage doors with new ones built to withstand wind pressure and other impact. Weak garage doors can break down and allow wind and rain to ravage your home.
  13. Bring loose objects inside if you can, and anchor those that you cannot. Outdoor items such as lawn furniture and garbage receptacles can become dangerous when airborne.
  14. Move valuable objects to upper floors. Basements are particularly vulnerable to flooding. Moreover, basement damage is for the most part not covered by flood insurance.
  15. Stay out of flooded basements. Electrical outlets below the water line pose a hazard. If your basement is flooding, contact your electricity provider and ask them to turn off your electricity.
  16. Never use an outdoor grill or stove inside your house or apartment, even if you lose power and have no other means of heating food. Grills become dangerous without proper ventilation.

Tips on Purchasing an Insurance Policy

  1. If you are considering purchasing insurance over the Internet, check that you are using an agent, broker or insurer who is licensed to sell insurance in New York State.
  2. Remember, when you are applying for or purchasing insurance on the Internet you are transmitting key financial and personal data over a network to an insurer or agent. There are many scam websites, so make sure any website you are using is legitimate and secure.
  3. It is important to comparison shop when purchasing insurance.  Both insurance policy cost and coverage can vary by company.
  4. When comparing insurance policy prices, make certain you are comparing the same type of policies.  For example, if an insurer gives you a quote for the more comprehensive homeowners policy (an HO-3 policy), be sure to specifically ask other insurers for policy quotes for the same type of policy.
  5. When determining how much your home should be insured for, you should consider what it would cost to rebuild your home if it were completely destroyed, and not just the market value of the home or the value of the land itself.
  6. Some insurers require hurricane deductibles for properties located in the five boroughs of New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties, and coastal areas of Westchester County.  These deductible are usually a company-mandated deductible that applies when a storm is declared a hurricane, and are commonly 1% to 5% of the amount of insurance on the dwelling.  Consider the effect of a hurricane deductible when shopping for insurance. 
  7. Flood insurance is mandatory for homes with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders in high-risk flood areas. Make sure you know if your home falls under these mandates. Flood insurance can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at www.floodsmart.com.
  8. Even if your home is not in a high-risk flood area, you may want to consider purchasing enough flood insurance to cover the structure of your home as well as its contents. The NFIP website (see above) provides guidance for how much flood insurance you should purchase and what add-ons you may wish to consider. Increasingly, flood is occurring where it never has occurred before. This makes it all the more important that New Yorkers carefully consider getting flood insurance if they don’t already have it.
  9. Be aware that there is a 30-day waiting period before National Flood Insurance Policies become valid, so prepare before hurricane season strikes.
  10. Renters living on floors susceptible to flood damage should consider buying a renters flood policy through the National Flood Insurance Program.

General Insurance Tips

  1. Read and understand your homeowners insurance policy. Consider consulting the Homeowners Resource Center to make sure that you are properly covered.
  2. If you experience difficulty understanding your homeowners insurance policy or need something clarified, reach out to your insurance agent, broker or insurer, or contact the New York State Department of Financial Services at (800) 342-3736 to help clear up any confusion.
  3. Make sure your insurance coverage will be adequate if your home is damaged in a flood. Flood insurance is usually not included in homeowners policies. Flood insurance is not usually included in homeowners policies. Make sure your insurance package fits your situation before a loss occurs, and consider a policy that covers your personal belongings in addition to your structure.
  4. If your home is not insured for a minimum of 80% of its replacement cost, your claim will generally not be settled on a replacement cost basis even if your policy contains such coverage. Review your policy to make sure you are sufficiently covered.
  5. Look over your policy annually to check that your coverage has been adjusted for inflation.  Although many companies offer policies that increase with inflation, check your policy every year to make sure.
  6. Don’t forget to increase the amount of your homeowners insurance whenever you make substantial home improvements, such as a new addition (for example, a new room).
  7. Conduct a home inventory to determine the cost of replacing your possessions and consider purchasing an endorsement upgrading your contents coverage to replacement cost.  Most policies will deduct depreciation from your contents payment unless you purchase this endorsement.
  8. Consider using the DFS Home Inventory Checklist (PDF) to create a list of your personal property. Maintain off-premises copies of invoices and receipts to establish an accurate value of items. In the event that any of your belongings are damaged or lost due to weather, you need to be able to prove that you owned them, and also that they were in good condition at the time of loss. Keeping photos may help claims get processed faster. When making a home inventory, you may want to make a video of your possessions, and verbally describe the items.  When complete, make a back-up copy of the video and keep it in a location other than your home.
  9. An insurer may offer a premium discount for smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler and security systems.  Insurers are required to offer discounts if you install hurricane/storm shutters, or hurricane resistant laminated glass windows and doors on all exterior wall openings (as long as they meet prescribed minimum standards and are installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications).
  10. Many uninsured renters are under the impression that their personal possessions are covered under their landlord’s policy. A landlord does not provide insurance for a tenant’s personal property.
  11. A condominium association typically will have insurance that covers the building structure and common areas, such as corridors and lobbies. Separately purchased condominium insurance covers the unit owner for interior walls, kitchen and bathroom fixtures and all improvements in addition to personal property coverage.
  12. Consumers can view “report cards” evaluating how various insurers handled Superstorm Sandy at the Sandy Disaster Insurance Assistance website.
  13. Homeowners insurance does not provide coverage for damage to your car caused by a storm, even if the car is parked on your property.  However, optional automobile “Comprehensive” insurance includes coverage for fire, wind, flood, and falling objects.
  14. One way to lower your insurance premium is to raise your standard policy deductible, for example, from $250 to $500.  However, it is important to consider your budget and not raise your deductible so high that it will present a hardship if a loss occurs.
  15. Homeowners policies generally contain lower coverage limits (for example, $1,500) for certain types of personal property such as jewelry, furs, and coin collections.  Ask your insurance agent, broker or company about purchasing an endorsement to your policy if you want to increase these limits.
  16. Some insurers sell policies with optional windstorm deductibles that are commonly 1% to 5% of either the value of the home or the amount of insurance on the home.  These deductibles are triggered when wind of any speed causes damage to your property.  You should weigh whether the premium savings for these deductibles is truly worth the additional out of pocket expense you will incur if wind damages your home.
  17. Coverage for any personal property used in a business is generally limited to $2,500 in a Homeowners policy.  Talk with your insurance agent, broker or insurer if you run a home-based business to ensure that your business property is adequately covered.

Tips for Dealing with Storm Damage

  1. With the exception of repairs necessary to protect the property from further damage, you should not make repairs to damaged property until the loss has been inspected by the insurer.  In any case the damage should be documented by taking pictures video.
  2. Any damage or loss due to the storm must be reported to your insurer as soon as reasonably possible.
  3. If you experience a loss, it is important to cooperate with the insurance company’s claims adjuster.  The adjuster may ask to see damaged property or ask you to provide documentation (for example, receipts) in support of your claim.
  4. Homeowner and tenant policies will generally reimburse you for the difference between your normal living expenses and any additional living expenses you incur when your company determines that your home is uninhabitable because of damage caused by one of the covered perils.  Not all living expenses will be reimbursed. Examples of covered expenses include hotel bills, restaurant bills, and telephone bills.  Be sure to keep receipts of these and other expenses while you are out of your home.
  5. If you disagree with your insurer’s estimate of the damage, consider hiring a public adjuster to value the loss, which may help you to justify your position with your insurer.  Keep in mind that a public adjuster can charge up to 12.5% of the insurance settlement.
  6. The Appraisal Process is an alternative to consider when you and your homeowners insurance company disagree about the amount to repair or replace property that both sides agree is covered by the policy.  You and your company select a competent and disinterested appraiser and the two appraisers, in turn, select an umpire. Each appraiser must evaluate the loss and determine the value of each item. Any disagreements between the appraisers regarding the value of any items are submitted to, and settled by, the umpire. The costs of this process are paid by the policyholder and the insurance company.
  7. If you encounter a problem with an insurance company, agent, broker or adjuster that you cannot resolve, file a complaint with DFS. Call the DFS toll free number (800) 342-3736 if you need more help or want advice on whether to file a complaint.

Updated 10/09/2013

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