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Check Your Insurance to Make Sure You’re Prepared

November 2019

Whether you own or rent, your home and the things inside of it are probably one of your biggest expenses when recovering from a disaster. However, your homeowners or renters insurance policy may not include coverage for certain disasters. Having insurance that covers the hazards your home might face can give you peace of mind and help protect what matters to you.

The first step is to check with your insurance company to understand what is covered—and what isn’t. Ask what would happen if your home and belongings were damaged in a disaster, how much money you’re covered for, and what the deductible is. While some hazards and the damage they may cause are included in typical homeowners or renters policies, many are not. Additionally, policies may have specific deductible rules for certain disasters, like hurricanes or wind and hail.

You’ll also want to consider what disasters are possible in your area. Ready.gov/be-informed has information about disasters you could face. Risk maps, like FEMA’s Earthquake hazard maps and the FEMA Flood Map Service Center, can also help. Also consider how much the potential damage could cost and your ability to pay for it without insurance. Keep reading below for details on insurance for earthquakes, fires, and floods.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes can happen anywhere. However, California, Alaska, and the Mississippi Valley have a higher risk since they are along seismic zones.

For those at risk of significant damage from an earthquake, earthquake insurance can help. Earthquake insurance covers repairs to both your home and personal belongings. It even covers additional living expenses if you cannot live in your home after an earthquake. However, there are some things that earthquake coverage won’t include. For example, your homeowners insurance will usually cover fires caused by an earthquake. If an earthquake causes a flood, however, you’ll need flood insurance (see below).

Many private insurance companies offer earthquake insurance. As a homeowner, you can add an earthquake endorsement to your homeowners policy. For example, homeowners looking for California earthquake insurance can buy from the California Earthquake Authority or various private companies.

Fires

In 2017, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) reported more than 1.3 million fires in the United States. Homeowners and renters insurance typically cover fire damage. But if you’re renting, don’t assume your landlord is responsible for all damages. Do you have renters insurance? Renters insurance usually covers your personal possessions, liability, and additional living expenses if your home is too damaged to live in. Be sure to check your coverage in case anything has changed recently (like if you did renovations).

Be sure to understand your area’s risk for wildfires. Check with your local fire department or a state agency, like the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Tool. In addition to potential fire damage, wildfires can change the landscape, leaving it unable to absorb water. This can create conditions for mudflow and flash flooding. The affected area can be at increased risk for flooding for up to several years after a fire.

Flooding

From wildfires to hurricanes to rainstorms, flooding is the most common and costly natural hazard in the United States. Even a small amount of water can be costly. Just one inch of water inside a building can cost around $25,000.

Homeowners and renters insurance do not usually cover flood damage. A flood insurance policy can help protect your property and your peace of mind. Visit FloodSmart.gov to understand your risk, learn how to buy a policy, and even how to reduce your cost. New policies typically require a 30-day waiting period before claims can be filed. So, don’t wait—get started today.

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Financial preparedness is an important part of emergency preparedness. Having an emergency fund and keeping cash on hand are just two more steps you can take to give you peace of mind before a disaster. You can learn more on the new Financial Emergency Hazard Sheet.

And no matter what policies you need, staying organized before a disaster can also help you be prepared. Keeping important insurance documents handy will help keep you organized in the event of a disaster. Keep physical copies and digital backup copies. Your Disaster Checklist from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and FEMA is an easy way to start. FEMA’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) can help you dive even deeper.

Making a home inventory is also an easy way to prepare in case anything happens. With a home inventory, your claim can be taken care of more quickly and easily. It can also help you better understand how much coverage you need. Be sure to save a digital copy as a backup.

Disasters can be emotionally and financially difficult. Taking steps today to prepare can give you peace of mind and help you recover faster.

This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.