June 1st marks the official beginning of the hurricane season. Coming on the back of last year’s record-breaking devastation, coastal residents are already preparing for the worst.
In South Florida, blue tarps still cover thousands of roofs that still haven’t been fixed from last year’s hurricanes. Most of these roofs won’t be repaired by the time the season swings into full gear. With insurance companies pulling out or limiting their exposure in Gulf coast states and along the east coast of the U.S., homeowners have to take on more of the responsibility for preparing for whatever Mother Nature dishes out.
And it can be pretty bad. Last year’s three worst hurricanes, Katrina, Wilma and Rita, rank as three of the seven most costly hurricanes in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute (iii.org), a non-profit trade association for the insurance industry.
But as bad as those hurricanes were, some coastal homeowners haven’t taken the proper steps to increase their insurance to appropriate levels.
A survey released in mid-May found that as many as one-third of residents in hurricane-vulnerable states may not be adequately insured. One in three of those surveyed said it has been three years or more since they reviewed their insurance coverage.
The survey, conducted for the National Hurricane Survival Initiative by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, also reported that more than half of those surveyed said they believed their insurance policies covered damage from flooding or were not sure.
That confirms what Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, has been saying for some time.
“Most homeowners believe that their homeowners policy does cover them in case of flooding. In fact, the typical homeowners’ insurance policy does not cover flooding,” she said at a conference in early May.
Flood insurance must be purchased separately from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which limits coverage to $250,000, with an extra $100,000 for contents coverage.
Some private insurers have begun offering flood insurance policies, including Chubb (Chubb.com), which recently introduced personal flood insurance coverage up to $15 million for a house and its contents. The policy was introduced initially in Arizona, Illinois and Colorado, although the company intends to expand coverage to other states later this year.
But West coast and non-coastal residents should be taking stock of their flood preparedness as well.
“One big mistake homeowners make is thinking they only need flood insurance if they live next to an ocean or large body of water,” Worters noted.
But she points out that significant flooding occurred in Georgia, North Carolina and other states as a result of the massive hurricane storms. Additionally, damage caused by excessive rain, such as the recent storms in the northeast, also isn’t covered by traditional homeowner’s insurance.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), flooding causes upwards of $2 billion in damages each year. Yet a recent survey by Chubb found that only 14 percent of homeowners purchase a separate flood insurance policy. The same survey found that nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that only homeowners who live near a body of water need flood insurance.
“Flooding can happen anywhere in the United States, even in areas that are not considered high-risk by FEMA,” said Peter Spicer, vice president, Chubb & Son, and manager of the new personal flood insurance program.
What can you do? Start by assessing your current homeowner’s insurance policy. Do you have adequate coverage for your home and its contents? Next, think about whether your home is at risk for flooding due to a storm or a hurricane.
Even if you don&’t live in an official “flood plain,” talk to your local village or city department of housing officials to find out if flood plains in your area are being redrawn. In many cases, flood plains are being expanded.
If it’;s possible that you will have flood damage caused by a “rising tide of water,” you should consider purchasing a flood insurance policy from FEMA. The cost averages about $400 per year and takes effect 30 days after purchase.
For more information on FEMA’s flood insurance program, go to www.Floodsmart.gov. from the publisher.