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How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Nine ways you can prepare for hurricane season now

Getty Images/Mario Tama

Climate scientists predict that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will be even more active than 2012’s, when Superstorm Sandy devastated the eastern U.S. coastline. We can also expect a greater number of major hurricanes—those with an intensity of Category Three or stronger—to make landfall in the coming months. Follow these nine steps to help safeguard yourself, your family and your property.

MAKE A DETAILED STORM AND EVACUATION PLAN NOW

Include everything from contact numbers (e.g., plumber, alarm company, insurance agent) to driving directions. Try to memorize it and ensure both hard and electronic copies of it are easily accessible to you and your family. “As we found out with hurricanes Irene and Sandy in the Northeast, preparedness is becoming even more essential,” says Roberto Stewart, VP of risk management services and loss prevention for AIG Private Client Group. “The good thing about a hurricane is you have a warning period, but that should be used only for evacuation and last-minute things such as putting up shutters,” explains Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Consider where any live-in domestic staff will go. Do you have plenty of cash and fuel on hand before a storm hits, in the event of a widespread, prolonged power outage? Where will the family pets stay?

“Even the most well-intentioned among us who intend to prepare for something often let it get away,” says Scott Spencer, SVP and worldwide appraisal and loss prevention manager at Chubb Group of Insurance Cos.

NEW HOME CONSTRUCTION

When designing a new house, hire a licensed, reputable engineer to work hand-in-hand with your architect to make sure the structure is strong enough to withstand a major hurricane. At the very minimum or base-level design code, inland structures should be equipped to withstand 90-mph winds, those along the coast 110-mph gales. Coastal homes should also have elevated foundations or wash-through spaces at ground level. Hip roofs, which allow strong winds to travel over and around a building, are more likely to survive a strong storm than gable roofs.

PREPATE YOUR HOUSE FOR A WORST-CASE SCENARIO

“Now is the time to put in place the structural reinforcements that are necessary to improve your home’s ability to withstand a storm,” says A. LeConte Moore, managing director of the DeWitt Stern Group, who specializes in high net worth homes and high value art collections. This can include installing impact- resistant windows, permanent storm shutters, metal straps that secure the roof to a home’s interior walls, and commercial-grade gable-roof and garage door reinforcements. Avoid putting off any repairs and routine maintenance, regardless of how minor the issues might seem. Replacing a loose roof tile, for example, or trimming back overhanging tree branches are critical steps. The roof of any building is its first and most important line of defense during a storm. “If water gets into your house and the power is out, as is often the case after a hurricane, you will get mold, which can put you out of your home for several weeks or even months,” adds Julie Rochman.

“If water gets into your house and the power is out…you will get mold, which can put you out of your home for several weeks or even months.”

MAKE TRAVEL PLANS ACCORDINGLY

As superstorm sandy taught us, hurricanes can devastate areas well beyond the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S., so do as much weather-related research on a given destination as possible. Even if a specific region is not immediately affected by a major storm, travel disruptions spread far and fast. So it is always worthwhile to check on the status of airports, accommodations and driving routes before you depart, even if the weather forecast is promising. Buying travel insurance with cancellation and interruption coverage well in advance of your trip is another way to safeguard yourself should such an event occur while you are away. “It’s important to note that hurricane season occurs at the height of summer travel,” says Scott Ackerman, SVP of sales at Travel Guard Americas.

BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES

Insurance companies will ask yacht owners to submit a storm plan, and they must follow it in order to maintain coverage. “A yacht owner’s captain and/or broker is usually best equipped to help draw up the storm plan when the boat is purchased,” explains John Jarvie, VP of Oversea Yacht Insurance. If your plan is to keep the vessel in the water, ensure that it’s surrounded by top-quality fenders and double-lined to a floating dock. Good marinas will offer the option to sign a contract that ensures the yacht owner will have a space reserved in the event of a hurricane. If the storm plan involves an indoor facility, make sure to check the facility’s hurricane rating, which will range from a Category One to a Category Five (the latter is best).

SECURE A SAFE PLACE FOR YOUR VALUABLES

With high-value items that can often be large and fragile, such as fine art and cases of wine, owners must consider factors such as temperature, humidity and the potential risks involved in transporting the collection. Contract ahead of time with a company that works exclusively in the moving and storing of high-value items to ensure the provider has adequate space and time to help you while a storm is approaching. Owners of large outdoor pieces of art—a Jeff Koons sculpture, for example, or an Alexander Calder mobile—will want experts in art transportation to come to their property when a hurricane is approaching and properly deconstruct, pack and transport the art to a secure warehouse. “Taking the Picasso, throwing it in the back of the Jag and heading up Interstate 95 is not a good idea,” Chubb’s Spencer says.

It is critical to not only consider the potential loss or damage of high-value items, but also irreplaceable belongings such as family photographs, videos and important documents, which should be locked away remotely as well as scanned and stored digitally.

ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR INSURANCE AGENT

Ideally, find one with many years of experience working in your area and who also specializes in storm mitigation. “We always discuss with our clients their house and what can be done to better prepare the property,” AIG’s Stewart explains. “The more conversations we have, the more detailed we can get with the policy. We pose several questions to the client: What is going to be the impact if you can’t get back into your house for a significant period of time? What is going to be the impact if you lose power for 30 days? We look collectively at what the client owns. Do they have fine art? Do they have a wine collection?”

TAKE A DETAILED INVENTORY OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD

Online programs such as Know Your Stuff allow users to fill out and store a household inventory digitally, making it much easier to process a claim quickly in the wake of a hurricane. Julie Rochman says another effective way of creating an inventory is to take a smartphone or camera and walk around filming the house, inside and out. “Open drawers, closets, record everything,” she says. “Then store the video somewhere else—online or with a friend or relative who lives in another area.”

KNOW AND UNDERSTAND YOUR INSURANCE POLICY

Most homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover flood damage, which is offered either through the federal government or as an add-on policy from a private insurer. (Chubb, for example, provides flood protection on an excess basis, covering damages that exceed the federal-level cap.) “The most important thing to know about federal flood insurance is there’s usually a 30-day waiting period for it to kick in,” says Julie Rochman. So the time to buy coverage is well before the summer months.

Insurance companies such as ACE, AIG, Chubb and Heuer, which all specialize in high-value properties, also have dedicated employees authorized (by you) to visit your property before and/or after a major storm. They can help prepare the house by overseeing the installation of storm shutters, moving valuables away from windows and other high-risk areas, and cleaning out gutters and drainpipes. “Insurance companies are becoming much more proactive,” Moore says. “More than just financial protection for your physical assets, these specialized services are built into a policy to provide second and third homeowners, who may not have an on-site property manager, someone who will inspect the property and salvage anything that’s at risk of further damage.”

For more information, contact John Jarvie, Oversea Yacht Insurance, john@overseainsurance.com, 954.522.2262, overseainsurance.com; Know Your Stuff, knowyourstuff.org; A. LeConte Moore, DeWitt Stern Group, cmoore@dewittstern.com, 212.297.1486, dewittstern.com; Julie Rochman, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, jrochman@ibhs.org, 813.675.1044, ibhs.org; Scott Spencer, Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., srspencer@chubb.com, 908.572.2862, chubb.com; Roberto Stewart, AIG Private Client Group, roberto.stewart@aig.com, 718.425.4191, aig.com; Lori A. Whitt, VP, Travel Guard, lori.whitt@travelguard.com, 715.295.9171, travelguard.com.

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