As Hurricane Irene approaches the Washington, DC, area, now is the time for District residents and businesses to make certain they are prepared for any storm damages that might occur. Hurricane Irene and the recent earthquake in the metropolitan area are reminders that natural disasters can cause damage at any time.
“It is important for both homeowners and renters to understand their coverage options and prepare for the possibility of losses that may be caused by potential natural disasters,” said DISB Commissioner William P. White. “District of Columbia residents should re-evaluate their needs for disaster-related insurance by regularly taking inventory of their belongings to make sure their existing homeowners coverage is adequate.”
DISB reminds all District residents and business owners that taking the following steps BEFORE the storm will make recovering from the storm easier for everyone:
Collect Your Insurance Information
Store copies of your insurance policies with your home inventory. Make sure to have a copy of your policy declarations page listing all of your coverages, as well as your insurance cards.
It’s also important to have 24-hour contact details for your insurance agent and insurance company. Make a list that includes your policy numbers, your insurance company and agent’s phone numbers, website addresses and mailing addresses. Also, check if the company or your agent has set up an emergency information hotline. It is a good idea to store this information, and your home inventory, in a waterproof, fireproof box or safe. If you evacuate your home, don't forget to take this information with you.
Before Hurricane Irene hits, review your insurance policies. Make sure you know what is and is not covered. If you have questions, contact your insurance agent or company.
NOTE: Flood damage is not covered by a standard homeowners or renter’s insurance policy. If you have a separate flood insurance policy, remember to include a copy and the contact details for the insurance company on your list. Flood insurance, provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), is available through most insurers, and residents should ask their insurer for information about the availability and cost of NFIP flood insurance. If an insurer is unable or unwilling to provide information about NFIP flood insurance, information is available at www.floodsmart.gov or by calling (888) 379-9531.
It’s Not Too Late to Create a Home Inventory
To make the claims process easier, it’s imperative to have a complete list of the belongings in your home. An inventory should include all the vital information about your belongings (brand name, price, date of purchase, model, serial number and receipts) and should be accompanied by photos of the items. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, of which DISB is a member, has a free smartphone app that can walk you through creating just such a database. The iPhone version is available here, the Android version here. A simple-to-use home inventory checklist is also available on the NAIC Insure U website.
If you don’t have time to create a comprehensive list of the items in your home, then quickly videotape or photograph every room. The more detail you include, the easier it will be for your insurance company to evaluate your loss. When making your list, make sure to open drawers and closets, and don’t forget to take stock of what’s in your garage and storage buildings.
Once you have made your inventory, or taken photographs of your home, e-mail the information to family or friends living out of the hurricane threat or your insurance agent.
Prepare for the Worst
There are steps you can take to help mitigate some of the damage caused by a hurricane or tropical storm. If your home is equipped with storm shutters, make sure you can quickly put them in place. Clear your yard of debris that could become projectiles in high winds and trim dead or overhanging branches from trees surrounding your home. It’s also a good time to make a quick review of your home to make sure the roof sheathing is properly secured, that end gables are securely fastened to the roof, and that doors and garage doors are latched properly.
For personal safety, identify the nearest storm shelter and have an evacuation plan for your family. Also, make sure you have hurricane survival supplies including: bottled water, a first aid kit, flashlights, a battery-operated radio, at least three days of non-perishable food items, blankets, clothing, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, personal hygiene supplies and enough cash for at least three days.
If you are forced to evacuate your home, turn off all utilities and disconnect appliances to reduce the chance of additional damage and electrical shock when utilities are restored.
For more information about how to prepare your family and home for the threat of tropical storms or hurricanes, visit the American Red Cross’website or download their Hurricane Safety Checklist.
After the Storm
The days following a natural disaster can be confusing and stressful, but it is important that you focus on filing your insurance claims as quickly as possible to help protect your financial future.
The first step to getting your home restored is to contact your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information. Be aware that your policy might require that you make this notification within a certain time frame.
Take photographs/video of the damage before clean-up or repairs. After you’ve documented the damage, make repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). DO NOT have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs. Be prepared to provide the claims adjuster with records of any improvements you made prior to the damage. Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs.
If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask your insurance company or agent if you have coverage for additional living expenses.
Cooperate fully with the insurance company. Ask what documents, forms and data you will need to file the claim. Keep a diary of all conversations you have with the insurance company and your insurance agent, including names, times and dates of the calls or visits and contact details.
Be certain to give your insurance company all the information they need. Incorrect or incomplete information may cause a delay in processing your claim.
If the first offer made by the insurance company does not meet your expectations, be prepared to negotiate. If there is a disagreement about the claim, ask the company for the specific language in the policy in question and determine why you and the company interpret your policy differently. If you believe you are being treated unfairly, contact DISB, the District of Columbia’s state insurance department.
Protect Yourself From Home Repair Fraud
Home repair fraud increases exponentially following a major storm. Protect your investment by getting more than one bid from contractors and requesting at least three references. Ask for proof of necessary licenses, building permits, insurance and bonding. Record the contractor’s license plate number and driver's license number, and then check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau. Finally, be wary of contractors who demand up-front payment for repairs. If the contractor needs money to buy supplies, go with the contractor and pay the supplier directly.
For information about preparing for any weather threat, contact DISB at (202) 727-8000 or visit its website at www.disb.dc.gov.