published Friday, April 29th, 2011

Inside Insurance: A new storm reality grips the South

By David Colmans

The stunning images of incredible damage from the April super storms that raked across the Southern states presented an up close and personal reality about the power of super cells and tornados.

The feeling I get after watching this devastation is exactly the way I felt feel after the death and destruction hurricanes bring to coastal areas. There is the sudden impact of the events with the damage as it occurs, followed by the discovery of those who were injured or worse.

We are now in what is the “long tail” of the aftermath. The clean up, recovery and rebuilding is on. Another aspect of these horrible events is the phase where we think about what we did right and what we should have done.

To watch the death toll rise from 83 before sunrise the morning after the storms hit to 173 before 8 a.m. just makes me wonder about how close we all can be to the same fate. Later it went much higher.

All this is said to direct our focus to the importance of advance planning and the kind of preparation that may save more lives in the future. Here are very real ways we can prepare to survive.

Weather Broadcasts: The news media is providing more and more very good coverage of these events even before they occur, but I continue to be amazed by the number of us who still do not have a weather alert radio on in our homes. Weather alert radio broadcasts are also available on some weather Web sites and through various apps on smart phones. This is one service that can literally save lives with advance information.

Advance Planning: It’s one thing to know something bad is happening and another to do nothing about it. We see this virtually every year with hurricanes. “I’ve ridden them out before, so I’m not going anywhere.” What about those in homes with no basements, those in mobile homes and recreational vehicles or the road warriors who have a iPod, a CD or satellite radio on and may not have a clue as to what’s about to happen?

If your home is clearly not the safest place to be in severe weather, it makes sense to plan where you and your family should go that is much safer. Going to a safer place should be considered sooner rather than later.

Inventory Your Belongings: The devastation we saw from these tornadoes should remind us to think about what will happen in the recover phase of a disaster. If your home or apartment is smashed to pieces, the only way you can have a reasonable chance of replacing what you had before the incident is with an accurate room-by-room home inventory that includes pictures of everything from the large furniture pieces to the drawer full of silverware, the closets full of clothing and everything in between. The inventory should be copied and kept in several places such as a bank safety deposit box, with relatives in other cities and in other locations such as an on-line site that you trust.

Your insurer will need proof of loss and the inventory is the best way to provide that proof so you will be financially protected.

Homeowners and Renters Insurance: Most of us have homeowners insurance if we have a mortgage because it is required by the mortgage-holder. Nationally, less than half of renters obtain renters insurance, and while the landlord is responsible for the building, we are responsible for our belongings in the landlord’s building. The only way to be protected against loss is to have a renter’s insurance policy that is much less expensive than a homeowner’s policy since you (delete “r”) are only insuring belongings and not the building.

Contact Your Insurer: Literally thousands of claims are filed with insurance companies after disasters such as we experienced. Your insurer needs to know how to reach you when there is no power, or your property is damaged to the point that you must temporarily relocate.

Cell phone numbers, relative or friends’ phone numbers are import to provide or the number of your hotel or other temporary residence so you can be prepared to meet with your insurer’s representative.

Go-Kit: We often speak of a go-kit for your vehicle with blankets, flashlights and other survival gear, but what may be the most important to have ready to go at a moment’s notice is a medical supply kit. It should have basic first aid items, and a supply of medicines that you and members of your family need on a daily basis. This is especially important when there are children, seniors or those with chronic illness issues.

There is so much more to consider, and our Web site, http://www.giis.org, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, http://www.gema.ga.gov or many others have a great deal of preparation information.

Just make sure, if at all possible, that you are not taken by surprise, even if you only have a relatively short time to prepare.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by email at dcolmans@giis.org.

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