By David Colmans

It is one thing for Mother Nature to give us a tap on the shoulder, and quite another to be slapped across the face.

In the early Spring, law enforcement, emergency rescue agencies and insurers began our annual journey down the road of public awareness campaigns for severe weather season across much of the country, and most especially, in the South and Midwest.

Sadly, the most difficult area to deal with remains public awareness and that inherent belief that "Bad things happen to other people, not to me."

Please note that Mother Nature has both a sense of humor, as seen in this generally beautiful weather, and a nasty streak as evidenced by the April tornadoes that smashed across many Southern states.

So it won't happen to me? Let's review what's occurred just recently in global terms.

-- Devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and other countries.

-- A volcanic eruption that brought air transportation to its knees in the northern hemisphere.

-- The tornado events just noted, especially in Mississippi.

-- An oil platform explosion so strong the rig collapsed, 11 workers died, and an oil slick formed in the Gulf of Mexico larger than the state of Rhode Island. It threatens the fishing and vacation industry along the Gulf Coast, just to single out two industries.

-- Let's not leave out unexpected industrial issues such as a fire at a chemical plant that sends up a toxic cloud over a large area. That happened in Georgia a few years ago causing numerous evacuations.

Where does the feeling of "Don't bother me with warnings and alerts" come from?

Good question. There were warnings when the Mississippi tornado approached, but not everyone has a weather alert radio or has their radio or TV on at all times. Earthquakes are, so far, not predictable for public warning purposes.

Here's where it really gets to me. Even when the National Hurricane Center warned residents of Texas that Hurricane Ike was approaching with high winds and a strong storm surge - ditto for Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast - remember how many people died because "riding out a hurricane is what we do."

Just a few days ago, a north Georgia county reported that it would stop using its outdoor sirens except for specific tornado warnings because people complained that severe thunderstorm warnings coupled with a tornado watch were too "bothersome."

All these very real issues result in exposure for individuals regarding their homeowners insurance, renters insurance, auto and liability policies just to mention a few. For businesses, disasters involve business interruption insurance, potential relocation costs and/or rebuilding costs, loss of inventory coverage and more.

The airline industry just lost $2-$3 billion dollars due to all the grounded planes from the volcano eruption not to mention what happened to the Iceland residents who live near the volcano. The Gulf oil rig was insured for $560 million by British Petroleum. It's now a mile deep.

Many of these disasters occur regularly such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes. The only questions are when, where and what time? That is why advance preparedness is the first line of defense, not surprise and panic.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at 770-565-3806 or

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