April marks the deadliest month of the year for tornadoes in Tennessee. The April tornadoes from last year tragically resulted in multiple deaths, many injuries and significant damage to homes, vehicles and buildings across Southeast Tennessee. In the aftermath of the devastation, we saw selfless volunteerism that captures the best of what it means to be a Tennessean, and we saw communities come together and collectively rebuild.
I believe that we can continue to strengthen our communities by ensuring that we are prepared for future disasters. To minimize danger and discomfort, I urge all Tennesseans to create a plan for weather emergencies and to prepare a "go-bag" with medicine, clothes, documents including your home insurance policy, and other personal necessities.
Many in Southeast Tennessee were impacted by loss of property in the aftermath of the April tornadoes that occurred amid an unprecedented time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Commerce and Insurance immediately gave guidance to the insurance carriers to find creative solutions, so they were able to help consumers file their insurance claims safely. I commend the efforts that insurance carriers provided to Tennesseans allowing for virtual filing of claims. Additionally, our department was able to provide a 60-day extension guidance to carriers for consumers who were affected by the tornadoes so that they did not have to worry about the cancellation of their insurance policy. Overall, 15,223 insurance claims totaling over $444.6 million were filed with insurance companies following the devastating storms. These sobering statistics lead to another disaster preparation recommendation: Review your homeowners' policy at least annually to ensure your policy provides you adequate coverage.
Homeowners insurance is critically important because it financially protects consumers' most valuable property — their homes. Despite the importance of being insured, more than half of all homeowners in the United States do not carry adequate homeowners insurance to replace their home and its contents should a catastrophic loss occur. Because not all policies are the same and everyone's needs can vary, it is important that you consult with your Tennessee-licensed insurance professional to be sure your policy is right for your needs. It is also important to review your policy annually to remind yourself of your coverage and to make any updates based on new purchases, renovations, increases in property value or increases in costs to rebuild or replace personal property.
FOR MORE INFO
For questions about your insurance policy or to file a complaint with the state insurance division, call 615-741-2218 or 1-800-342-4029 or visit online at tn.gov/insurance.
Another best practice is to document your personal property. Maintaining a detailed inventory of your property's contents will assist you when a disaster strikes. It is helpful to take photos and videos of your possessions to help you have a record of your belongings. In addition, be sure to also write down descriptions, including year, make and model numbers, where appropriate. You should be sure to store your inventory somewhere it can be easily accessed after a disaster. Additionally, electronic documents should be secured with strong passwords and saved securely to the cloud or physically on external hard drives that are similarly stored in secure locations and protected from fire and water.
Despite all the obstacles we have faced over the past year, Tennesseans continue to show their character and grit with unwavering resiliency. One year ago, as the storm cleared and the loss and devastation became apparent, we saw the Volunteer spirit as communities found safe solutions to provide assistance to those affected by the storms.
Carter Lawrence serves as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and state fire marshal.