As we’ve seen in other parts of the country, it’s a season of severe weather. Tornadoes, tropical storms, hurricanes and forest fires have ravaged communities and displaced families. Here in Maine, we’ve experienced frequent thunderstorms and heavy rains. Flooding in portions of Aroostook and Penobscot counties earlier this year, as well as during the Patriot’s Day storm in 2007, also serve to remind us that disasters aren’t limited to faraway places — they can certainly strike close to home.
During the summer and into the fall, there are many potential causes of damage to homes and personal property. Wind, flooding and fire are real threats that should be taken seriously. With this in mind, the Bureau of Insurance is urging all Maine residents to prepare for severe weather and natural disasters by taking simple steps that could save lives, minimize property losses and speed recovery. Each of us should review our homeowner or renter policy, evaluate the benefits of flood insurance, complete a home inventory checklist, and assemble an emergency supply kit.
Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners revealed that a majority of homeowners in the United States are largely unprepared for disasters. Many consumers lack the coverage necessary to protect themselves from losses that are not reimbursed under standard policies. Sixty-five percent do not have flood insurance; 56 percent do not have insurance for a waterline break; and 55 percent do not have insurance for a sewer-line break.
Homeowners are wise to read their policy carefully and to consider the benefits of additional coverage. If questions arise or policy language is confusing, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact their insurance agency. Insurance agents are available to provide information and answers. Sadly, many victims of severe weather don’t realize until it’s too late that standard homeowner policies don’t provide coverage for damage caused by rising flood waters and other circumstances.
Residents of communities qualified through the National Flood Insurance Program are eligible to purchase flood insurance, but less than 14 percent of eligible Maine properties are insured. That’s well below the national average.
Due to a 30-day waiting period for coverage to take effect, quick action is needed for a flood policy to be in place by the height of this year’s hurricane season. Details are available at the National Flood Insurance Program by calling 800-427-2419 or online at www.floodsmart.gov. The Web site includes tools to help homeowners assess their risk for flood damage.
In addition to reviewing policies and considering additional coverage, Mainers are encouraged to create an inventory of home items. A checklist of this kind can be enormously helpful in establishing a claim. The NAIC survey cited earlier found that nearly 50 percent of homeowners and renters do not have such a listing of their possessions.
Although a copy of the inventory can be kept at home, a second should always be maintained with insurance policies, medical records, and other important documents in a safety deposit box or other secure location. The inventory should include photos and a videotape of the property. More information is available on the bureau’s Web site, www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance, where a checklist can be downloaded. The site also contains a new public service announcement emphasizing the importance of an inventory in recovering quickly from a property loss.
Finally, as other government agencies and nonprofit organizations have stressed, the Bureau of Insurance also urges people to establish an emergency supply kit. It should include several days of drinking water — at least one gallon per person per day; nonperishable packaged or canned foods, a nonelectrical can opener and cooking utensil. The kit should also contain first aid materials, necessary medications, basic tools, a battery or crank-operated radio and flashlights, extra batteries and any supplies needed for pets. Additionally, it’s wise to maintain a list of important names and phone numbers in the kit, including insurance company contact information.
As people affected by recent disasters in the South, Midwest and West Coast can attest, the time to prepare for severe weather is during the calm before the storm. Now is the time to review insurance policies, to purchase additional coverage if needed, to develop a list of home furnishings, equipment and other valuables, and to stock up on emergency supplies. These easy steps will give you peace of mind and put you in a much better position to protect yourself.
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Mila Kofman is Maine’s superintendent of insurance.