Hurricane Warning, Are you prepared?

The Official 2009 Hurricane Season began June 1st and runs until November 30th. The “normal” Atlantic season has 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that four to seven hurricanes are likely for 2009. Let’s hope they are wrong and we enjoy a quiet summer in New England with no threat of storms.

As an insurance agent based in New Bedford, MA, I know that when it comes to storms in New England, hope is not a plan. Planning is essential for every family in an area that is prone to severe weather. Simple preparations can make a big difference in times of emergency. There are several great websites that provide preparation plans and puts you in the frame of mind needed to make a list of things to do. The National Hurricane Center provides the following tips on things to consider:

Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family. Know your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind.
Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home for each hurricane hazard. In certain circumstances the safest areas may not be your home but within your community.

> Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet. These should be measured in tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles.
> Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.
> Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate.
> Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911.
> Check your insurance coverage – flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
> Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit.
> Use a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace its battery every 6 months, as you do with your smoke detectors.
> Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.

I would also like you to focus on the most important paperwork in the event of a storm, your home insurance policy. An important thing to know when it comes to home insurance is that some changes to coverage will not be allowed by most insurance companies once a storm has been named. Increases in coverage and deductible changes may not be honored therefore, it is imperative that your coverage is up to date prior to the threat of a storm.

Deductibles are an important area of your home insurance to focus on also. The home insurance industry has implemented special deductibles for wind storm claims and also the more specific named storm.

If you haven’t looked at your policy in a while, you may be surprised that you have a separate deductible for a storm that is named. Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. They are now maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. The original name lists featured only women’s names. In 1979, men’s names were introduced and they alternate with the women’s names. Six lists are used in rotation. Thus, the 2009 list will be used again in 2015.

The named storm deductible is usually based on a percentage of the amount of coverage on your home, so they can be very large. Setting aside a few dollars every year might be a great way to offset that large deductible in the event of a big claim such as damage from a hurricane.

Prepare your disaster plan, focus on your home insurance at least once a year and put a few dollars away to pay that big deductible. Also, make sure to contact your independent insurance agent with questions or concerns.

Most importantly, enjoy what we all hope is a very quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Christopher J. O’Neil is Vice President of Tomlinson & O’Neil Insurance Agency in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He is also Vice President of the South Coast Insurance Agents Association and a member of the Independent Insurance Agents of Massachusetts. Tomlinson & O’Neil Insurance is a Trusted Choice Agency.