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Are You Financially Ready for Hurricane Season?

By: Janet Smith

Posted on 6/21/2018 9:00:00 AM

Hurricane season is here, which means the time to get ready is now. While emergency preparedness can feel overwhelming, we’ve made it easy to know exactly what you need to do – from safety planning to financial readiness.

Here are the top questions and tips to prepare yourself for a hurricane or tropical storm:

How Do I Stay Safe During a Hurricane?

Your safety and the safety of your loved ones are most important during an emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a great go-to resource to help you stay informed and get hurricane ready, but here are a few of the highlights. 

Gather Supplies for Your Emergency Kit

You’ll need to have some supplies on-hand in case there is a storm. We recommend stocking up now and store your emergency hurricane kit somewhere easily accessible. Here are things to have ready:

  • Bottled water
  • Shelf-stable food (like canned goods)
  • Flashlights
  • A radio and extra batteries
  • A first-aid kit and sanitation items
  • Important documents and records
  • Clothing
  • A charged cell phone and portable chargers

Create an Evacuation & Communication Plan

Having an evacuation plan includes deciding where you and your family will go, how you will get there and what you will bring. While this may seem obvious, consider what can happen during mass evacuations. In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd was barreling towards Florida and evacuation orders were issued from Miami to Fernandina Beach. 1.6 million motorists hit the highways to get away from the storm. The roads became so clogged that many vehicles ran out of gas and many cell phones died. Hotels were booked solid as far north as Atlanta. Thousands of travelers simply gave up and parked along the sides of roads faced with the fear of riding out the storm in their vehicles. Don’t underestimate the importance of planning and leaving early enough.

To create your plans, you need to:

  • Know your evacuation zone
  • Establish your evacuation route options
  • Locate your emergency shelter location
  • Plan for your pets
  • Keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least half-full at all times
  • Identify safe meeting places both in and away from your neighborhood
  • Give each family member a list of important phone numbers
  • Designate one out-of-state friend or relative as the point person for everyone to check in with

Stay Informed

There are many different ways to stay connected to important notifications during a storm, even if the power goes out. Aside from weather stations and online news, be sure to sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. Some counties even have apps you can download to receive text message notifications. Heed your evacuation orders. Here are some helpful text alert instructions from FEMA.

How Do I Protect my Home from a Hurricane?

Protecting your home is generally top of mind when a storm is approaching. Your home is where you feel safe and is usually the largest financial expense during a hurricane. Here are a few steps you should take to mitigate damage and loss:

Prepare Your Home for Wind and Flood Damage

Consider hurricane shutters, impact-resistant windows, or board-up your home with plywood. One common myth is to tape your windows, but this does not protect glass. In fact, taping your windows can actually create larger shards of glass and be more dangerous. 

You also want clear out any lightweight objects and wind-borne debris outside your home, including patio furniture. Larger items that cannot be brought inside, like generators, gas tanks, grills, etc., should be anchored down. Remember, do not bring generators, grills, gas tanks, or highly flammable items inside.

Check Your Insurance Coverage

While reinforcing your home against wind and water is important, sometimes it’s not enough. The best way to truly protect your home and belongings is to make sure your insurance is squared away. Here are a few vital steps to take when evaluating your insurance policy. 

Check Your Insurance Policy Now

Make sure you line up your policies before the storm. Talk to your agent specifically about hurricane insurance. Many agencies recommend or require hurricane insurance in Florida homes. Your vehicles are also at risk of damage during a storm, so look into your auto insurance as well.

Ask About What is Covered

Ask your insurance agent what’s covered for natural disasters and any other big questions you may have. Damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, and water entering through the roof, windows, doors, or holes in the walls is generally covered by homeowner’s insurance. However, flooding or water that rises from the bottom up is often not covered. Find out what is covered – including fallen trees, flooding, and living expenses while you’re away from your home – and see if you are eligible for additional assistance. And remember, you cannot just pick up homeowner’s insurance when you know a storm is approaching. Most insurance policies have a waiting period.

Understand Your Insurance Deductible

You may have a higher deductible for hurricane damage. For example, with a standard, non-hurricane deductible, you might pay $500 of a home insurance claim out of your own pocket. However, with hurricanes, homeowner’s generally pays 2%-5% of your home’s insured values. This means, a 5% deductible on a $300,000 home would mean a whopping $15,000 for you to pay. Even with insurance, it’s essential that you plan ahead financially and keep a contingency fund for emergencies – like hurricane damage.

Working with Insurers After a Storm

If you have damage to your home or belongings after a hurricane, it can feel overwhelming – even paralyzing. The best place to start is with your insurer. Contact your insurance agency and begin documenting your claim right away. For example, you may need to put up a tarp to prevent further damage, but take pictures of everything and any temporary fixes before you start any repairs.  Visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s apps and other resources to help you document the damages.

How do I Prepare Financially?

Aside from your physical safety, securing your finances is the most important measure you can take in preparing for any natural disaster.

Have an Emergency Fund

Set aside funds to keep available for emergencies. You can even open a credit card specifically for emergency use. It should have enough available credit to accommodate purchases of food and supplies for a week or more. Making purchases on a credit card will help you document disaster-related expenses.

However, keep some cash on hand, too, as many ATM and credit card machines can go down during a storm. To build up your emergency fund, start by saving a few extra dollars each week and spread out your 10 days’ worth of supplies shopping to avoid a one-time large expense.

Gather All of Your Important Documents

Here is a list of documents you should have ready and keep safe.

  • Copy of your driver’s license (front and back)
  • Birth certificate with raised seal
  • Social security cards
  • Child identification cards
  • Military ID or discharge papers
  • Proof of pet ownership
  • Deed to home
  • Property tax information
  • Car ownership documents
  • Government benefits
  • Power of attorney
  • Will/estate information/living will
  • Insurance policies
  • Financial accounts
  • Financial obligations
  • Copy of medical insurance/Medicare cards
  • Doctor’s name and number
  • List of medications and pharmacy number
  • List of allergies
  • Insurance Agent telephone number

Flood-proof Important Papers & Information

There are a few ways you can safeguard your important files and documents. Start by making copies of important documents or scanning them electronically. For original documents you want to keep safe, consider storing them in water-proof, re-sealable, plastic bags.  You should also back up your electronics and save important electronic files on a cloud system – like Dropbox or Google Drive – just in case anything happens to your hard drive or external/flash drives. 

Did you know you can get your benefits electronically? Having electronic services in place can help you focus your energy on making other important preparations for the storm. And if you absolutely have to do things like deposit a check, you can always use the Mobile Deposit feature in the Community First Mobile Banking App from anywhere you are.

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Work with Your Financial Institution

Ensuring your finances are in order is a huge component of hurricane readiness. Your financial institution should be one of your go-to resources to safeguard your assets and guide you through the process. Reach out to your local branch and ask about steps you can take to be money-ready ahead of hurricane season.

Get a copy of our Money Ready Hurricane Checklist