Natural disasters are exactly that: disasters. And they can be devastating financially.
Louisiana has recently witnessed the devastating effects of mass flooding this year.
On top of that, we are heading into the worst time of year for house fires.
These unexpected events are terrible, but we can take some of the hardship away by preparing up front.
There are some things anyone can do to be ahead of the game.
Warning sings and weather stations are getting better, but we still rarely know when these events are coming.
Even when we know in advance, it’s too late to do most of these things. So start today. Don’t keep putting it off, especially if you live in an area that is prone to a certain type of natural disaster. Even if that’s not the case, anything can happen, and I don’t know of any area in the world that’s totally excluded from natural disasters.
Always be prepared.
Be Prepared for a Flood
There are some great tips online for preparing for a flood, but I’m not going to cover all of the basic tips.
I’m mostly going to cover the financial aspects of it. I’ll give you a few personal tips to prepare overall, but these are some tips to help you prepare your finances and protect your possessions.
Let’s start with the insurance.
This is the obvious first step, because it’s the easiest way to protect your stuff, but there are some important things to know about flood insurance that insurance companies won’t automatically tell you. It’s not that they’re hiding anything from you necessarily, but their first priority is usually to make money, not simply to help you figure out the best plan, so here are five things you should know:
- Find out if you’re in a flood zone/plain – Use Fema’s Flood Map Service to figure out about your property.
- Flood maps can change – You can become added to or removed from flood maps. Your mortgage company should let you know.
- You don’t have to be in a flood zone – There have been several cases of flooding in non-flood zones. Know your risk either way.
- Standard policies don’t cover flooding – With a few exceptions, your basic home insurance policy will not cover floods and earthquakes.
- You have a coverage limit – According to Bankrate, flood insurance policies top out at $250k for structures and $100k for personal possessions.
Do your homework to figure out your risk, and make the call on flood insurance. Use a flood insurance cost calculator to see what it’s going to cost you.
My choice for flood insurance: USAA
Be Ready for a Flood
If you live in an area that floods often, you can be prepared.
You may end up stranded inside your home, and the first floor could be under water.
Keep an emergency food kit, like the one below, in your attic, or wherever the highest part of your home is:
Be Prepared for a Fire
We’ll cover the financial side of things first.
Let’s talk insurance.
Most homeowner’s insurance covers fire damage, but I can’t stress this enough: read your insurance policies!
You’ll never know what it covers if you don’t read it. And there are often several things it doesn’t cover.
In most “standard” cases, your home is covered in the event of a fire; however, there are times when it’s not, such as if you set the house on fire yourself. Yeah, you’re not allowed to do that. Of course, there are people who do that to get the insurance money, and some of them get away with it, but it’s wrong and plenty of people don’t get away with it. Your home also probably isn’t covered from fire resulting out of war or terrorism. Some policies don’t cover fire set by any sort of vandalism, whether you knew about it or not.
Read your policy, and know what it covers. It may cover less than you think.
Renter’s insurance usually covers far fewer types of fire damage to your personal belongings than homeowner’s insurance does, but again, you don’t know what you don’t read. For any insurance policy, including home, landlord and renter’s insurance, you should know what your policy covers.
My choice for home and landlord insurance: USAA
Be Ready for a Fire
Check your smoke detectors, and make sure you get the “child stickers” from your local fire department.
The fire departments used to recommend putting stickers on the outside of your kids’ windows, but don’t do that. That makes their windows a target for child predators. You’re telling a predator which room your child is in, from the outside of your house. Put the stickers inside the doorways of your children’s rooms, so a fire fighter can easily shine a flashlight down the hall and see the reflective stickers.
One more option to be ready for a fire is to keep a “bug out bag” close to the door or in the garage. Somewhere you can easily get to before the fire gets too large, or some place you can run to as the fire is burning, such as a detached garage, shed or barn. This is especially important if you live in a rural area, since you have the possibility of being alone for a few days after a fire.
Here are some tips for creating a good 72 hour bag:
Other than flood and fire insurance, there are some other ways to protect yourself:
- Consider getting a flood/fire-proof safe for important documents. Flood-proof safes can generally be submerged to a certain point before anything inside is damaged, and given the general nature of floods, you shouldn’t have to worry about deep submersions in most areas. For fire-proof safes, each safe has a maximum temperature it can withstand. See which important documents to keep in a safe here.
- Pro tip: Don’t store ammunition in a safe, unless you want it to be blown apart during a fire.
- Back up your photos in multiple places. You may want to keep your really old photos in a safe, but it’s also a good idea to scan them and back them up electronically. Of course, if there is a flood or a fire and your computer/hard drive goes under water or gets set ablaze, it won’t make a very effective backup. Use a website like Shutterfly, which lets you back up unlimited photos online for free. Online and cloud storage are the best backups, but another option is to keep an external hard drive in your safe.
- Take photos and video of your expensive items. For insurance and personal reasons it’s always a good idea to take photos of your most expensive items. To get a complete inventory, consider laying everything out neatly and taking a video of all your possessions.
- Use emergency alert systems. There are all kinds of alert systems, from home radios to apps, you should have something. They can let you know about things like flood danger, wildfire danger, tornados, hurricanes, and so on, so stay alert.
I hope you feel a little safer now. Protect yourself financially, and otherwise, before a flood or fire hits, and the entire process will be much easier. Just the feeling alone of knowing you’re protected is worth the entire process.
Do you have some tips to help protect your finances from disaster? Or some stories? Share below!