Natural and unnatural disasters affect everyone. Some areas of the United States are so prone to natural disturbances that many private insurance companies will not offer coverage. For example, most homeowners insurance will not cover damage caused by floods or earthquakes, and few will cover forest fires if your property is in an undeveloped area.
When evaluating what kind of insurance coverage you need, consider what your current policy covers, any inexpensive additions (or endorsements) to your active policy and your location related to the risk of natural disaster.
There are many types of disasters to consider, including natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, forest fires, tornadoes and hurricanes. Unnatural disasters include war, nuclear accidents, civil disobedience and terrorism.
Who is at risk? Everyone. Any area can experience an unusually wet season and the wastewater management systems of most cities do not have the means to control a rapid increase of water in paved areas. Generally, if your property lies near a body of water or in an area prone to hurricanes or flash floods the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) considers you to be at a high risk.
To determine the level of risk in your area: Visit http://www.floodsmart.com, sponsored by the NFIP, to see floodplain maps and search by zip code the flood risk of a specific area.
Insurance: Traditional homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. Many lenders require flood insurance if the property is located in a high-risk area. Private agencies do not provide flood insurance; flood insurance is available through the NFIP, who is under FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Information about this insurance program is available at the NFIP website or through an insurance quote service. Flood insurance offered by the NFIP usually also covers flooding caused by hurricanes, rivers and tidal waves if two acres or two adjacent properties are affected. Water damage from broken pipes, backed-up sewers and from fire hoses is usually covered by standard insurance.
Who is at risk? In the United States, the most active areas are along the Pacific Ocean including Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington. Inland areas of activity include Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and a small area between the three connecting corners of Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.
To determine the level of risk in your area: The United States Geological Society Earthquakes Hazards Program hosts maps at http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/epic/epic_circ.html that are updated by the hour for the entire planet. Residents of California can go to http://www.quake.abag.ca.gov to view an interactive shaking and liquefaction map.
Insurance: Earthquake endorsements can be added to most insurance policies purchased through a private agency. In California, residents can purchase earthquake insurance through the California Earthquake Authority. The probability of an earthquake, your location, soil type and building structure determine premiums. Deductibles on earthquake insurance are typically very high, often up to 10 to 15 percent of the building’s structural limit. Damage caused by broken gas lines or water pipes as a result of an earthquake typically may be covered by standard insurance. Earthquake damage to vehicles is covered by comprehensive insurance. Liquefaction can cause water damage by mud and standing water resulting from an earthquake. Consult your policy to determine whether your earthquake endorsement or other additions cover this type of phenomenon.
Who is at Risk? Properties in wooded or dry grassland areas or located far from fire stations are considered at risk.
To determine the level of risk in your area: The National Interagency Fire Center publishes current fire maps at http://www.nifc.gov/firemaps.html.
Insurance: It is quite common for insurance companies to refuse coverage for properties in wooded areas or far from fire stations. Fortunately, unless you are in certain high-risk areas, many agencies will offer coverage or endorsements. Some policies offer benefits to help clean smoke damage and cover accidental fires or lightening fires in developed areas. Many insurance companies will extend discounts if preventative products are in place, including fire alarms or sprinklers, fire extinguishers and fire-resistant roofs.
Who is at Risk? Tornadoes are most common in the states located east of the Rockies. However, they occasionally do occur in other areas.
To determine the level of risk in your area: The National Climatic Data Center tracks severe weather. To view maps and historical information related to tornadoes visit http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadoes.html.
Insurance: Coverage for this type of disaster is usually available through a standard insurance policy. Most policies will also cover structural damage from hail that quite often accompanies this type of weather. Damage to trees and landscaping is not usually covered unless an addition is purchased.
Who is at Risk? Hurricanes occur most often over and near the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Indian Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. In the United States areas surrounding the Gulf of Mexico and along the eastern coastlines of Florida to Maine are particularly prone to this type of severe weather.
To determine the level of risk in your area: View hurricane maps published by the National Climatic Data Center at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/hurricanes.html.
Insurance: Many standard insurance policies will cover damages covered by wind but not by flooding. Flood insurance must be purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Damage to property from war activity, due to modern technology, could potentially happen anywhere. Most insurance policies will not cover losses caused by a war.
If a nearby power plant irradiates your property, insurance will generally not cover damages. However, it may help to express liability concerns to the owners of the plant. Before purchasing a property, you may want to visit the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission website at http://www.nrc.gov to discover if an active plant is located in the area.
Civil disobedience usually refers to a riot or other civil commotion. Standard insurance will generally cover damages resulting from a riot, unless you were actively involved. If your property is broken into and items are stolen or vandalized, most insurance policies will cover the cost of repairs and replace stolen items. However, in order to receive the full value of lost items you may have to purchase “replacement cost coverage.”
On November 26, 2002, President Bush signed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which stated that private insurers and the federal government share the risk of losses attributed to terrorism. The act also rescinded state exclusions for terrorism. This act was set for a three-year period; check in your state to find out how your state currently enforces coverage for acts of terrorism. Additionally, evaluate your particular insurance policy to see what benefits you may receive if an act of terrorism affects your property.
- Homeowners may want to consider, regardless of location, Additional Living Expenses (ALE), which is a benefit that will reimburse up to 10-20% of the structural coverage of your home to help with temporary living expenses.
- Business owners may want to consider purchasing ‘contingent business interruption’ or ‘contingent business income’ coverage that can help cover profit loss or extra expenses that occur as a direct result of interruption of supply due to events outside the businesses control. This type of coverage could be beneficial if your main supplier or customer is located in an affected area.
- Landslides often are not caused by earthquakes or flooding. This unique kind of earth movement falls into a commonly undefined area of coverage; consult your policy to see if your insurance covers this type of occurrence.
- Standard insurance may cover some natural disasters, such as damage from windstorms, hail, lightning and volcanic eruptions.
- Even if you purchase complete coverage, relief does not come instantly. With this in mind, it is a good idea to keep on hand food, water, cash, a battery operated radio, first-aid supplies and protection from the elements to last at least three to four days.
- Document your belongings well. Keep an accurate and up-to-date copy of your records and policies off the premises in a safe place.
Once you’ve determined what the risks are in your area carefully review your policies. Keep in mind that policies may offer different levels of benefits with regards to property. Evaluate coverage in terms of the structure and content of a building, the outer buildings such as sheds, barns or garages, landscaping, and temporary living or relocation expenses.
Understanding your policies can be difficult. Nevertheless, it is better to invest a little time now, than worry about it later. If you think your insurance coverage falls a little short, shop around to find the kind of coverage you need or speak with your representative about additions to your current policy. You may also want to try on online service like insurancefinder.com.
Association of Bay Area Governments. Earthquake Maps and Information, Liquefaction and Information. http://quake.abag.ca.gov.
Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). What is a Flood? http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/whatflood.jsp.
Insure.com. The Basics of Earthquake Insurance. http://info.insure.com/home/quake.html.
Insurance Information Institute. Earthquakes: Risk and Insurance Issues. http://www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/earthquake/.
Kreidler, Mike. Facts about Earthquake Insurance http://www.insurance.wa.gov/factsheets/factsheet_detail.asp?FctShtRcdNum=20.
National Interagency Fire Center. Fire Maps. http://www.nifc.gov/firemaps.html.
U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA Satellite and Information Service, National Climatic Data Center. Hurricanes. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/hurricanes.html.
U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA Satellite and Information Service, National Climatic Data Center. Tornadoes. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadoes.html.
U.S. Department of Interior. US Geological Survey, Earthquakes Hazards Program. http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/epic/epic_circ.html.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Facility Information Finder.http://www.nrc.gov.
Weston, Liz Pulliam. What Your Home Insurance Doesn’t Cover. http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Insurance/Insureyourhome/P35342.asp.
About the Author
Pamela Stevens writes for TopTenREVIEWS.com, an online review service that publishes unbasied software, online service and hardware reviews. TopTenReviews also publishes movie reviews and entertainment pages. Please see http://toptenreviews.com for reviews and articles on a wide variety of topics.