Natural Disasters: Tips for Financial Preparedness

Flooded street of homes after natural disaster

Importance of disaster preparedness

Most instances of natural disasters occur unexpectedly and catch people off guard. If you only had ten minutes to evacuate your home, would you be ready? What’s most important to take versus leaving behind? Take a look at this 10-Minute Challenge the Insurance Information Institute prepared, and see how your plan compares.

Would you be ready in ten minutes? Regardless of your answer, plan ahead and practice. Pre-planning can save lives, as well as prevent extensive property damage. Some key takeaways to consider immediately:

  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the “family contact” in case your family is separated.
  • Learn about your community’s emergency plans and shelters.
  • And of course, have your emergency kit easily accessible.

Items you’ll want readily available

  • Get a “Go” Bag of essentials (flashlight, extra batteries, food packs, etc…).
  • Keep copies of important docs (birth certificates, passports, social security cards, mortgage title, insurance policy info, etc. in a waterproof bag and electronic copies where applicable).
  • Have a list of people/organizations to communicate with in case of another emergency.
  • Most importantly, since the internet, phone, and electricity will likely be affected by a natural disaster, keep hard copies of everything needed from above.

Consider keeping these contact forms as hard copies and electronic files:

Wallet-sized communications plan

Emergency plan for parents

Pet plan

Financial first aid kit (checklist and forms)

Get yourself tech ready (apps that keep you in the know)

Take home inventory for future insurance purposes

Taking a home inventory isn't really hard, it's just time-consuming. It's also extremely important. A good inventory will speed up the insurance claims process and ensure your insurance takes care of everything you lost. (You do, of course, need the insurance.)

If it's digital, upload it to a server somewhere. Upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo (marked as private). Upload images to Flickr, Google Drive, synced with Dropbox, or email them to yourself.

Purchase the appropriate insurance

When purchasing a home, ensure that you are covered against natural disasters. This is significant in preventing risk to one of your greatest investments. While a number of things are covered under homeowners insurance, you may be surprised to learn that many things are not covered, including flood and earthquake damage.

Let’s take a look at flooding again. While your homeowners insurance may pay for water damage due to broken pipes, flood insurance pays for damages caused by the rising of a body of water that covers normally dry land. According to the Insurance Information Institute, you should consider buying a flood insurance policy if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek, or pond or water running down a steep hill. Don’t wait for a flood season or hurricane warning on the evening news to buy a policy—there is a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect. 

Where you’ll experience natural disasters

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the main source of natural disasters in the country. The problem is, only about 13% of homeowners have a Flood insurance policy. And, nearly 20% of flood insurance claims come from low to moderate risk areas. It’s always in your best interest to call your county planning department to find out if your home is located in a flash-flood-prone area and to discuss options with your insurance agent.

Just remember: natural disasters go beyond flooding, and they often vary by region. If you live in the West, you’re likely in an area susceptible to wildfires or earthquakes. Of course, we also see many tornadoes in the U.S. In fact, did you know the United States gets more tornadoes, by far than any other place on the planet? And it’s not just in Tornado Alley either. Florida and Colorado also see a fair share of tornadoes. Regardless the type of natural disaster, all leave us with little to no preparation time, which is why it’s extremely important to spend time planning for them.

Access the checklists below for specific emergency preparedness tips:

Flood safety checklist

Hurricane safety checklist

Wildfire safety checklist

Earthquake safety checklist

Tornado safety checklist 

Maintaining communication during and after disaster

If you’re separated from family during a natural disaster evacuation and are unable to reach one another by phone, be sure everyone knows to register online via the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well list. This is especially helpful for family who is not nearby and may not be affected by the disaster. They are able to learn your safety status if they are unable to find you. Of course, utilizing social media is another effective tool to keep in communication. But keep backup options in mind, in case you do not have access to your cell phone or internet. If that’s the case, Contact Loved Ones uses a toll-free phone system to get you connected to family. 

Getting your life back in order

If you plan to file an insurance claim, call your provider to report the damages as soon you can. The insurance company will send an adjuster out to evaluate your damage. You may also want to look into state or Federal aid.

Know that proof of home ownership may be required to receive Federal disaster assistance. If you need a copy of your mortgage or deed of trust, contact your lending institution. NOTE: You must continue to pay your mortgage even if your home is destroyed or unlivable due to a disaster. Failure to pay your mortgage could put your loan in default, which could trigger a foreclosure.

Let your mortgage servicer know if you have problems paying your bill. If you don’t have a monthly mortgage statement or coupon book with you, search the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) or call them toll-free at (888) 679-6377 to find the company that services your mortgage.

Knowing your mortgage payment options

Current homeowner with mortgage

Soon-to-be homeowner about to close on a mortgage

Available recovery resources worth bookmarking

Natural disasters can be catastrophic in so many ways, and the recovery is never quick or easy. It’s important to know -- should you experience such an unfortunate event -- that you are not alone. Count on community resources and businesses to be available for support -- especially when you choose to do business with a family owned and operated company. At American Financing, we love investing in people and communities. We’re here to help you as best we can.