The images and storm reports from Alabama leave even veteran storm chasers speechless, humbled and in awe. The 2011 spring storm season has barely started and the statistics are hard to believe. The tally for reported tornadoes in April stands at almost 900.
May is usually the worst month for spring storms. You still have time to make sure you're prepared for severe weather, review your personal disaster response plan and to help others hit by tornadoes and spring natural disasters.
Alabama Devastation and Your First Response
Response to a weather disaster starts as soon as the storm passes. Steps you need to take, whether you were in the storm's path or helping storm victims, include:
- Take care of immediate needs: physical injuries, shelter, food and water. Start getting help: contact your insurance company and agent, and prepare to apply for disaster assistance
- File insurance claims and apply for government disaster relief. Contact your insurance company, either online or by phone. Try to contact your agent directly as well. FEMA urges storm victims to make online applications. Find government disaster relief centers here: DisasterAssistance.gov or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) web site. Remember, the federal government must declare your area a disaster before FEMA steps in, but there may still be some assistance available if it hasn't been declared one yet
- Follow up on insurance and disaster relief claims. FEMA provides a step-by-step response guide for the crucial first 48 hours after disaster strikes. The focus is to stay safe, stabilize, document and protect property, and plan and start recovery, salvage and repair
Online access is key, even in the face of devastation. Try to locate and use web-based resources, even when you're in the middle of a disaster's aftermath. The web is often going to be the most complete and fastest way for you to get the information and help you need, and to follow up in the days to come.
Applying for and managing federal disaster relief is the prime example. Those who aren't disaster victims can use the same online resources to find ways to help, and get disaster updates and information. See government web sites, and Facebook pages.
Learn and Prepare Your Disaster Plan
You can prepare for natural disasters, even if you can't control or predict when or how a natural disaster will strike.
Review your homeowner's policy and take time to update and change coverage today. Make sure your insurance meets your needs in terms of the risks it covers, and the amounts it will pay for losses.
Tornadoes are covered by most homeowner and renter policies as wind damage, but the coverage amount may not be enough. Many policy holders in Alabama and the storm-ravaged eastern half of the country will learn this the hard way. Chances are you need to buy a replacement cost rider.
Insurance without this rider likely pays for the actual cash value of property losses, not your cost to buy or build anew. Your house may be worth $200,000, but the cost to rebuild is $225,000. The sum of the parts is more than the whole. Opt for a replacement cost policy or rider if you write your premium checks expecting your insurance to put everything back the way it was the moment before disaster struck.
Be Ready to Survive Emergencies
Have a personal emergency response plan in place for yourself and your family. Your safety and disaster survival are the most important things. However, your plan can make a critical difference in how you make it through the first hours and days after a disaster.
Ready.gov is a public service campaign helping Americans to be ready for natural and man-made disasters. Resources on the web site help you physically prepare for emergencies and draft a personal emergency plan:
- Stock your emergency kit. Ready.gov provides an inventory to build your emergency kit. Food and water for three days, basic first aid supplies, and simple tools and a cell phone are kit staples. Advanced "kit" items include setting aside a cash stash and making plans to preserve and access key personal documents and financial accounts
- Don't think, follow your plan. Plan what you will do (take cover from a storm, a meeting place if the house is on fire, etc.) and how you will communicate. The Ready Campaign has an interactive tool to help you draft your plan
Once everyone is safe and accounted for, you can decide on your next steps, such as clean up or leaving the area.
Taking Care of Business
Whether you're a business owner, manager or employee, getting back to business is important. You want to keep a business up and running, and if you're an employee, working can come as a relief both in paying the clean up bills and a welcome escape from post-disaster chaos.
Businesses need response plans to handle events impacting physical sites, technology and transportation, and personnel. Once again, the web and technology offer the means to help you get business done in ways not available in the past.
You may be able to keep working despite a natural disaster, or you may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) benefits. DUA is a type of unemployment insurance, and pays benefits when a tornado, hurricane, flood or other disaster keeps you from working.
Storm season is just starting, and it's not too late to be prepared.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can you help me review my homeowner's insurance claim if I disagree with the claims adjuster?
- Are there consumer protection laws that apply to disaster victims? What if I can't pay my bills due to a natural disaster?
- How do natural disasters affect contracts? What if I have a contract to buy a house or do work? Does a disaster change contract terms or enforcement?