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  • What the Historic Flooding in Texas Teaches About Flood Preparation

    The National Weather Service predicted a high probability of a cool, wet winter for the southeast United States. In Texas, so far, that prediction has been bang on.

    Over Halloween weekend, a storm battered the south-central and southeast parts of the state, leaving six dead. The weekend before, on October 25, remnants of Hurricane Patricia exacerbated flooding from a storm system that had already dropped more than a foot of rain in parts of Texas.

    Texas via Fox2Now

    Plano, Texas, saw almost 9 ½ inches fall in October – more than twice its typical rainfall. Kelli Robertson, of Plano, saw water level with the top of the gutters in the street during the October 23-25 storm.

    Her family lost power for twelve hours and cleaned up water pouring in through a leaky roof. They dressed by flashlight and traveled through sodden streets to send their children to school – where the children faced intermittent power outages throughout the day.

    “[Her husband] Paul was like, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about emergency preparation,’” she said.

    Here are some things they were thinking about.

    Several months before, hail damaged many homes in Robertson’s neighborhood. After that storm, many of their neighbors replaced their roofs. Though her home had minor damage, Kelli’s family couldn’t get it fixed.

    During the October 24 storm, her husband Paul noticed water pouring through the return air vent in their home’s ceiling. He ran up to the attic and saw water.

    “It was running down the inside of the wood, down vents into the house. It was never ending,” Kelli said.

    They put buckets under the leaks and mopped the water up with towels.

    Now they’re trying to figure out how to fix the roof. They have insurance, and homeowner’s policies usually cover storm damage if it comes from above. However, they have a high deductible.

    “We can’t do a new roof right now. No way,” she said.

    This year, they already had to spend several thousand dollars fixing a water main that broke and flooded their yard. Their insurance policy only covered the cost of digging up the leaky pipe; not repairs. Since the digging cost was less than their deductible, Kelli’s family ended up paying for the whole job.

    “I’ve learned a lot more about insurance lately,” she said.

    Flooded House via Telegraph - Texas via The Telegraph

    Federal emergency management officials recommend homeowners buy flood insurance in addition to regular homeowner’s insurance. It’s available through local agents but is backed by the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program. For an average of $600 per year, based on standardized rates determined by an area’s flood risks, homeowners get up to $350,000 worth of coverage for their home and possessions. When buying insurance, be aware of deductibles and caps on compensation. The flood insurance program only covers a home’s structure up to $250,000.

    In addition to an interior rain storm, Kelli’s family faced a power outage for 12 hours.

    “We had no power. We had cell phones, but we didn’t know how long we’d need them to last. We had food, but we couldn’t cook on the stove,” Kelli said.

    However, others outside their neighborhood had power or quickly regained it. Their children all had school that day.

    “The school sent us an e-mail: ‘Your power may be out but we still have school, so come in.’” she said. “We had to dress by flashlight.”

    At her son’s middle school, power was intermittent, so he spent much of the day in the school cafeteria. She said a neighbor a few streets away had power back early in the day. She and Paul decided to go out to lunch that day. Their preferred taco restaurant had no power. But another did.

    “You’d go … to a shopping center and it was like a different city,” she said.

    Being prepared for a power outage is a good idea. Fortunately, we’ve got alternative power sources to help see you through the dark times.

    Weather.com also recommends people keep coolers and ice on hand to protect food. Keeping food surrounded by ice keeps it cold for longer.

    The Food and Drug Administration says to throw away any perishable food left at more than 40 degrees for more than two hours. Weather.com also recommends a digital, quick-response food thermometer to check the temperature of food before eating or cooking it.

    Kelli has called a roof repair company and is waiting for a reply. But there’s no letup in the weather ahead. Plano is under another flash flood watch.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Texas

  • Why You Need a Home Inventory, and How to Do It Yourself

    Home inventory

    Every year, one in 15 insured homes suffers a loss or damage large enough for the owners to file a claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The average claim was $8,793 according to a study from 2009-2013. That’s more than petty cash.

    Yet fewer than half of Americans know what’s in their homes. Only 41 percent have a home inventory, according to a Feb. 2012 survey from the National Association of Insurance Commissions.

    It’s important to have a home inventory for three reasons, according to the Insurance Information Institute. An inventory helps people buy enough insurance to replace what they own. It helps people get insurance claims settled faster. And it helps allow an income tax deduction for unreimbursed losses.

    "Regular people, whether they're homeowners or renters, need home inventories way more than the wealthy, because they need the money more," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the Insurance Inventory Institute, in a story from the Associated Press.

    Start by making a list, any list. It’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all.

    Home inventory Take notes of your personal belongings

    Many companies have inexpensive or free apps or software. Or use a pencil and paper or walk around the house with a phone’s video recorder on. Describe each item, where you bought it and its make and model. Add any sales receipts, purchase contracts and appraisals.

    For clothes, count what you own by category like shirts or shoes, paying extra attention to any valuable pieces like jewelry and furs. They may need additional insurance since most policies limit jewelry coverage to $500, according to the N.A.I.C.

    In the kitchen, open the drawer or look on the shelf and describe what’s there, like ‘a set of dishes for 12 including a dinner plate, bowl and so on,’ and when and where you bought it.

    Appliances and electronic equipment are often big ticket items, and sometimes basic insurance doesn’t cover their replacement cost. The standard insurance policy limit for electronic equipment is $1,000, which might not be enough to cover all the devices like computers and tablets, according to the N.A.I.C. An inventory can help you know if you need more coverage. Record each device’s make and model and the serial number found on the back or bottom.

    The cost of even basic items like toys, fans, and towels can rapidly add up, so make sure to include those in the inventory.

    Moving Boxes"People always say they don't have a lot of stuff. But if you add up the cost of your bed, with your mattress, mattress cover, bed frame and maybe a few suits hanging in your closet, some high-tech items or small appliances, and your bike or golf clubs, it easily adds up to thousands of dollars. And you're going to really depend on that money to get up and running again after a disaster," Salvatore told the A.P.

    Remember to look in the garage and attic, too.

    It can be daunting to start the inventory process, especially if you’ve been accumulating things for a while. The I.I.I. suggests you start with recent purchases then work backward, and don’t do the work by yourself.

    "If your household gets involved, this project can be fun. Children can help by opening closets and drawers and listing what is in there," Salvatore said in a release.

    Or, you can hire one of numerous companies to do an inventory for you. Try a Google search of home inventory businesses.

    Once you’ve got an inventory, update it at least yearly. Also, whenever you buy anything valuable, add it to your inventory: take a photo, get the serial number and save the receipt.

    Finally, make sure you store a copy of the inventory off your property. The N.A.I.C. said 28 percent of people who have made a home inventory don’t have a backup copy elsewhere.

    “Don’t wait until after a disaster to think about a home inventory,” Salvatore said in a release. “Put aside a little time now to document all of your personal belongings. It will cost nothing but a little time to do.”

  • Keeping Your Head Above Water with Flood Insurance

    Keeping Your Head Above Water with Flood Insurance

    Here’s a fun little pop quiz from FloodSmart.gov.

    True or False?

    • In the last five years, all fifty states have experienced some level of flooding.
    • Everyone lives in a flood zone.
    • Most homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover floods.

    If you answered “true” to all of the above, you get a gold star. And those aren’t even the scariest flood-related facts from the National Flood Insurance Program’s official site. Even more persuasive are the numbers, like $42,000(average flood insurance claim),4% (the interest rate on a federal disaster assistance loan, the typical relief source for the uninsured), and 1/3 (the fraction of flood disaster relief recipients who live outside high risk areas).

    Flooding stands in its own category of natural disasters, as it’s commonly an effect, rather than a cause. That means that it’s usually paired with something else disastrous—a result of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, even avalanches. That makes floods dangerous, expensive, and sneaky.

    All of this is why the federal government has put together this super helpful site. Because so few private insurers offer flood insurance (read more about that here), the NFIP was born to help fill the gap. Here’s a quick tour of what FloodSmart.gov offers and why you should take a peek, whether or not you live on a flood plain.

    • Regularly updated flood maps, complete with helpful designations and explanations. Find out whether you live in a high, low, or undetermined risk area and what each of those categories actually means. For example, a high risk area is one where you have a 1 in 4 risk of flooding in the course of a 30 year mortgage. Good to know!
    • Interactive damage cost calculator. Just pick a sample home size and the level of the flood—anywhere from an inch to four feet—and this handy graphic will show you the approximate cost of any flood. Try entering the smallest square footage and the shallowest flood, and prepare to have your mind blown.
    • All about residential coverage. Whether you own or rent your home, look here to find out what’s covered, how much you can expect to pay, and what steps to take to find coverage—including a neat little agent locator that lets you search by zip code. My first try brought up a well-known insurance agent in my own neighborhood!


    Flooding and flash flooding can happen during any season of the year. And because most policies require at least 30 days to take effect, the best time to look into flood insurance is always now!

    - Stacey

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