Hurricane Season: Don’t Let the Forecast Fool You

Don’t look now, but hurricane season is in full swing.

It may be tempting for insureds to let down their defenses in a year when experts are predicting lower-than-average hurricane activity. But tackling long-term prep in the calm before a storm is smarter than scrambling to do so at the last minute—especially since there’s no telling what future seasons will hold.

According to Bob Welther, assistant vice president at ACE Private Risk Services, business- and homeowners would be wise to take action long before a hurricane begins to form deep in the Atlantic. Here’s what to remember when encouraging your commercial and personal lines clients to keep hurricane preparedness top of mind.

IA: On the heels of a lower-than-average cat year in 2013, many experts have predicted this year’s hurricane season will be similarly light. Is there any potential for insureds and businesses to get complacent in terms of prep during years like these? What’s the danger of that kind of mindset?

Welther: Complacency is always a risk. It’s the type of situation where I think we all to a certain extent say, “It won’t happen to me”—especially in years like this where the forecasters are saying it’s going to be a light year. But one hurricane can make all the difference in the world, and it would still technically be a "light" year. As you get complacent, you do run a big risk—you’re not prepared and you don’t necessarily take all the appropriate precautionary measures that you might if you were always alert and always aware.

What are some practical steps home- and businessowners can take right now, today in order to protect themselves and their properties from hurricanes?

It starts with planning evacuation routes and setting up contact procedures. After a major hurricane, a lot of the ability to communicate is limited because of cell towers and power lines being down, so it’s crucial to not only have a plan for evacuation and contact, but also prepare a go-kit with information, water, food, medicines and important papers. That’s something people don’t always necessarily think of—you think about your own sustainability, but don’t forget the important financial and personal documents you may need in the event of a loss, or that you don’t want scattered all over the neighborhood if a major hurricane were to hit.

Battery backups and adequately sized sump pumps—in the Northeast recently with some of the storms and hurricanes, sump pump and sewer backup was significant. Some power outages lasted for days, so taking it even a step further, a generator is by far the best solution because not only can you then run a sump pump for an extended period of time, you can also maintain other critical systems: environmental controls, backup power for temperature-controlled wine cellars, etc.

And have an annual inspection by an arborist to look at unhealthy trees and dangerous branches. This is one where complacency can come into play because people may not be able to tell a tree is unhealthy. During some of the storms, particularly in the Northeast, the amount of trees that came down was in the hundreds of thousands. Having an arborist inspect those trees can minimize that damage by starting getting the health back to a tree or making the appropriate decisions about what to do.

Hurricanes present a unique exposure compared to other types of catastrophes. Why might working with a trusted advisor like an independent insurance agent be beneficial when securing proper coverage for this kind of threat?

There are multiple perils that come into play in a hurricane. Consider sewer and drain backup coverage—a lot of times standard policies don’t cover that. It’s only covered through an endorsement, and even then a lot of times that endorsement can have a limit far below whatever damage may occur. Especially in luxury and upscale homes, a $5,000 limit for sewer and water backup through a sump pump or a sewer isn’t going to go very far. As you look at having full replacement costs and people continue to make improvements to their home especially during the economic times we’ve had, people haven’t been necessarily buying new homes—they’ve been investing money into their existing homes in renovations. So make sure they have proper coverage and full replacement costs. The majority of homes in the U.S. are underinsured, so it’s important to maintain that actual replacement cost coverage vs. a policy that’s capped say at 125-150% with an extended replacement cost coverage.

Make sure homeowners have effective coverage for all their belongings—for example, that valuables are insured appropriately and that they have a valuables policy or a schedule. That removes a lot of the limitations that come into play from a dollar perspective or various classes of collectibles. It also opens up the coverage. Under a standard homeowners policy, some perils would not be covered for contents. If they are on a schedule or a valuables policy, that opens that up and makes it an all-risk policy. It also provides a settlement value up front, so you’re kind of settling the claim before it ever actually occurs.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.