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What Every Homeowner Needs to Know To Prepare For A Hurricane

When a hurricane approaches the U.S, the first reaction for many people is fear, stress and worry. Especially after the devastating effects of previous hurricanes like Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, Maria and Harvey. Instead of retreating into panic mode, the best plan of action is to stay calm and get prepared. Even if you've been through a hurricane before, you don't want to be caught off-guard. We've talked to our experts and pulled together these top tips to help every homeowner prepare for a hurricane.

Know Your Storm
Not all hurricanes are the same. A CAT 1 storm is quite different from a CAT 4. A CAT 4 storm can produce wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph. There is also danger from flying debris, heavy rains, flooding and coastal storm surges (especially if high tides coincide with the storm). The damage of a CAT 4 storm can not be underestimated. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, it was classified as a CAT 4 storm. Although winds only reached 130 mph, the rain from Harvey was so extensive that it led to tremendous flooding worth $125 billion in property damage. Make sure you know the level of the storm headed your way, so you have an idea of what to expect and how best to prepare. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), or the FEMA.gov website, is a good source for flood maps and useful FEMA assistance information.

Very Important: Seek Shelter & Heed Mandatory Evacuation Orders
Know the flood zone areas of your city or region. Be aware of hurricane evacuation routes. In areas very close to the ocean and rivers, forced evacuations do occur. If your area is issued a mandatory evacuation order, you should respond swiftly and immediately to allow plenty of time to get to safety. People residing in trailers and low-lying flood zone areas, in particular, should seek shelter on higher ground away from waterways. Although emergency personnel are on hand to help rescue anyone stranded during a hurricane, they are often doing so by putting their own life at risk. Don't put yourself or others in danger by ignoring evacuation warnings. Take steps as early as you can to gather important keepsakes and prepare your home to the best of your ability. Then, do as you are told and evacuate immediately. Don't procrastinate or wait too long. Quickly gather necessities and valuables, and vacate as soon as possible.

The 101 on Insurance & Hurricanes
Homeowners insurance can have limitations and may not cover all types of damage incurred by a hurricane. Ensuring you have the right type of coverage depends on where you live, the common type of damage your home suffers in a storm and how much coverage you purchase.

Many homeowners insurance policies cover wind damage but not all. Anyone in the path of a storm like Hurricane Florence, should review their homeowners insurance policies to understand whether it will cover wind, water and structural damage as well as the contents of the home that might be damaged. One type of damage that is usually not covered by homeowners insurance is flood damage – even if it is brought on or a result of the hurricane. You may be able to purchase a separate flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program to help cover such damage. However, if a hurricane's wind damages your roof and rain gets in as a result, you may find that your homeowners insurance will provide some protection.

If you live in a zone frequently ravaged by hurricanes, home repair and insurance experts highly recommend buying adequate coverage for wind, water and flood damage. Due to 30-day waiting periods, experts recommend purchasing hurricane coverage in advance of the season.

Also bear in mind that 19 states are considered high-risk areas and carry hurricane deductibles that are separate from a normal deductible. You will need to pay this before getting reimbursed for any claim resulting from hurricane damage. Depending on where you live, a hurricane deductible can be a flat rate or 2-5% of what your home is insured for. Knowing your policy in detail is important in these situations. Some policies will require that the hurricane meets certain requirements for claims to be triggered such as it being a "named" hurricane and making landfall.

In order to facilitate potential insurance claims at a later time, it is usually recommended that prior to a hurricane, you make an inventory list of furniture, appliances, technology items and any other household items of substantial value in case of catastrophic damage. It is also recommended that you make a list of important papers and put them in water-proof bags or store them inside an empty washing machine for protection. However, now, there is a much simpler way thanks to vipHomeLink.com. This clever, digital home management tool lets you upload important documents for safety and security. In addition, vipHomeLink lets you document your home contents with pictures, video and descriptions, essentially creating a digital home inventory list online. All of this important information can be accessed from a mobile phone or computer anywhere, 24/7. Learn more at vipHomeLink.com.

Organize a Hurricane Kit for Your Home
Be smart and build your own hurricane kit that contains important household items. Hurricane kits commonly contain candles, water-proof matches (or regular matches in plastic bags or a glass jar to keep them dry), extra batteries, bottled water, canned food, battery-operated lanterns and flashlights. In case of power failures, remember to include a manual can opener. A hand-crank weather radio is a nice-to-have, but can be money well spent. Make sure your first-aid kit with band-aids, antiseptic cream and other medicines are up-to-date.

Ways to Prepare Your Home
If you live in a hurricane zone and time permits, it is recommended that you conduct the following maintenance and checks before the storm hits (or ideally before the start of hurricane season):
• Checking the yard and the exterior of a home for loose shutters or window screens.
• Assess trees, especially any weak or dead trees or limbs that could fall during high winds.
• Secure loose wires and cables because high winds will tear them away.
• Check for loose downspouts and gutters.
• Inspect the roof and repair loose roof shingles.
• Use caulk to seal off doors and windows.
• Sump pumps should be tested, and exterior drains should be cleared of debris.
• Generators should be tested, with fuel available to power the generator if needed. Use generators outdoors only, and no less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
• Secure and store away toys, bicycles, playhouses, yard furniture, garbage bins, recycling containers, and other lightweight items. Anything left outside should be tied or chained down. With high winds over 85 mph, such items become projectiles that injure people and slam into other buildings.
• For homes located near rivers, creeks, or waterways, be aware of mandatory evacuation orders and consider purchasing and filling sandbags and place them around the home's perimeter.
• For high wind areas, protect windows and glass doors, cover them with plywood or hurricane shutters. Leave one or two smaller windows exposed for light and air circulation.

Other Tips for Hurricane Safety & Preparedness:
• Have flashlights located in convenient, easy-to-grab locations
• Have an approved, operational (ABC) fire extinguisher
• Fill your cooler with ice to hold beverages and any perishables.
• Turn off and secure propane tanks. Make sure to purchase extra propane for your BBQ grill, this can be a handy way to cook if the power goes out. Barbecue grills should only be used outdoors.
• Check important tools and ensure they are in good condition and operational. Make sure any plastic items are not cracked or broken.
• Have a list of emergency phone numbers and addresses of emergency shelters on hand.
• Stay indoors away from windows and seek shelter within interior rooms.
• Have a family emergency plan in place and make sure everyone is aware of it. Discuss what to do in case family members become separated.
• Make sure everyone knows how to communicate during emergency situations (i.e. email, social media, etc.)
• Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website for useful information via http://www.noaa.gov or https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.

What to Do After a Hurricane Hits Your Home
After the hurricane passes by, assess the entire home for structural damage. Document the damage with photos that show visible damage and note the date, time and other important details. Documentation and photos are important not only as proof but to compare with an insurance adjuster's evaluation.

FEMA & Disaster Assistance
For people who qualify for FEMA disaster assistance, proof must be provided before funds will be disbursed for temporary housing and emergency home repair expenses incurred during natural and man-made disasters. This is another reason to take photos and document any damage that occurs to your home or property.

The old saying rings true when it comes to hurricane-preparedness, "plan for the worst and hope for the best". We hope our tips and information helps you ride out this storm less stressed, more safely and with minimal damage to your home.

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