AUSTIN - Hurricane season officially begins in Texas on June 1 and runs through the end of November, typically with peak activity in August and September.
Although residents of coastal areas are most at risk, tropical storm systems can travel hundreds of miles inland, creating the potential for wind damage and flash flooding throughout the state. Planning ahead can help you protect yourself, your family and your property during hurricane season.
Review coverage and policy limits.
Make certain your homeowners or commercial property coverage is in force and that it provides adequate coverage to pay the full replacement cost of your property. Make sure you understand what the policy does and does not cover. If you have questions regarding the terms or coverage provided under the policy, contact your agent. If you’ve made improvements to your home, consider increasing your policy’s limits to cover the enhanced value of the property. Even without recent improvements, property values increase over time and insurance policies should be adjusted accordingly.
Make sure you have windstorm insurance.
If your property is located in one of Texas’ 14 coastal counties or parts of southeastern Harris County, your homeowners policy may not provide windstorm coverage. You may be able to obtain insurance coverage for windstorm or hail damage from a special insurance pool called the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. It’s important to note that you cannot buy or change TWIA coverage once a hurricane is in or near the Gulf of Mexico. If you have TWIA coverage, review your policy carefully and know your policy limits. Compare your TWIA and homeowners policies and make sure you are insured to an appropriate replacement value.
For more information about windstorm coverage, call your insurance agent or TWIA at (512) 899-4900 or visit its Web site at www.twia.org.
Consider flood insurance.
Homeowners and commercial property policies specifically exclude coverage for damage from flooding.
To protect yourself from losses caused by rising water, you’ll need a separate flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program. NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Flood insurance policies usually have a 30-day waiting period after the purchase date before coverage takes effect on currently-owned property, so don’t wait until a flooding threat is imminent.
For more information, contact your insurance agent or NFIP at 1-888-FLOOD 29 (356-6329) or visit www.floodsmart.gov.
Make a safety plan.
If a hurricane threatens your area, you may have to make a decision whether to stay in your home or evacuate. Whenever local authorities recommend evacuation, you should leave. The advice of authorities is based on knowledge of the strength of the storm and its potential for death and destruction.
Map out safe routes inland or to safer areas. If you live in a low-lying area, know where low-water crossings might make travel to safety more difficult and plan routes that avoid these areas.
Find out the location of any nearby community shelters in case you must seek immediate shelter.
When a hurricane watch is issued for your area - an alert that a storm has not yet hit, but conditions are likely in the days or hours ahead - regularly check TV and radio for official weather bulletins.
If you decide that it’s safe for you to stay, understand that you may be without electricity, fresh water and phone service for some time and prepare accordingly. Stock up on canned goods and bottled water, check supplies of medicines and first-aid equipment and check batteries in radios and flashlights.
Work out a way for family members to communicate in case you must leave your home or if there is a disruption in local phone service. For instance, agree on a friend or relative who lives outside your immediate area who can serve as a point of contact in an emergency.
Protect your property.
When a hurricane watch is issued for your area, taking a few measures in advance may help prevent or minimize damage to your home or property.
Protect windows, sliding glass doors and skylights with shutters or plywood.
Put your car in a garage or other shelter. Secure boats and trailers. Secure outdoor furniture and any other loose material outside.
If possible, trim back any dead wood from trees. This will reduce the amount of wind stress on trees and eliminate potential damage from falling limbs.
Move valuables away from windows and, if possible, to an upper floor.
Bring pets indoors or make other arrangements for their safety.
If you must seek shelter in a community shelter, understand that you will probably not be able to keep your pets with you. Contact your local humane society for information about animal shelters.
If you are leaving your home, lock and secure the premises. Take small valuables and important documents with you.
Make a home inventory.
Photograph or videotape each room and the exterior of your home. List serial numbers on the items you can. Keep your inventory, your insurance policy and any other important documents in a safe deposit box or other secure spot. If your home or property is damaged, accurate records can help speed up the claims process and can help prove tax-deductible uninsured losses.
Maintain your auto insurance.
State law requires all drivers to maintain liability insurance, which pays for injuries and damages you cause to other people and their cars. Liability coverage does not pay for any type of damage to your own vehicle, however.
You will need to purchase additional coverage, known as “comprehensive” or “damage other than collision” coverage to protect your vehicle from damage caused by hail, flood, fire or theft.
For more information about insurance, call TDI’s consumer help line toll-free at 1-800-252-3439 or visit the TDI Web site at www.tdi.state.tx.us.
Thos with an insurance-related complaint can contact the TDI by calling the toll-free line, filling out an online complaint form on TDI’s Web site or by e-mailing TDI at ConsumerProtection@tdi.state.tx.us.
To report a suspicious fire to TDI’s arson/burn ban hotline, call 1-877-434-7345.
To report a case of suspected insurance fraud to TDI, call 1-888-327-8818.