Does it feel a little early to be talking about spring weather preparedness? It should! A preparedness mindset involves anticipating upcoming risks, so you are ready before they present a real threat. You may be surprised at how much advance planning you need to do. Swimsuits and school supplies arrive in retail stores way ahead of schedule and weather preparedness works the same way. Thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes are approaching, so how can you prepare your properties and tenants?
Step 1: Get to Know Your Risk
The U.S. has around 15 very diverse climates and our cities are spread across nearly 2.3 billion acres of land. If you invest in several states it can be a challenge to keep up with the changing weather conditions in each region, so having property managers that communicate timely and operate proactively using a preventive mindset is crucial. Even if your properties are all located within the same city, the unpredictable weather we’ve experienced the past few years requires that you or your PM be on the ball for anything that could suddenly drop out of the sky. The first step to minimizing losses is becoming familiar with the weather where you invest. The following maps show which areas are most prone to severe thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes and flooding.
At weather.gov’s safety site you can select a state on the map (pictured below) to learn more about the types of flooding experienced there and how you can protect lives and property. You will also find which National Weather Service offices forecast for the area and more.
Step 2: Make a Plan & Take Action
The second step to minimizing losses from severe weather is to make a plan and take action. Some items you can do well in advance of a storm approaching, where other steps might not be possible or practical to do until just before the storm arrives. Either way, advance planning will enable you to act swiftly to protect your property and any inhabitants in a severe weather event.
Specific Preparation for Common Spring Weather Hazards
Catastrophic weather events can completely destroy your property, but even smaller storms can create costly damage. They may cause power outages that lead to sump pump failures, flooded basements, damaged furnaces and water heaters. Lack of A/C can create a ripe environment for mold growth, and at times looters may even take advantage of a lack of security. Let’s discuss four common spring weather hazards and how you can prepare for those risks.
Thunderstorms & Lightning – in most places, these storms can occur year-round and at any hour of the day.
- Be sure your sump pump and security alarm are both connected to battery backups.
- Use a generator during power outages. (Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/heat sources outside and never try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.)
- If windows and doors have been damaged in a storm, board up your property to keep trespassers and vandals out.
- Read about Lightning Safety on the NWS website.
- Share this FEMA resource with your tenants: Be Prepared for a Thunderstorm, Lightning or Hail Handout
Wind & Hail – Any area of the U.S. can experience high winds and hail, but the Midwest and Southeast tend to have an increased risk for damage caused by these two perils.
- Secure loose gutters and downspouts.
- Keep your trees and shrubs well-maintained so they are more wind-resistant.
- Remove dead or dying trees from the property so they can’t fall on your investment, your neighbor’s property or injure someone.
- As storms approach:
- Move any deck furniture or other items that could become dangerous projectiles when there is a threat of high winds, indoors.
- Cover all windows. Install permanent storm shutters or board up windows with plywood to help prevent windows from being damaged. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
- Brace garage doors with additional support from the inside.
- Utilize tarps to help keep rain from entering the property and causing additional damage after the initial event.
- Read about Wind Safety on the NWS website.
- Share this FEMA resource with your tenants: Be Prepared for a Thunderstorm, Lightning or Hail Handout
Tornadoes – the Midwest and Southeast generally have a greater risk for tornadoes.
- Keep up on tree maintenance, trim dead limbs and remove dead trees to keep flying debris from damaging the main structure.
- Instruct tenants to bring in any outdoor furniture, deck or yard decorations inside if severe weather is in the forecast.
- Build a “safe room” to FEMA or ICC 500 standards where tenants can seek refuge.
- Read about Tornado Safety on the NWS website.
- Share this FEMA Resource with your tenants – Be Prepared for a Tornado Handout
Flooding – any area can be overwhelmed by a flash flood, but some areas are more susceptible to flooding than others.
- Check your flood risk on FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center page.
- Consider adding Flood coverage to your insurance strategy. Bear in mind that coverage for Flood is always purchased separately from property coverage and if going through the National Flood Insurance Program there is usually a 30-day waiting period for Flood coverage to go into effect.
- Check the grading of soil around your foundation to be sure water will flow away from the house when it rains. Install additional drainage if necessary or regrade problem areas.
- Make sure gutters and downspouts are clear of blockages to help shed water away from the home.
- Test your sump pump before storms arrive to make sure it comes on when water flows into the sump pit.
- Stack sandbags around the perimeter of the house and in front of entryways to prevent rising water from entering the property.
- Read about Flood Safety on the NWS website.
- Share this FEMA resource with your tenants: Be Prepared for a Flood Handout
Insurance Coverages & Responsibilities
Don’t wait until severe weather is headed your way (or after a storm!) to become familiar with your insurance coverage. As mentioned earlier, certain coverages aren’t typically included in standard property policies, such as Flood coverage. Discovering that you do not have coverage for the devastating losses natural disasters can bring can exponentially increase the hardship, if not take you out of business altogether. We are standing by to help you with any questions, so take advantage of your Client Service Representative’s knowledge.
It is also important to know your responsibilities as an insured; you have a contractual duty to prevent further damage when a loss occurs at your property. Check the policy section “Duties in the Event of a Loss” for specific responsibilities. The items contained within are sensible and reasonable, so you shouldn’t find any surprising requirements, only things that a prudent person would do in the event of a loss. Some examples might include securing the property from unlawful entry after high winds and flying debris damage doors and windows or putting a tarp on a roof that has been compromised by tree damage. Lastly, reporting losses as timely as possible can help expedite the claims process and ensure that you don’t lose coverage because you waited too long to report a loss.
In any type of loss, you will usually be required to:
- Contact your insurance company in a timely manner to advise them of the loss.
- Contact the authorities when appropriate.
- If a crime has been committed, file a police report.
- In the event of a fire, file a fire report.
- Take photos or videos of the damage, or both.
- Make any necessary temporary repairs to prevent further damage to the property.
- Set aside any damaged materials for the adjuster to examine.
- Save all receipts from any temporary repairs made.
- Get an estimate from a reliable contractor. (Obtaining several is advisable.)
Two Common Storm-Related Mitigation Techniques
Boarding Up a Property
When a storm compromises entry points like windows and doors, properly boarding up your property can help deter thieves and vandals. Find reliable board-up tips from the United States Fire Administration here: U.S.F.A. Board-Up Procedures.
Mold can set in very quickly when a property has sustained even small amounts of water damage. The EPA has a whole guide covering the causes of mold, cleanup guidelines and mold prevention and control tips. Read more about how to reduce your risk of mold here.
Beware of Scammers
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there looking to take advantage of those who have just suffered a loss, especially after natural disasters. You may not be able to avoid a storm, but if you are on your guard, you could avoid becoming a victim in the aftermath. The Oklahoma Insurance Department recommendations include, but are not limited to, the following advice:
- Anyone who offers to get you more money for your insurance claim warrants additional caution.
- Always hire an established, licensed and fully insured company. Check the references they give you.
- Reputable contractors should be able to provide you with their certificate of liability insurance. If they have employees, they should also carry worker’s comp coverage.
- To help ensure coverage is in force while the contractor is working for you, you can ask to be added as an additional insured on their policy. If the policy lapses or cancels, you should be notified. In most cases, there is no fee to get you added to the policy.
- Never pay a repair bill in full until the work is completed according to your contract with the provider.
- A bid that is substantially lower than other bids for the same scope of work is usually missing something significant. Review all bids carefully to ensure there aren’t items missing or unnecessary items added to the scope of work.
- High-pressure tactics can be a red flag. Don’t let the heightened stress following a loss cause you to rush the process of hiring a quality service provider.
For a broad overview of severe weather preparedness from FEMA, you can visit Ready.gov’s Severe Weather Preparedness website. You can also check out these two articles on our website:
- Storms on the Horizon
- Is It Covered: Flood
- Do You Know the Difference Between Flood, Water Damage & Sewer Back-Up?
About the Author
BreAnn Stephenson is the resident Loss Prevention expert at National Real Estate Insurance Group. BreAnn brings over 15 years of insurance and client/customer service experience to the team.