What lessons to learn from Hurricane Ian?

Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm in September 2022, and many residents and businesses along the southeastern coast are still picking up the pieces in the wake of the storm. A recent projection estimates the economic damage resulting from Hurricane Ian could reach up to $75 billion. This would make the hurricane among the top 10 costliest storms in U.S. history, and it has the potential to even be considered among the top five once all the damage is finally assessed and processed.

Its effects are going to be felt for a long time to come because of the physical and economic destruction caused by its severe winds, rain and – most impactfully – its storm surge, which traveled as far as 20 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm surge is not often discussed as a major contributing factor of severe weather, unlike winds and rain. It’s a phenomenon resulting from atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm that drives water over the shoreline and inland. Some of these waves were recorded at one to two stories high along 60 miles of Florida’s coastline and waters rose as high as 13 feet.

This isn’t a new story as extreme weather continues to be a costly plague for communities, leaving no one immune to the disastrous effects of severe weather. Counties making up 97% of the U.S. population have been affected by a federally declared disaster since 2010

To limit the effects of disasters like Hurricane Ian’s storm surge, there are valuable lessons consumers can learn from to better protect against its financial and physical impacts.

Coverage conundrum

Despite being extremely damaging, storm surge is often left off many traditional homeowners’ policies. In fact, only about 18% of homes in counties that were under evacuation orders during the time of Hurricane Ian had a federal flood insurance policy, leaving many homeowners on the hook to cover the damages caused by the surge. 

It’s a compounding peril that comes as a result of hurricanes, so it’s imperative consumers review their policies to ensure damage from storm surge is covered. If it’s not, it’s advantageous to get an additional disaster insurance policy that specifically covers storm surge or flooding.

Time also may not be on the average homeowner’s side as insurance payouts and federal or state aid can take a long time to reach wallets. The length of time to receive an insurance payout – or waiting for government aid – can take much longer than expected. This can leave homeowners on the hook to cover the cost of displacement and immediate repairs while they wait.

Recovery costs run deep

With FEMA assistance, the funds consumers receive come with an explanation of what the money covers. This limits the flexibility homeowners need to recover quickly post-disaster. The process also treats everyone the same and does not account for different needs or nuances. For example, a family with young children may need help with childcare while someone living far from family may need funds to pay for relocation while their home undergoes reconstruction. 

Not only that, but one of the first steps back onto the path of recovery is to pay the insurance deductible in full before being able to receive the benefits from a traditional insurance policy. That cost is most commonly about $1,000 but can range depending on the way the policy is drafted. So, homeowners must spend out of pocket money to even begin starting their journey to life as it once was post-disaster. 

Inflated costs of goods and services also means that the costs to repair a home post-hurricane are increasing, and insurance payouts may not be adjusted yet to account for inflated costs. This can leave consumers covering the difference, further straining already weakened pocketbooks.

Because of these challenges, homeowners need to plan for the right coverage and the right flexibility to help their financial resiliency. And it isn’t a laughing matter considering the average household savings is only $3,800 and 60% of Americans don’t have an emergency fund in place.

Compounding that with the growing work-from-home and hybrid work models, many homeowners’ home offices may be damaged or destroyed after a storm surge event. This adds to the stress of dealing with repairing their home because many people need the income from work to pay for the immediate repairs to their home while they wait for their payout.

While no one can prevent hurricanes or storm surge from happening, consumers can minimize the potential damage to their homes and finances.

Elevate – Elevating the home, where the lowest floor is above the base flood elevation level for the area, is one of the most effective ways to mitigate storm surge effects according to FEMA. It may also lower flood insurance premiums.

Reinforce – Doors and windows are common fail points and can break open leaving homes victim to wind, water and debris that can seriously damage belongings and home structure. Understand what storm shutters, high-impact glass and a reinforced garage door can do to keep water out of the home. Waterproof sealant at gaps around pipes or wires attached to the home and caulking around windows and doors can help prevent water from coming into these vulnerable areas.

Look outside – The high winds and water that come with storm surge can turn loose tree branches, potted plants and lawn furniture into added perils. Watching for these issues on the property can keep them from causing additional damage. According to FEMA, homes should be at least a full-grown tree’s height away from the base of any tree.

Buy time – Explore insurance resources designed to protect consumer financials from a government-declared disaster. 

Severe weather like storm surge is unpredictable, but the devastating effects of these natural disasters are becoming more common. That’s why consumers need to stay informed about how storm surge damage impacts their home and their pocketbook and how to recover quicker in the wake of severe weather.

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