Hurricane awareness is a vital part of living in Florida. Hurricane season in the Sunshine State is a six-month period running from June 1st to November 30th, with the peak occurring between mid-August and late October. This is the season when waters in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico warm enough to trigger tropical waves and hurricane activity. Unfortunately for Floridians, the entire state of Florida sits right in the path of potential hurricanes.
Many people have a dangerous misconception that certain parts of Florida are safe from hurricanes. However, 100 percent of Florida’s coastline has been hit by hurricanes since records began in the 1800s. While some parts of Florida are more vulnerable than others, hurricanes can hit any part of the state with some degree of damage.
For example, 2022’s Hurricane Ian hit Fort Myers as a Category 4 hurricane before trekking across Florida and exiting the state through Volusia County. The storm hit major population centers like Tampa and Orlando along the way, and anybody caught in its path risked death, injury, or catastrophic property damage.
How Can a Property Owner Prepare for a Hurricane?
Any Florida resident who has seen the devastation caused by a hurricane will wonder what—if anything—they can do to prepare for such an event. There is only so much a person can do during and after a hurricane. The good news is that property owners can take many steps before a hurricane to limit the damage they suffer.
Know Your Neighborhood’s Zone
The Florida Division of Emergency Management divides the state into evacuation zones based on their danger levels. Your home might sit in a zone especially prone to flooding, a zone you must evacuate early, or a neighborhood with other features that make it more vulnerable to storms. The Division of Emergency Management has useful information that can help Florida homeowners learn more about their local area and any particular dangers it might face during a major storm.
Protect Your Property
There are some things you can’t change if your home is in the path of an approaching hurricane. However, there are some surprisingly simple actions you can take to reduce property damage.
- Boarding up and covering windows. High winds and flying debris are among the most significant threats posed by hurricanes. Even a simple plywood board or storm shutter attached outside a window can protect the glass and what is behind it. Protective coverings on windows can save the windows themselves and prevent much-dreaded water damage from entering your home through windows. Shatter-resistant film or windows installed with high-impact glass can also prove helpful during high winds.
- Cleaning debris and loose items from the yard. Lawn chairs, tools, decorations, kids’ toys, and other everyday items can become dangerous projectiles when hurricane-force winds arrive. They can cause substantial damage to your property when they strike your house or garage. In the time you have before a storm, walk through your yard and make sure any items are either secured or safely stored away.
- Protecting your roof. FEMA suggests fortifying your roof, re-adhering loose shingles, and attaching roof strappings to anchor the roof to wall framings. These actions can prevent the storm from lifting the roof off your house during a hurricane. Your roof is your first line of defense during a storm and deserves attention in advance of an approaching hurricane.
- Seal gaps and cracks. Many homes develop slight gaps or cracks as they settle and age takes its toll. These gaps can let air and water into the home, regardless of whether we are aware of them. Inspect your home for cracks or crevices where water can enter during a heavy storm or hurricane.
- Reconsider using rock or gravel decorative elements. Stone, rock, and gravel can provide an attractive landscaping element but can also prove destructive when winds lift them off the ground and hurl them through the air. If you live in an area with a high hurricane risk, think about what decorative rocks can do when 100-mile-per-hour winds get ahold of them.
- Trim or remove tree branches if they are in harm’s way. High winds can cause branches to fall and tree limbs to snap—potentially dropping them on the roof of your home or garage. Tree branches can also cause other property damage once they fall and get flung about your property during a hurricane. Monitor the health of your trees before a storm arrives, and pay particular attention to branches that hang over roofs or power lines.
Make a Hurricane Plan
Having an emergency plan for hurricanes and other dangerous events is critical to your well-being. Things happen fast in a storm, and you can save valuable time and energy by having important decisions already made. One is knowing what to do and where to go if evacuation becomes necessary. Another is knowing where to go in the house if evacuation is impossible. Preferably, each household member will have roles and duties in case of an emergency and know what to do instead of panicking.
An effective disaster plan will include preparing and storing emergency materials such as flashlights, batteries, generators, can openers, non-perishable foods, and other essential items.
Planning for a hurricane also means having access to drinkable water and having enough gas in your vehicle to get where you need to go if you are evacuating. Prepare for the possibility of going a few days without electricity or running water.
Create a Safe Room in the House
Hurricane-force winds can damage even the most well-built homes. Your family should have a safe area within the home in which to shelter in the event you cannot leave. Ideally, this should be a room without breakable windows and in an area that would not take on water during a flood event. The safe room should also have an emergency kit with flashlights and other essentials at the ready.
Know How to Recognize Warnings and Weather Alerts
Modern technology makes it easier than ever to get real-time alerts and notices about weather events. Phone apps like FEMA’s weather alert app provide timely weather warnings and other notifications. However, the electricity you need to keep your phone charged can be in short supply during a disaster. It is wise to be aware of other methods of getting alerts, such as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and notifications within your community. It helps to have backup devices such as battery-charged radios so you can continue to receive important alerts in the event you lose power or the internet.
Preparing for a Property Damage Insurance Claim Before a Hurricane Strikes
As you prepare for the safety of your family and your home before a hurricane, you can also lay the groundwork for the property damage claim you might have to file once the storm has passed. Many people make the mistake of taking no action until after the fact and they have to file an insurance claim. This can lead to longer waits, delayed claims, reduced payouts due to poorly documented property inventories, and other aggravating issues.
You can take the following steps to protect yourself and your rights to compensation.
Review Your Insurance Policy Carefully
You want to know what your policy covers in the event of a hurricane and what you must do to ensure that coverage.
Your policy will enumerate particular duties you must adhere to following a covered event, including:
- Duty to provide prompt notice. Insurance policies typically include language requiring that policyholders alert the provider to a covered event within a specific time frame. Waiting too long could violate a prompt-notice provision in your policy and create hang-ups or even a denial of your claim in some situations. When you report your claim, it is best to have as much information as possible, so the insurer can process your claim more efficiently.
- Duty to mitigate damage. This is especially important after a catastrophic loss involving hurricane damage. Most insurers require a property owner to take immediate measures to prevent the property damage from worsening. Mitigating damage could include covering broken windows, patching holes in a roof, fixing burst pipes, or repairing damaged electrical connections. The most daunting task after a hurricane can involve addressing water damage to prevent mold from accumulating. Mold abatement is costly and time-consuming, but a homeowner should get somebody to fix these urgent issues as soon as possible. Failing to mitigate damage can lead an insurance company to reduce or deny a payout when you need it most.
- Duty to allow an inspection of the property and cooperate with your insurer. Most policies require the homeowner to allow an insurance adjuster to inspect the home, evaluate the claim, and assess the estimated damage. The homeowner must cooperate with this inspection by completing any requested documentation, providing accurate itemizations of damage, and answering any follow-up questions. Be sure you are aware of the responsibilities the insurance company requires of you under the policy so that you don’t inadvertently skip steps and jeopardize your payout.
Create an Inventory of Personal Property, Fixtures, and Appliances within the Home
A property insurance policy will usually cover the personal property within a home, but only if the insurance company can verify what was there and what became lost or damaged. Knowing the storm destroyed something means little if you can’t show the covered event that caused the damage. Failing to itemize your inventory of valuable property within a home means that certain losses of treasured items can go uncompensated.
The best time to itemize your property is well before a hurricane happens, as you likely won’t have time to complete this task in the moments before a severe storm hits. As a best practice, you want to create, maintain, and update a detailed inventory of all keepsakes, valuables, and appliances or fixtures within a home that are important to you. Taking photos of the items most important to you while they are still in good condition is another essential part of this task.
Doing this makes both your job and the insurer’s job much simpler after a hurricane passes through your property. Getting fair and accurate compensation for your losses becomes easier when you have “before and after” comparisons of the personal property within a home.
Know Your Local Contractors and Who Can Perform Repairs after a Severe Storm
Florida hurricanes are notorious not only for the damage they cause but for the disreputable, fly-by-night contractors that swoop in and pledge to complete repairs that never happen. Instead, they take payments from trusting homeowners and either leave the job half-finished or don’t come back at all. It helps to know who you can trust in your community to perform necessary repairs after a storm, including repairs that mitigate a homeowner’s damages.
Remember: Preparation Is the Key to Weathering the Storm
A hurricane is one of the most frightening threats that Floridians face. Hurricanes put not only our lives in danger but can also leave behind catastrophic property damage that takes months and thousands of dollars to repair. Getting back to normal is hard enough on its own, but going back and forth with an insurance company does not make matters easier. However, by preparing yourself and following the steps described on this page, you can keep yourself safe and give yourself the best chance of having all your losses covered. Contact Dolman Law Group for a free case evaluation today.