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Recent earthquakes and cyclones have caused serious devastation to countries around the world including China and Myanmar. And while such catastrophes are a world away, it is important to remember that unexpectedness natural disasters could happen in this country, too. Remember that 2007 tornado in Brooklyn, anyone?

Despite this reality, a new study has found that almost half of U.S. consumers are not prepared for property loss from a large scale natural disaster including the potential hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and floods that accompany spring and summer each year. A survey done by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) revealed that 48% of people said they did not have an inventory of their possessions and, of those who did report having an inventory, 32% had not taken any pictures. In addition, 58% had no receipts validating the cost of their possessions, and 44% acknowledged that they had not stored their inventory in a secure, remote location.

NAIC president and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says that creating an inventory and storing it in a safe location is one of the most effective steps anyone can take to help protect themselves and their financial future in case of a disaster. She says, “The more information that you can provide demonstrating the items lost, the easier it is to get a settlement from your insurance company.”

The NAIC survey also found that the majority of Americans do not have the coverage necessary to protect themselves from specific types of losses that are not covered under standard homeowners’ insurance policies. For instance, 69% do not have earthquake insurance, 65% do not have flood insurance, 56% do not have insurance for a water line break, and 55% do not have insurance for a sewer line break. According to Praeger, “The additional policies are essential for people in high-risk areas and for those in low-risk areas the riders are more inexpensive. The money spent on the rider is worth the money that will be saved is there is a disaster.”

Ten Additional Disaster Preparedness Tips for Homeowners and Renters from the NAIC:

10) Take an inventory of your valuables and belongings. This should include taking photographs or a video of each room. This documentation will provide your insurance company with proof of your belongings and help to process claims more quickly in the event of disaster.

9) To enable filing claims more quickly, keep sales receipts and/or canceled checks. Also, note the model and serial numbers of the items in your home inventory.

8) As you acquire more valuables—jewelry, family heirlooms, antiques, art —consider purchasing an additional “floater” or “rider” to your policy to cover these special items. These types of items typically are not covered by a basic homeowners or renter’s insurance policy.

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7) Remember to include in your home inventory those items you rarely use (holiday decorations, sports equipment, tools).

6) Store copies of all your insurance policies in a safe location away from your home that is easily accessible in case of disaster. You may want to store your policies and inventory in a waterproof, fireproof box or in a safe, remote location such as a bank safe deposit box. Consider leaving a copy of your inventory with relatives, friends, or your insurance provider and store digital pictures in your email or on a Web site for easy retrieval.

5) Know what is and is not covered by your insurance policy. You might need additional protection depending on where you live. Make sure your policies are up to date. Contact your insurance provider annually to review and update your insurance policy.

4) Keep a readily available list of 24-hour contact information for each of your insurance providers.

3) Find out if your possessions are insured for the actual cash value or the replacement cost. Actual cash value is the amount it would take to repair or replace damage to your home or possessions after depreciation while replacement cost is the amount it would take to repair or replace your home or possessions without deducting for depreciation. Speak with your insurance provider to determine whether purchasing replacement coverage is worth the cost.

2) Speak with your insurance provider to find out if your policy covers additional living expenses for a temporary residence if you are unable to live in your home due to damage from a disaster.

1) Appraise your home periodically to make sure your insurance policy reflects home improvements or renovations. Contact your insurance provider to update your policy accordingly.

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