Hurricane season is upon us: tropical depression Claudette recently brought heavy rains down South, while currently Hurricane Bill appears on track for Bermuda.

Having the right insurance is one way to make sure the costs of a storm or hurricane does not wreck havoc on your finances.

Of course physical safety is also paramount: Emergency management officials recommend fortifying a home in advance of the hurricane season, but a Mason-Dixon poll in May found 83% of residents in coastal states had not taken any steps in the last year to make their homes safer. Sixty-six percent of respondents had not put together a recommended hurricane survival kit.

“Many residents still believe it won’t happen to them,’’ says Jack Beven, senior hurricane forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Unfortunately, these devastating storms could happen to anyone and the only way to keep yourself and your family safe is to be prepared.’’

Does the Recession Put More at Risk?
But besides complacency, another issue may be at work this year. Homeowners and business are on a tight budget this year because of the economy. Consequently, they may abandon plans to fortify their homes warns the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

“It's a double-edged sword for financially strapped home and business owners this year,” says IBHS President Julie Rochman. “They don't have funds for protective measures – but they're also ill-equipped to handle the financial impact of a storm.”

IBHS, which is funded by the insurance industry, also says the number of foreclosed homes – and unoccupied homes whose owners have moved away before their property sells – can mean an increased potential for flying debris. Any building that is unsecured for a severe storm, in disrepair or unfinished and left open to the elements also means more potential windborne missiles threatening that neighborhood, the organization says.

What You Need to Know
Robert Hunter, Insurance Director of the Consumer Federation of America, says property owners who fortify their structure can usually receive discounts from their insurers. He suggests that insurers and customers should communicate to better understand potential discounts. “People need to know how much they can save if they take a specific course of action,’’ he says.

Insurance experts recommend these key measures to your home:

• Doors and Windows. Install impact resistant windows and doors or storm shutters that can protect your property from flying debris and high winds.

• Don't Forget the Garage. Garage doors can pose a serious risk during high winds if they are not properly secured. Replacing weak hinges and supports can reduce the likelihood of the door failing and severe wind damage to your house.

• Check the Roof. Hire a contractor to inspect your roof. The roof may not survive high winds if the roof decking is not properly attached to the frame. Also, loose shingles or tiles can increase the roof’s susceptibility to high winds.

Hurricane preparation, however, involves more than just fortifying your structure. You could be forced to relocate during a hurricane or supermarkets, banks and other\essential services could be closed in the aftermath of a storm. It is recommended that you:

• Assemble a Hurricane Supply Kit. It should include emergency supplies including medication, nonperishable foods, a non-electric can opener, bottled water, a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, extra clothes, important documents, a first-aid kit, cash and credit cards. Supplies should be stored in a waterproof, easy to carry container, such as a plastic tub with handles.

• Prepare a Personal Evacuation Plan. Identify evacuation routes in advance of a storm. In case you are evacuated to a shelter bring hurricane kit and pillows and blankets and personal hygiene supplies.

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