Preparedness & Recovery

Irma: Insurers Hold Emergency Meetings for Possible 'Head-On' Fla. Hit

If you don’t have already have flood insurance there is typically a 30-day wait before it is effective.

by Charles Elmore, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / September 6, 2017
From left, JC Abreu, Peter Gonzalez, and Jorge Abreu with Hurricane Busters Enterprises install hurricane shutters at a home in Key Largo in preparation for Hurricane Irma on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. TNS

(TNS) - Florida’s second-largest insurer called an emergency board meeting and several companies stopped writing or revising policies in South Florida Tuesday as Category 5 Hurricane Irma presented one of the greatest threats in state history.

As all eyes watch the storm’s projected path, state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s board will gather by teleconference at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“As Irma approaches, our policyholders’ highest priority must be their personal safety,” said Citizens president Barry Gilway. “Take precautions and follow instructions of local emergency management agencies. Citizens is preparing all of its internal and external resources to help you recover.”

Worried homeowners called agents to make sure they had enough coverage or seek more, only to learn it might not be possible to make significant changes with a major storm this close.

If you don’t have already have flood insurance, for example, there is typically a 30-day wait before it is effective. A standard home policy does not cover flood damage, which requires a separate policy.

“I’ve never seen so many calls about flood insurance in my life,” said Sabrina Metz, a licensed agent for Brightway Insurance in Royal Palm Beach.

Irma’s Category 5 level winds up to 185 mph present perhaps the greatest imminent threat, but flood insurance involves an optional, additional purchase for many in South Florida who are not required by a lender to buy it in a high-risk flood zone. Rain-packed Hurricane Harvey in Texas provided a stark reminder of how serious flooding damage can be.

Some insurance companies were still writing standard home insurance policies or allowing changes in coverage on a case-by-case basis, but others had already frozen business in South Florida or were set to do so by 5 p.m. Tuesday, she said.

“With Hurricane Irma barreling toward Florida, residents urgently need to take precautionary steps to make sure they’re prepared for its landfall,” said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, whose charter members include State Farm, Allstate and Progressive. “Gathering important information, such as insurance policies, purchasing disaster relief items, and planning for possible evacuation must be a priority for all.”

It is easy to take for granted access to electronic copies of records, but remember electric power, wireless and cellular networks can be all be disrupted by a major storm.

That’s why making a copy of key records such as your insurance policy and an agent’s card and putting them in a waterproof plastic bag might not be a bad idea, according to an Emergency Financial Preparedness Toolkit available free at myFloridaCFO.com.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and dangerous storm, and Floridians must take steps now to make sure their families are prepared,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said. ‘

Tips from Patronis’s office include: Inventory high-dollar household items, including receipts, purchase dates, and serial numbers. Photograph or videotape possessions. Keep copies of this information with your insurance policies and cards in a safe place.

Print insurance policies and take note of hurricane deductibles. Most policies have a hurricane deductible equivalent to 2 percent to 5 percent of a home’s insured value. That means you are responsible for that portion of the repair costs.

After the storm, if consumers sustain damage to their property, the state’s toll-free Insurance Consumer Helpline staff can help with the claims-filing process at 1-877-693-5236.

Remember also to make sure watercraft are stored in a secure area, like a garage or covered boat dock, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said.

A typical homeowner’s policy will cover property damage in limited instances for small watercraft, while separate boat policies are designed to cover larger, faster boats, yachts, jet skis and wave runners, the group said.

The organization representing nearly 1,000 member companies writing $183 billion in annual premiums “encourages individuals and families who are threatened by Hurricane Irma to act now and get prepared,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s Florida regional manager.

“While the storm’s path is currently uncertain, it has great potential to hit Florida head-on, and there are several things Floridians can do now to protect their homes and businesses, and ensure they can recover as quickly as possible from any losses,” McFaddin said. “This includes documenting your property and possessions ahead of a storm, so you have an accurate illustration of any damage that needs to be reported to your insurance company or agent.”

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©2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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