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Hurricane Preparedness: Lessons from Katrina

It’s been seven years since one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States ravaged the gulf coast: Hurricane Katrina. With another hurricane season upon us, the most practical thing you can do to remember Katrina is to to be as prepared as possible for hurricane season.

Every year between August and October hurricanes roll through the gulf coast of the United States.  The size and scope of these hurricanes vary dramatically but the potential for damage is always there. Here are some hurricane preparedness tips to help you get through whatever this hurricane season brings.

Buy an Insurance Policy and Read the Fine Print

After Hurricane Katrina, many people realized too late that their insurance policy did not cover the flood damage that resulted from the storm surge and the levee breaking. In many cases they were left with nothing. These details are outlined in the fine print of your insurance policy. Knowing what is and is not covered by your insurance policy will hopefully be able to save you a lot of heartache after the storm passes.

Most homeowners are required to purchase some kind of homeowners insurance. If you are a homeowner and can afford comprehensive homeowners insurance that covers damage caused by the flooding and wind and whatever else comes through your house during a hurricane, you should invest in that policy. This kind of  insurance plan, also known as “catastrophe risk insurance” will cover both flood damage and wind damage but usually comes with high premiums.

Unfortunately, most standard homeowners’ insurance policies will not protect against all of the damages caused by a hurricane. So what do you do if you can’t afford catastrophe risk insurance? Or what if you don’t even own a home? How do renters, college students, or those people who might not have a ton of financial stability, weather the storm?

For renters, there are ways to ensure that you are covered in the event that  a disaster strikes. It is likely that any structural damage done to the property will be covered by your landlord’s insurance policy. Unfortunately, your landlord’s insurance policy will not cover damages to any personal belongings and any living expenses that are accrued after the storm. Renters insurance policies usually range between $12 to $30 a month and if you have auto insurance you will likely be eligible for a discounted price on your renters insurance through your insurance company. These kinds of policies are an affordable way to protect yourself if you are a renter living in a hurricane-prone area.

If you have insurance but your plan falls short, there are still resources for you.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a number of assistance programs for individuals and small businesses residing in areas which have been declared to be in a state of emergency.  But being ready yourself is still the best option, especially considering the ways FEMA failed to help people quickly enough after Katrina.

Prepare a Disaster Kit

Besides making sure you’re insured, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you are as prepared as possible for when the hurricane comes.

Hurricane Katrina was an extreme example of what can happen when there is a significant delay in rescue efforts. It was hot and humid and people were going days without food, water, or other basic necessities. Unfortunately you cannot always anticipate how quickly help will be on the way. It may seem obvious, but making sure you have extra potable water, food, and enough supplies to last you for up to three days could very well save your life. Ready.gov has a suggested list of what you might want to include in your disaster kit.

Know Your Local Threats

Few could have predicted that the levees in New Orleans would break and leave nearly 80 percent of the city, Saint Bernards parish, and other neighboring parishes submerged in water for weeks. Those horrific events have become a catalyst for important discussions about how to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Long before a hurricane hits, it’s important to know what possible threats are posed by your surroundings. Are you close to a levee? Are you living in a flood zone? Knowing this will help you determine your best options in the event of a hurricane. You may not have the means to evacuate every time there is a hurricane warning. If this is the case, it is important to have an alternative plan. Make sure to have a predetermined meeting place with family and friends.

If you do evacuate, know where the evacuation route is in your town. It’s important to make these arrangements beforehand because once the storm hits, it’s very likely that some, if not all, lines of communication will be down.

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you obviously can’t avoid them, but you can help to mitigate their negative impact by planning ahead. Hopefully the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina will ensure that the next big one won’t be as destructive or devastating

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