If you don’t live in an area considered to be at high risk for flooding, you may not be aware that your home could nonetheless be vulnerable. Almost one-quarter of flood insurance claims are filed by people living in areas with minimal flood risk, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Since almost any building in the country could be damaged in a flood, FEMA recommends that all homeowners prepare in advance for the possibility that flooding could hit their communities.
Flooding is not covered under homeowners insurance, but special flood insurance policies backed by the federal government can be purchased. Homeowners living in one of nearly 20,000 communities across the country that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) are eligible to purchase insurance. These communities are offered flood coverage for their residents and businesses in exchange for enforcing floodplain management ordinances intended to minimize future flood damage. Flood insurance premiums vary according to risk and coverage levels, but they are generally affordable, especially for homeowners in low-risk areas.
To discourage people from living in areas frequently hit by hurricanes, the government does not allow homeowners in certain high-risk spots to purchase insurance through the NFIB. Instead, these homeowners must buy much more expensive private insurance to protect their residences in case of flooding. You can find out whether you are eligible for NFIB coverage by entering your information at www.floodsmart.gov.
It is essential to secure insurance coverage well before disaster strikes. Because the insurance does not take effect until 30 days after a policy is purchased, you cannot afford to wait until the water is lapping at your door to obtain the necessary protection. It is also wrong to assume the federal government will foot the bill for repairing your home in case of a flood. Federal assistance is only available if a disaster has been formally declared; and then the assistance offered may come in the form of a loan tacked on to your existing mortgage.
In addition to buying insurance, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage to your home if flooding should occur. Sump pumps with back-up power should be installed in the basement. If possible, ensure that the electric fuse box, as well as all electric outlets, light sockets, baseboard heaters and wiring, are all located at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation for your home. Furnaces, water heaters, and major appliances should be similarly placed. To prevent sewage from backing up and entering your home in a flood, have a plumber install an interior or exterior backflow valve. If the risk of your home being flooded is high, you may want to consider sealing any openings around the base of the house, installing a drainage system, constructing floodwalls, or improving exterior walls. Move your most valuable items, especially important documents and family photographs, to the upper floors of the house.
It is also useful to prepare a plan that you and your family can put into action in the event that a flood alert is issued. Make a list of tasks for individual family members, such as collecting water for drinking in case the tap water becomes contaminated, moving furniture from the basement to the first or second floor, taking outdoor furniture and other items from the yard indoors, and shutting down electrical, gas, and water utilities before leaving the house.
Finally, practice a flood evacuation with your family, reminding them to stay safe by avoiding flowing water and downed power lines. Floods can be both dangerous and destructive, but even a small amount of preparation can go a long way toward protecting your family and your property even in major disasters.
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