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Hurricane Season’s Not Over. Here’s How to Protect Yourself

September 1, 2017, 4:16 PM UTC

For many people in Houston, the headaches of Hurricane Harvey are yet to come. It’s wrenching enough to see your destroyed belongings in a flooded home, but having to fight tooth and nail with your insurance company to get fairly compensated for them is an entirely different frustration.

With Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic already reaching Category 3 classification, people along the East coast of the United States are getting nervous. While it’s much too early to know if the storm will be a threat to any state, this is the perfect time to take some preliminary preparative steps.

Hopefully, you’ve checked your insurance policy at this point—and if you live anywhere close to a shoreline, you’ve signed up for flood insurance, even if you’re not in a flood plain. (This is a big issue in Houston, where many homes and businesses lack that sort of coverage.)

There’s a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect, so the sooner you buy it, the better your chances of being able to use it if necessary.

One of the most important steps homeowners can take in preparing for a natural disaster, according to the Insurance Information Institute, is to carefully inventory their belongings. Grab a digital camera or your phone and take shots of everything in every room of your home. Be sure to take pictures of serial numbers on electronics and VIN numbers on vehicles. Upload all of those to a cloud service, so they’re safe no matter what happens.

At the same time, snap pictures of your insurance policies, along with claim instructions. While these should be taken with you (along with things like birth and marriage certificates, wills and other important documents) in case of an evacuation, it’s smart to have a digital copy you can access anywhere. Similarly, dig around for receipts to any big ticket items you have. Include those in your important documents.

Should you have to file a claim, do it as quickly as you can and be as detailed as you can. Include specifics like the brand of item you need to replace (i.e. a Samsung TV costs more than one from RCA) and be incredibly detailed when filing a claim, even including small items you might normally ignore (like, for instance, bars of soap or light bulbs or power strips). Those small claims can add up to significant dollars.

Try not to throw away any items until you’ve checked with your insurance company. If there’s a safety hazard, be sure to photograph the item and show it in context.

Finally, keep a claim diary. You’re going to be talking to a lot of different people throughout the claims process. Make notes of who said what and when, including date and time stamps. Those calls might be recorded, so you can use those timestamps to your advantage if there’s confusion about what was promised.