Calif. Commissioner, FEMA Warn Residents to Prepare for Next Flood

January 13, 2006

Urging residents to make disaster preparedness and insurance readiness a top priority, California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and FEMA officials cautioned Sacramento County residents, Friday, to take proactive steps to prepare for the next inevitable natural disaster.

Following the recent harsh storms that caused extensive damage throughout much of the state, the Commissioner warned residents to prepare emergency plans, take a hard look at flood insurance, update home and auto policies, and to inventory their possessions.

“In California you can lose it all in the blink of an eye,” said Garamendi. “You need to be prepared. But even after you’ve taken steps to ensure your safety during the disaster, follow up and make sure you don’t end up in financial ruin because your insurance policies weren’t up to date. You must prevent what is commonly called, ‘the disaster after the disaster.’ “

Using a video camera at the home of a River Park homeowner, the Commissioner demonstrated how a visual record of possessions can be used to support insurance claims. “When a fire strikes, or when a flood washes away your belongings, it’s essential that you have evidence to support your claim with insurance companies,” he said. “It is vital that you document all of your possessions before disaster strikes. Dealing with a disaster at home can be a tremendously stressful time – relying solely on your memory to inventory your assets is a mistake you can avoid. There is very little room to contest a claim when there’s visual evidence to support it.”

The homeowner, whose first name is Tupper, was able to see the potential devastating loss of his home and all of his family’s belongings in a 1986 storm that swelled the river within feet of the top of the levee. He said it left a lasting impact and he is eager to protect his belongings, including the Christmas gifts he and his family received last month.

Each year thousands of Californians suffer losses from natural disasters, fires, and thefts. The devastation can be compounded when the losses aren’t covered by insurance. That’s an especially important message during the winter, when rains often cause flooding. Not all homes in the state are required to purchase flood insurance, which can result in financial ruin for survivors.

Pictures are helpful when an item is hard to describe on paper or if a purchase receipt cannot be obtained. Label each photograph with information about the item. If a camcorder is used, provide commentary about each item and date-stamp the video. Store a copy of the inventory record in a safe-deposit box, work office or relative’s house, and include copies of any important documentation or receipts. The list should be updated semi-annually to ensure an accurate recording of the home’s contents.

“Even if you don’t live in a flood plain, consider getting flood insurance,” said Garamendi. “The alternative could be the loss of everything you own, financial hardship, and even bankruptcy. It’s far better to be prepared.”

During the news event, the Commissioner displayed a completed Home Inventory Guide and urged Californians to get a free property inventory booklet from the Department of Insurance.

For more information, go to www.insurance.ca.gov, or call 800-927-HELP.

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