A tornado is defined as “a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm and comes into contact with the ground,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The United States is a major hotspot for tornadoes, with more than 1000 occurring every year.
“Tornado Alley,” the region that includes the plains states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado, is historically home to the most powerful and destructive of these storms. However, tornado numbers in the Southeast continue to rise, and because it is more populated the damage has been more severe—including increased loss of life. Tornadoes truly affect everyone east of the Continental.
In May alone, there were 602 tornadoes, per NOAA—which means we need to prepared. RPS producers Patti Ford (Sr. Underwriter/Broker – Oklahoma) and Jana Anderson (Area VP & Broker/Underwriter – Oklahoma), whose homes were destroyed by tornadoes, and RPS National Claims Manager Midge Chagnard discuss the top five steps both you and your insureds should take to help get tornado-ready:
1. Be Sure Insurance Policy Values Include Any Additions Made to Your Home
It’s important to keep your homeowners insurance up to date so that any additions that have been made to the home are reflected in your policy values.
“Two of my neighbors had made home improvements during the year and never reported the changes to their brokers,” explains Anderson. “Consequently, there were issues at the time of the loss, as their homes were not properly covered.”
2. Keep Insurance Agent & Policy Info Handy
Make sure you have easy access to your insurance agent’s/broker’s contact information to report a property damage claim. Have your policy information – type of policy and policy number – at your disposal to facilitate the process. Keep your insurance policies along with other valuable documents (Social Security cards, birth certificates, etc.) in a safe or safe deposit box or in your safe room.
3. Inventory and Document Your Belongings
Take photos or a video using your phone on a regular basis of all your belongings.
“Keep receipts when you buy new items like furniture or an appliance,” says Ford, whose home was completely destroyed in 1999 during an F5 tornado in Oklahoma City. “One of the biggest challenges in the aftermath of a tornado is trying to provide the carrier with an itemized list of contents. It’s so difficult to think of everything you had in your house – especially at a time when you’ve been traumatized and displaced. I now keep everything in a file that I can access should I have to recall what I bought and what I paid.”
4. Prep Your Home
Secure or remove as many outdoor items on your property as possible. Also, remove debris and dead trees and furniture, which are all likely to get picked up by the wind and thrown into your home. Call a professional to reinforce any masonry walls or other structures that provide support to your home.
5. Have a Family Evacuation Plan in Place/Allocate a Safe Room/Have Supplies Ready
Be sure you have a family evacuation plan in place – where and what to do when a tornado is imminent.
“It’s also important to know where the safest place would be in your home before a tornado strikes. This area can be a storm cellar, basement or room on the lowest level of your home without any windows or few windows, like a closet or bathroom. You should discuss this safe room with your family,” says Chagnard.
In addition, keep an emergency kit that includes non-perishable food, water, and life-saving supplies. Keep extra clothing, blankets, a battery-powered radio, medication, a first-aid kit, pet supplies and any other necessities in your safe room in the event you need to wait out the tornado for a long period of time.