Twenty-five years ago this week, Hurricane Andrew sent a blaring wake-up call throughout Florida that reverberated in all coastal states. The call said, loud and clear, that when you ignore the risks from Mother Nature, you lose. Florida learned just how vulnerable it was to catastrophic storms. But not all those schooled by Andrew remember the lessons.
The Tampa Bay Times lists 25 things to remember on the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. There’s the surprise regarding the storm’s strength, the death toll, the cost of the damage, and the fact that if the storm had veered toward Miami, rather than the less densely populated Homestead, deaths and damage would have been much more severe. Swiss Re said in a report on Andrew that if a similar storm hit today, economic losses would be between $80-100 billion in current US dollars; only $50-60 billion would be covered by insurance. The shortfall would be paid by taxpayers and governments.
Lessons from Andrew still resonate for insurers. For example, the case for more resilient construction was a major lesson. Today, Florida has among the strongest building codes in the nation. The need to more carefully manage risk and to spread risk globally were also well learned.
Yet, not everyone remembers what they learned 25 years ago. Memories fade. This week is a good time for a refresher – because late August is peak hurricane season. Andrew hit on August 24, 1992, in what was supposedly a “less active” season. That storm blew away any notions we held about betting on odds for weaker storm strength in a so-called off year. Now is a perfect time to look at a hurricane season checklist and be prepared for an eight-week run of increased storm activity in these peak times.
This should NOT be a surprise: Your home insurance policy has a separate deductible for hurricane damage. It should be common knowledge because it’s been in Florida statutes on insurance contracts at least since 1997. Yet, when the next hurricane hits, there will be some people shocked to find this out when it has been in plain sight for more than 20 years.
Truthfully, it’s in plain sight if you were actually to READ your insurance policy. You’ll find it in two places. On the front of your policy pages, there is this blaring headline in all capital letters:
“THIS POLICY CONTAINS A SEPARATE DEDUCTIBLE FOR HURRICANE LOSSES, WHICH MAY RESULT IN HIGH OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES TO YOU.”
There are more registered boats in Florida than any other state. Makes perfect sense given that proximity to water is one of the many things that makes this state so attractive. And, those numbers putting Florida in the #1 spot for boat ownership also put it in the #1 spot for boating-related accidents and fatalities. Waterways are just as dangerous as roadways, and distracted boating is as big a problem as distracted driving.
Greased lightning, fast as lightning, lightning in a bottle, lightning-bolt ideas. So many positive images of lightning exist that we may forget that lightning is deadly. Especially in Florida. This time of year, almost every locale is subject to a summer thunderstorm. And, we may get so used to them that we forget that thunder is the sound lightning makes. If you hear thunder, go for cover.
A construction worker was killed by lightning this week at a job site in Pembroke Pines, a victim of a direct lightning strike. Another worker at the same job was injured. Earlier this month, lightning caused an apartment fire in Orlando, and eight people had to find a new place to live and deal with replacing their charred belongings. Not all of them had renters insurance.
The biggest threat to recovery after a natural disaster is the mass of people who are unprepared for it. After every single tornado, hurricane or flood, the media easily find people who have been impacted by the event, and they invariable say nearly the same thing: “I never saw it get this bad before.” Sure, seeing is believing. But even then it’s not enough. Those who’ve been through a devastating event think it can never happen to them twice. Until it does.
It’s mid-May – and another hurricane season is about to be breathing down our necks. Maybe you’ve grown immune or indifferent after seasons of weather threats proved wrong. A word of advice: Never let your guard down.
Did recent reminders of the need for storm vigilance get your attention in 2016? Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew hit Florida last fall. If neither storm affected you, it might be easy to ignore them. The weather is wild and, despite all the scientific tools available, it’s hard to predict where the winds will go and how powerful they will be.
What you don’t know about preparing for bad weather can hurt you. For example, did you know that Hurricane Matthew last October blew up to be a Category 5 hurricane within a 24-hour time frame? If you are surprised, so were weather experts; they said no other storm had intensified that quickly. Read the report about Matthew defying weather forecast models, and then thank our lucky stars that it landed as a Category 1.
What if you prepared for a Category 1 (wind speed up to 95 miles an hour), but a Cat 5 with winds of 165 mph arrived instead? We don’t like to think about it, but thinking on it and acting on it – in advance – is storm-defying behavior. It’s time to review our Hurricane Season Insurance Checklist.
You may also like to up your awareness for the upcoming season by listening in to a couple of hurricane season awareness webinars from the National Hurricane Center. The NHC will be talking about new capabilities to issue advisories and warnings and also has a topic on inland flooding, which is an overlooked, yet deadly, threat.