(BPT) - Hurricanes and tornadoes, blizzards and heat waves, floods and wildfires ... Mother Nature has become the lead story in nearly every news cycle. Can meteor showers be far behind?
Whether it's climate change or simply cyclical, one fact can't be debated: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural disasters in the U.S. have increased 700 percent since 1950. And all sides would agree that these calamities are deeply affecting people and businesses across North America.
One of the industries inexorably tied to this decades-long trend is insurance, which is entrusted with financially protecting consumers from the after-effects of wicked weather and natural catastrophes. While disasters can't be prevented, people and businesses can certainly be prepared in terms of their insurance coverage, according to Doug Menges, chief claims officer for Mercury Insurance Group, which provides homeowners and/or auto insurance in regularly ravaged states, such as California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas.
'All of the weather-related chaos over the last few years has caused many policyholders to re-evaluate their insurance coverage and purchase lower deductibles. They're willing to pay more to protect their belongings,' says Menges. 'In lieu of being price sensitive, many consumers are becoming more and more coverage sensitive.
'No matter the level of coverage, though, it's incumbent upon everybody to be prepared ... before disaster strikes. There are some simple precautions everyone should be aware of that could help you weather the storm.'
Menges offers these 'before and after' insurance tips:
* Know what is covered and not covered. Review home and auto policies with an insurance agent who's familiar with local severe weather conditions before tragedy strikes.
* Catalog property. Document belongings by taking photos or video of your home and possessions, store them in a secure place (like a password-protected portable hard drive or online storage site) and place backup copies in an off-site location. 'This will expedite your claims process,' says Menges.
* Develop an evacuation plan. This should be part of a more comprehensive family emergency strategy that incorporates out-of-town contacts, emergency phone numbers, Social Security numbers, community evacuation meeting sites, doctor/pharmacist contacts, and homeowners/rental insurance policy numbers and phone numbers that can be printed on wallet-sized cards or stored in a smartphone.
* Contact your insurer immediately to report an auto or home loss. Do not remove any debris or damaged property that may be related to your claim. Menges says smart policyholders should be ready to provide all pertinent information, including a policy number, as well as date and time of the loss.
* Prepare a detailed inventory of destroyed or damaged property. Provide photos or videos of your home and possessions to your claims adjuster. Keep records and receipts for additional living expenses that were incurred if you were forced to leave your home and provide copies to your adjuster.
'Nature has pummeled the U.S. in the last several years, ranging from Hurricane Sandy blasting the Eastern Seaboard to 'Tornado Alley' erupting from Texas into the northern states, and now we're in the midst of fire and hurricane season,' says Menges. 'Mercury Insurance paid more than $39 million in claims to help people rebuild their homes and repair their cars that were destroyed by natural disasters in 2012, which set a record for a company that's been around since 1962.
'It's incumbent upon consumers, no matter whom their insurance carrier may be, to prepare their insurance facts and figures long before extreme weather comes knocking at their door.'