Originally published in August 31, 2012 Philadelphia Inquirer.
The images of Hurricane Isaac's rampage along the Gulf Coast are a reminder that measures taken to prepare for big storms can reduce the damage they cause.
Just a year ago, Hurricane Irene demonstrated that this region is hardly exempt from nature's wrath. (Hurricane Kirk is forming in the Atlantic now, heading northwest.)
So this column is the first of two, with an emphasis on getting ready for a storm. Next week, we'll tackle cleaning up after a storm.
Even so, there are too many topics to be covered. An excellent source for information is http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes, created by the National Hurricane Center of the National Weather Service.
Are you covered? Severe storms have the potential to destroy your financial well-being, so knowing what you're insured for is essential.
Check your homeowners' insurance policy to determine your hurricane-coverage deductible. Many insurers require one, depending on the location of the insured property. Insurers in New Jersey and Delaware do, but they don't in Pennsylvania.
Hurricane deductibles are higher than those for other perils or causes of loss. They are calculated as a percentage of the dollar amount of coverage on a dwelling.
The "trigger," or point at which these deductibles apply, varies among insurers, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York. Triggers generally are effective only when the National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch or warning, and they remain in effect for a specified time after the storm has passed.
Hurricane intensity also may affect the trigger. If a policy has mandatory deductibles, that means the insurer will not sell homeowners coverage without a hurricane deductible.
In New Jersey, hurricane deductibles approved by the Department of Banking and Insurance apply to losses from a storm that is at any time designated a hurricane by the weather service.
Flood warning. Remember this if you remember nothing else: Standard homeowners' policies do not cover flooding.
Structures in high-risk flood areas that have mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA) are required to carry flood insurance. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, such areas have a 1 percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year.
Homes and businesses in moderate- to low-risk areas with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders are not usually required to have flood insurance.
Such coverage is recommended, however, because anyone can be financially vulnerable to floods, according to the flood-insurance program: People outside high-risk areas file more than one-fifth of claims and receive one-third of disaster assistance (typically loans that must be repaid with interest).
There are waiting periods for flood-insurance coverage. Details are available from FloodSmart.gov.
Walk around your house. Physical preparation for storms is important. Look around the yard and the perimeter of your property for weak points, such as trees with branches hanging over utility lines. Remove them before they cause trouble.
Experts have pinpointed four areas that should be checked for weakness before a hurricane strikes: the roof, the windows, the doors, and the garage door.
Roof reinforcement from the wind - hurricane straps, for example - require a professional, and if a storm is bearing down, there may not be time to do that work. But you can clean gutters and downspouts so water flows away from the foundation.
In this region, basement flooding is a big concern among homeowners who have spent thousands of dollars creating family rooms downstairs, only to have heavy rains ruin those spaces, as well as their furnaces, washers and dryers.
If you have a sump pump, make sure it works, and check the outflow pipe to be sure it's free of debris.
Improper grading can cause major problems, said Harris Gross, owner of Engineers for Home Inspection in Cherry Hill, resulting in stormwater flowing toward the house, into the basement.
"It is an issue that needs to be addressed," he said, even if a hurricane isn't on its way.
If a big storm is imminent, however, protect windows and doors by installing plywood shutters or at least placing large strips of masking tape or adhesive tape on the glass, to reduce the risk of breakage and flying pieces.
Add bracing to a shore up a weak garage door.
If authorities urge you to evacuate your home, do it. Know the routes well and be sure your family is well-versed in what to do in the event of an emergency.