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8 tips for staying prepared for hurricanes and other natural disasters

By ALLISON MILES
Sept. 14, 2013 at 4:14 a.m.
Updated Sept. 15, 2013 at 4:15 a.m.

The Salvation Army's disaster services vehicle comes equipped with a refrigerator, stove, countertop, microwave and other culinary tools for use when trouble strikes. If a hurricane were to hit, Capt. Mark Martin, the Salvation Army's commanding officer, said crews would stock up on three days of meals and snacks and drive wherever needed.

Legislative change helps insurance group prepare for future storms

FROM A NEWS RELEASEIt's been five years since Texas' last hurricanes, when Dolly and Ike brought widespread damage to the Lone Star State.

With Ike ringing in as Texas' costliest hurricane at $12 billion in insured losses and Dolly's $500 million, the storms took a financial toll on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, according to an Insurance Council of Texas news release.

But change has come to better prepare the association for future storms.

Beginning in 2011, the Texas Legislature implemented a statute of limitations of one year for filing claims. It also directed TWIA and its policyholders toward appraisal and alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or settlement conferences.

Legislators, the Texas Department of Insurance and TWIA's board of directors have worked to improve claims handling processes, according to the release, and better TWIA's funding by authorizing the selling of bonds, assessments against insurers if losses exceed a certain level and putting into place reinsurance.

Financial analysts say TWIA is now ready for a 1-in-50-year storm.

Despite projections for an above-average 2013 hurricane season, the predictions haven't quite panned out.

"Even though it just takes one, let's hope the hurricane forecasters are way off this year," Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the insurance council, said in the release.

For more information, visit insurancecouncil.org or facebook.com/insurancecounciloftexas.

Did you know?

Capt. Mark Martin, commanding officer for Victoria's Salvation Army, has called the Crossroads home for a little more than a year. Still, it isn't his first time here.

Martin first visited Victoria to help during the flood of 1998.

The trip marked his first time seeing a cow stuck in a tree, he said. A shrimp boat, too, was found tangled among the branches of several trees.

"Things can get pretty bad," he said.

The red-and-white truck in the Salvation Army parking lot was mostly empty Wednesday. Some papers sat inside, remnants of previous drivers, but the rear of the truck with its counters, refrigerator, stovetop and more, remained unused.

And that was a good sign, said Capt. Mark Martin, commanding officer for the Salvation Army in Victoria.

"No disasters in a while," he said with a glance toward the organization's disaster services vehicle. "We've had a pretty good year."

When trouble strikes, Martin said, he and his team are ready to do their part delivering food, water, clothing and shelter to those in need.

"We try to alleviate the stress people have in that type of situation, and it's rewarding," he said. "That's what always brings you back. You can see the help that you're giving to people."

And with hurricane season still underway - the Atlantic season hit its traditional peak Tuesday - Martin said they're ready to strike out if necessary.

"Really, we're pretty much prepared year-round for any disaster that might happen," he said, noting that means stocking up on enough food for a three-day supply of meals and snacks. "I love helping people."

Still, agencies like the Salvation Army aren't the only ones out there able to prepare and help when tough situations strike. A bit of advanced planning can help any homeowner or business owner.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to preparing for natural disasters:

1. Don't let your guard down.

Hurricane season might be halfway over, but September is when it hits its peak. More hurricanes hit during September than in any other month.

2. Know your coverage.

Call or visit your insurance agent so you know exactly how you're covered. One important question to ask is whether you have a replacement policy or actual cash value policy. With the replacement variety, if a roof is destroyed, you'll get a new one. With actual cash value, you might only get the amount you paid to put the roof on 25 years ago.

3. Shop around.

Even if you're covered, there might be more comprehensive or affordable plans out there. Talk to an agent about what you need and have them search. Be sure to go with a reputable agent and never give money up front. You can check out an agent or company with the Texas Department of Insurance.

4. Do an inventory.

Walk through your home or business taking pictures or videos. Open drawers, look inside closets and jewelry boxes and document as much as you can. The hardest part about settling an insurance claim is remembering what you've lost.

5. Stock up.

Make sure you have what you and your family need to weather a storm. The American Red Cross suggests a seven-day supply of food and 1 gallon of water per person per day. Don't forget other necessities such as first aid supplies, cash, prescription medicines, emergency phone numbers, hygiene items and others.

6. Have an evacuation plan.

Know where you plan to go in case of a storm, pack your supplies and follow evacuation orders. Leave as soon as possible in order to avoid heavy traffic. Keep your vehicle's fuel tank filled in case you have to leave in a hurry. Be ready to stay at your final destination for a week or longer.

7. Think beyond your own needs.

Don't limit disaster preparedness to what will help yourself and your family. Consider neighbors, the elderly, those with special needs and even pets.

8. If disaster does strike, remember your physical well-being.

People often focus on lost valuables or keepsakes or the damage following a major disaster. Don't forget to eat and stay hydrated. Dehydration and hunger put added stress on the body.

SOURCES: CAPT. MARK MARTIN, COMMANDING OFFICER OF THE SALVATION ARMY; CORINA CARRILLO, INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVE FOR PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE; MARK HANNA, MANAGER OF PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MEMBERSHIP WITH THE INSURANCE COUNCIL OF TEXAS; JOHN METZ, WARNING COORDINATION METEOROLOGIST WITH THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE; ALINA NIEVES, METEOROLOGIST WITH THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE; MANUEL VILLARREAL, TWIA OMBUDSMAN WITH THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE; NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICIAL TEXAS HURRICANE GUIDE

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