Given the ongoing situation in California, where six consecutive dry years – and a history of drought – have culminated in unprecedented flooding from the Oroville Dam in the north to Los Angeles in the south, it’s fortunate that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, just updated its flood insurance plan, which covers homes, or places of residence, and property.
The Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate (OFIA) is an integral part of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. The OFIA’s purpose is to educate policyholders and property owners on such issues as buying flood insurance, filing flood claims, and appealing a negative decision on flood insurance reimbursement.
Obviously, the first step in buying flood insurance is determining whether it is necessary. The flood map service center allows landowners and homeowners to visualize their property on an interactive map which shows the flood risks.
Suffice to say, the maps are difficult to read: it’s the government, after all. However, you can also call your city, municipality, or county to find out if your community participates in the NFIP; if your property is in a flood risk area; and how that risk is rated. You might even get a discount on your house’s flood insurance if your community’s participation and status ranks high in the Community Rating System. Or you can make an end run around FEMA maps and check out Floodtools.
You can also call the insurance agent who handles your household insurance, or fill out the Flood Risk Profile to guesstimate how much flood insurance will cost. You can also Google it. In most of St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, the average cost for residential flood insurance is $300 a year (for $100,000 in coverage, which is the limit). In the western suburbs of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where new FEMA mapping has reduced the risk, it is more like $500, and for areas which still fall clearly within the floodplain, it can cost up to $5,000 a year.
The coverage for structures and contents must be purchased separately, and the contents of a basement are never covered. Both contents and dwelling have a deductible, so it can get pricey. Plus, there is a 30-day waiting period for the policy to become effective, so you can’t buy flood insurance after the fact.
But if that seems like a lot, consider this: a Federal Disaster Loan can cost $300 a month for 20 years!
Filing a claim is pretty much like any other insured loss. You will need to contact your insurance agent first, and make a list of the damaged items, the approximate date of purchase, and the estimated dollar value of each item – but be reasonable, because the claims adjuster wasn’t born yesterday. You should also provide receipts if you have them.
Taking photos of the damage is an excellent way to document losses, and with digital cameras the documentation can all be done electronically! You will also need to file a Proof of Loss form within 60 days, or you may get nothing. The insurance adjuster can help you with this. Proof of Loss is separate from an insurance claim, and substantiates it.
No matter what someone tells you, you don’t need to wait for President Trump to declare your flood a disaster, and your policy can’t be cancelled for turning in a claim. In addition, registering for FEMA assistance provides you access to a number of emergency services like money to rent someplace to live, include a FEMA-approved group of hotels whether you voluntarily leave your home or are evacuated – as was the case with the Oroville Dam spillway failure. The Federal Emergency Management Agency advises flood victims to register for disaster assistance online, or by calling 1-800-621- 3362 (FEMA)
You can also get money for necessary expenses like medical or dental problems, funeral expenses, and personal property reimbursements for clothing, medications, and essential toiletries. The agency will also provide funds for transportation, moving and storage of items that have survived flooding, and other expenses that are authorized by law.
Where flooding and subsequent evacuation has separated family members, FEMA’s National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System, or NEFRLS, can help reunite them. The NEFRLS program is automatically activated after the President declares a national disaster. Register online at FEMA.gov, or call 1-800-588-9822, 24-hours a day once a disaster is declared.