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Tips on Staying Safe in the Path of Tornadoes

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country in the world, according to a 2013 report by Lloyd's of London. Every year an average of 1,200 tornadoes kill up to 60 people, injure 1,500 and cause at least $400 million in economic damage.

Individuals who live in areas frequently threatened by tornadoes know the value of preparation.  However, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), there is no region across the country that is completely safe.  Data from the NCDC's official website shows that each state in the U.S. has experienced at least one documented tornado, while many states experience tornado activity multiple times per year. Tornadoes occur most frequently from March until June, especially in the late afternoon. However, they can strike at any time of day during any time of the year.

Many towns and cities outside of Tornado Alley (Central and Midwest U.S.) do not have early warning systems in place. This makes it doubly important for you to know what to do in case a tornado strikes.

Plan ahead

The best thing you can do to prepare for a tornado is have a plan in place. This means outlining what to do in case the worst should happen, thereby giving family members and friends a better chance of staying safe. Learn the warning signals used in the community and consider setting up a neighborhood information program and hold briefings on safety procedures. Find out where the closest evacuation center is in your town, whether it be a school gymnasium or city building.

If you are unable to make it to an evacuation center before a tornado strikes, you should know the safest places to hide in your house. These include cellars, storm shelters, and basements. If none of these options are available, find a windowless room located on the lowest level of the property. It's also wise to hide under a piece of furniture that can provide shelter from debris.

If you are in your car, abandon your vehicle and seek shelter in the nearest ditch if no other facility is available. Those living in mobile homes should vacate the premises and seek shelter elsewhere.

It's also a good idea to set up a safe space for vital documents and information, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, insurance papers, emergency contact lists and any other documents that may be necessary or unable to be located after a tornado. Make an inventory of your possessions and store it off the premises.

After the fact

After a tornado has struck:

  • Make sure those around you don't require medical attention. If serious injuries have been sustained, you should wait out the storm and seek professional medical help.
  • Shut off all utilities if you were unable to do so prior to the tornado. Damaged gas, water and electricity utilities can lead to fires, explosions and further property damage.
  • If possible, stay in your shelter until after the storm is over or emergency personnel have arrived. However, if your home is severely damaged, evacuate immediately. Damaged homes could collapse.
  • If evacuation is necessary, head to the closest evacuation center. Even if your home is not severely damaged, you should inspect the property to make sure there are no immediate dangers.
  • When you go outside, watch out for downed power lines and stay away from any puddles with wires in them.
  • Do not use matches or lighters - there may be leaking gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby
  • If your home requires cleanup, take extra care to avoid hazardous objects or materials.
  • You should also catalog and photograph all damage in order to file an insurance claim. Notify your insurance agent as soon as possible and make sure they know where to contact you if you have vacated the premises.

Protecting Your Property 

The majority of property insurance policies will provide coverage for losses resulting from tornadoes. Standard homeowner's and renter's policies also provide coverage for additional living expenses (ALE) in the event your home is destroyed or made unlivable because of the tornado. However, hazards which may accompany tornadoes may be covered differently. Damage from flash flooding which may accompany tornadoes is not covered.

If you live in an area particularly susceptible to these disasters, you should make sure you have proper coverage. For instance, policies with lower premiums may result in more money spent out of pocket in order to repair tornado damage. Additionally, while replacement cost policies will replace damaged goods, cash-value policies will account for the depreciated price of the goods.

Contact a HUB International broker if you have questions about your homeowner's insurance coverage. HUB International can also work with homeowners who live in regions of the country that are designated as high-risk and may face higher costs for proper insurance coverage.

Safety should be the first concern for all individuals who may face tornado damage, but it's also essential for homeowners to protect their investments if disaster should strike.