What Your Insurance Company
Doesn’t Want You To Know
A Reason for Pre·Disaster Planning into the Next Century
By Pam Paisley
Will Rogers said, "Well it’s over, and what a relief." Undoubtedly these words could be heard countless times from the thousands of people who lost loved ones and land in any one of the 64 major natural disasters that have wreaked havoc across this country since January 1, 1996.
But, in their relief, are the victims of Mother Nature’s most recent tragic blows any the wiser? Was anything learned from the severe winter storms, hurricanes, fire storms and tornadoes that destroyed billions of dollars worth of property and belongings in a mere 12-month period? Or, did most people walk away from the devastation unphased, thanks to the millions of taxpayer dollars which went to rebuilding their homes right back in harm’s way?
It is inevitable that natural disasters will occur, many times without warning. They will be quick and devastating to the lives of the people they encounter. But charred remains and memories mean very little or FEMA will be there to pick up the pieces, and the tab. Hence, they continue to construct, or purchase homes, situated right in me highest of high risk areas, like atop the cliffs of California’s prestigious overlooks - themselves overlooking the fact that the years they spend there will be at grave risk and great monetary and emotional cost with a split second’s worth tragedy.
Will Rogers also said, "live your life, so that whatever you lose, you’re ahead." This is the premise behind pre-disaster planning— expect the unexpected! An astronomical $13 billion has been spent over the last five years on disaster recovery.
Emergency funds for natural and man-made disasters are rapidly being consumed. Although the federal government is working hard to compensate disaster victims for their losses, the money is running out.
Each and every homeowner, from Maine to California, must begin accepting responsibility for where and how they choose to live their lives. Since instituting the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, more then 73 million Americans have chosen to throw caution to the wind and build their dream homes in flood plains.
Entire towns have been obliterated, from Kansas to Alabama, because they sit in the infamous path known as Tornado Alley. Florida has been struck countless times the last five years, yet residents continue to rebuild their homes and their lives on waterfront property.
In fact, during the years from 1980 to 1993, property growth along the Atlantic and gulf coasts rose 179 percent, to an insurable value of $3.15 trillion alone.
This is not to suggest that people should be prohibited from living where they most desire. It is, however, a call (or a cooperative effort and shared responsibility between the American taxpayer, the federal government and the insurance and real-estate industries) to ensure precautionary and cost-effective measures, in order to best avoid future losses and economic hardship.
If people choose to live in the flood planes of Mississippi, the waterfronts of Florida and the Gulf Coast, or the urban/wild land interface of California, then they must also choose to mitigate their losses as much as possible, and not expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, or any other government agency to pick up the tab, each and every time.
Why does insurance continue to re-insure these homes? In a word, profits. The California, Oregon, and Washington state flood of 1997 cost an estimated $3 billion dollars in damages, with 22 lives lost. What could have been done to mitigate those losses?
The only way to ever have an absolute answer, is if FEMA is permitted to enact, properly, their National Mitigation Strategy — a plan now mandated by the Federal Government. However, Congress has allotted FEMA minimal dollars to put this program into effect.
Flooding accounts for more than 80 percent of all Presidentially declared disasters. Since 1985, more than 9,000 homes have been lost to urban wildfires. Since 1989, more than 72 lives have been lost to hurricanes with more than $41 billion in property loss. The 1994 flooding of Houston, Texas was so severe in affecting the national pipeline system, that gasoline prices rose dramatically nationwide.
There are more than 74,000 dams in this country. 10,400 have been classified as ‘high-Hazard,’ and another 13.300 are noted as "Significant-Hazard." In 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto caused over 100 dams in Georgia alone to fail.
How much more damage needs to occur, and how many more dollars will be haphazardly spent before each and every American begins to see that disasters do not just happen to ‘the other guy?
The upcoming April showers will also be bringing the melting snows, a looming tornado season, and a host of other stormy surprises from Mother Nature.
Much can be done by every individual to drastically reduce personal property loss in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
Ask yourselves, how prepared would you be if the unexpected were to happen? When was the last time you reviewed your homeowner’s policy? Will you be able to save your irreplaceable items? Do you have copies of all your invaluable paperwork in a secure place, outside the home? Could you survive three to seven days away from home?
Think about this: if Congress mandates mitigation with the allocation of funds, then they will be bringing about a positive change at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
The money is already there. The current FEMA Disaster Assistance Fund is approximately $2 billion, yet the mitigation fund was only allocated $1 million for 1996-97— totaling a mere $.25 per person living in this country. How can we possibly be expected to use that money wisely, and to the benefit of each and every American family, business and the like?
As residents and taxpayers, the American public must send a strong message to Congress. We deserve to know how to protect our lives and property. We deserve to be educated on the safest places to buy or build our home and raise our families.
We should not be left to fall victim to Mother Nature or industrial accidents, just for the sake of the insurance industry’s bottom line in profit margins. It is only through education that we can be protected from our surroundings, rather than being left to the mercy of insurers and property managers. In doing so, we will all be better prepared in the event the unexpected occurs.
Pam Paisley is Executive Vice President for Synergistic Planning, Inc. a nonprofit, pre-disaster planning corporation focusing on the well being and preparedness of the American family.
This article adapted from Vol. 10#2.
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