What to Know About Disaster Insurance Coverage


Check Your Insurance Coverage | Plan • Earthquakes | Extreme Heat | Floods | Hail | Hurricanes | Lightning | Tornadoes | Tsunamis | Wildfires

Having the right amount and type of insurance for your car, home, boat, and other high-value possessions will ensure that you will have the money you need to recover after disaster strikes.

Start with A Homeowners Guide to Natural Disasters for an introduction to basic mitigation and policy benefits, limitations, and opportunities to save with credits and discounts.

Then schedule a checkup with your insurance company or agent to ask critical questions like:

  • How do I get insurance for the perils my home faces?
  • What is my deductible?
  • How do I file a claim?

What Type of Insurance Policy Is Right for You?

Different types of insurance policies are available to cover various weather or geophysical perils, such as earthquakes. The most appropriate insurance product for your needs depends primarily on your type of dwelling.

Homeowners: If you own a home, there are two available policy forms: homeowners and dwelling forms. The main difference between these two types of forms is that a homeowners form combines property coverage with liability coverage, while the dwelling form only covers property losses. Additionally, a dwelling form is more commonly used for a dwelling that an insured person owns but does not live in or only lives in for part of the year. Both types of policy forms have various peril coverage options available for the dwelling and its contents.

Manufactured homeowners: There are policy forms specifically designed to insure manufactured homes. This type of policy covers both the dwelling and its contents and provides liability protection.

Condo owners: There are policy forms specifically designed to cover condominiums. This type of policy typically covers contents, such as your personal property and liability. A small amount of dwelling coverage is provided to cover the portions of the condominium that you are responsible for, as defined by the governing rules of the condominium association; this may include condominium common areas. You can purchase additional dwelling coverage if the protection included in the package is insufficient.

Renters: There are renter’s insurance policy forms specifically designed for you if you are renting and do not own your residence. These forms provide coverage for your contents and liability.

Farm homeowners: Farm owner's policy forms are specifically designed to cover farms or ranches which may not qualify for standard homeowners insurance. This policy may be the most appropriate form to cover property losses to your home and other structures, such as barns and silos, from the damage of tornadoes, hail, and other perils. Farm owner's policies also cover personal and commercial exposure of farms, along with liability coverage.

Two exceptions worth noting
Earthquake and flood policies typically need to be purchased separately or as additional endorsements to your standard policy, regardless of your dwelling type. The limits of these policies can match the homeowner's or renter's policy, or they can be set as separate limits.

Buying Insurance in the Voluntary Market

Generally, insurance may be purchased from property casualty insurance companies through the voluntary market, meaning that the insurance companies voluntarily provide coverage to customers who meet the underwriting requirements. Availability and types of coverage may vary across states and companies, so consumers should research property coverage for specific perils in their area.

There are four main distribution systems employed by property casualty insurance companies in the U.S.:

  • Independent Agency System: Independent contractors who typically represent multiple insurance companies.
  • Exclusive Agency System: Independent contractors who may only represent a single insurance company.
  • Direct Writer System: Sales agents who are employees of the insurance companies.
  • Direct Response System: No agents are used, and insurance is sold through direct mail, telephone, or the Internet.

Buying Insurance in the Shared Market

Involuntary market mechanisms (sometimes referred to as shared markets) provide coverage for entities that do not qualify for coverage in the voluntary market. There are many reasons why coverage may not be available through the voluntary market in a particular place. For example, living in a high-risk area, such as a designated wildfire zone, near a coastline, or in an area affected by a recent catastrophic event may lead to reduced availability of coverage.

The following kinds of property insurance market mechanisms exist in certain areas:

  • Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR Plans): Insurance pools that sell property insurance to people who cannot buy it in the voluntary market because of high risk over which they may have no control. Plans vary by state, but all require property insurers licensed in a state to participate in the pool and share in the profits and losses.
  • Joint Underwriting Associations (JUA): Insurers that join together to provide coverage for a particular type of risk or size of exposure when there are difficulties in obtaining coverage in the regular market, they may share in the profits and losses associated with the program.
  • Beach and Windstorm Plans: These plans exist in coastal states, in hurricane zones of the Gulf, and along the South Atlantic coast. Windstorm plans provide coverage that is often excluded from voluntary insurer policies. Each coastal state from Texas to North Carolina has a beach and windstorm pool to provide windstorm coverage in coastal areas. The way these plans are funded varies from state to state.
  • California Earthquake Authority: Although there is no truly involuntary market mechanism for earthquake coverage, the California Legislature established the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) as a privately financed, publicly managed risk bearer to help California residents obtain earthquake insurance. The CEA is California’s largest residential earthquake insurer.

Market conditions in some states have made it difficult for voluntary insurers to provide affordable coverage. Under those circumstances, coverage may be available through a FAIR plan. If you find that you are unable to obtain insurance through the voluntary market, your insurance agent may help you find coverage through the involuntary market, or you may be able to contact the plans directly. Because these entities vary greatly by locality, your state insurance department is likely the best source of information on how to obtain coverage through the involuntary market in your state.

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