Inside Insurance: Be prepared for the next Katrina, Andrew and Ike

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How about this shocker? On Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida with sustained winds of 140 mph devastating Homestead, Florida City and parts of Miami. This massive storm then continued northwest across the Gulf of Mexico to strike the Louisiana coastline.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, prior to Hurricane Katrina, Andrew had caused the largest insured losses in U.S. history — $15.5 billion. It also resulted in 700,000 claims; destroyed 107,380 homes; and destroyed or damaged 82,000 businesses.

This is important to keep in perspective because hurricanes such as Andrew, Katrina, Rita, and a few others do not occur very often.

Does that mean that we should sit back and give it a vague thought every 10 or 20 years, while we go on about our daily business and not give these major catastrophes any consideration?

In the recent past the Georgia coast and South Georgia have not been exposed to a killer storm and that leaves us in the typical mindset of, “Well, it won’t happen to me.”

A quick review of the Top 10 Most Costly Hurricanes in the U.S.: Katrina in 2005 is number one, Andrew number two and Ike was number three. Wilma and Charley were four and five and Ivan, that did affect Georgia, Alabama much of the Midwest, occurred in 2004. Number six Hugo, number seven Rita and number eight Frances affected Southern states, and number 10 was Irene, and that storm caused a mess up the East Coast all the way to Maine.

While I was writing, Tropical Storm Ernesto was heading to Mexico or Texas. Of even more concern is that the hurricane season really doesn’t get cranked up until late August through September.

Florida, the Gulf Coast states and the Carolinas take the brunt of many hurricanes, but don’t forget what happened when Ike came ashore in Texas and created major problems across the Midwest.

The major take-away from all this is to keep in perspective that of all the severe storms we face, hurricanes tend to give us the most warning but so many families in harm’s way tend not to take seriously the need for advanced preparation.

Keep in mind that several Southern states still have very inadequate building codes that could prevent the type of damage to South Florida and the Gulf Coast. Florida’s building codes are some of the best in the nation but it took Andrew to get the state’s attention. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety earlier this year rated Florida’s building codes 95 out of a possible 100. However, Georgia was rated 66, Alabama 18 and Mississippi 4.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency provides a wealth of information on storm preparedness as does the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and many others. Still we postpone, procrastinate and ignore reminders such as this one until it may be too late.

More and more residents in severe storm-prone state have purchased weather alert radios with a battery back-up as a much more direct warning system than depending on broadcast radio and TV stations because of the likelihood of nighttime events when broadcast receivers are off, or if a power failure precedes a severe event.

It’s not enough to look at checklists on the Internet and do nothing. It’s well worth the time to actually prepare a plan of action that you and your family are prepared to enact should severe weather or some other catastrophe occur.

This preparation should be an action item, not just a thoughtful one in your household.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or dcolmans@giis.org.


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