No one can predict what Mother Nature has in store, but we can anticipate higher-than-usual activity during disaster season.
Despite the seasonal surge in storms, floods, fires and droughts, Australians are woefully unprepared. According to finder.com.au research, nearly one in seven Australians have no safety precautions in place to help them cope with natural disasters.
This guide's goal is to provide tips for people to protect themselves, their families and their possessions in order to create change for the better during disaster season.
There are five categories of natural disasters common to Australia. Most of them can hit anywhere across the country, but your likelihood of experiencing any one of them depends on your particular geography.
Here are the natural disasters common to Australia and who are most commonly affected:
Storms. Can affect anyone in Australia, regardless of geography. Residents in wooded areas may the additional concern of falling trees.
Cyclones. Affects Queensland the most, but can also affect the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Floods. Affects people in low-lying areas near a body of water. Cyclones increase the chance of flooding in Queensland.
Bushfire. Affects anyone in wooded areas and surrounding communities.
Droughts. Can technically affect anyone in Australia. Droughts are most concerning to dryer regions, farming communities and areas that rely on surface water.
The next section examines general tips that will help regardless of what the weather throws your way. Click here for a more comprehensive guide covering each natural disaster in detail.
Keeping yourself and your family safe from physical harm is priority number one, followed by securing your property and valuables in a way that minimises damage.
According to the finder.com.au survey, only 23% have an evacuation plan in place, only 24% have an emergency kit on hand and only 27% own a fire extinguisher.
Here are some general precautions that will help keep everyone safe under any circumstances:
Compile a disaster-preparedness kit. Include first-aid supplies, a torch, batteries, candles, matches, water, non-perishable food, medicine, extra clothes, blankets, a radio, a fire extinguisher and spare cash. Keep one in the home and one in the car.
Plan your exit. Determine in advance how you will get everyone together (including pets) and what you will need to take with you if you must leave home quickly. Assign different responsibilities to different family members and run drills so no one gets confused when things get real. Designate meeting places near your home, in your town, and somewhere out of town in case you are separated at any point before or after the evacuation.
Know the various routes out of town. The unpredictable nature of disasters means a route that is safe one day may not be safe the next. Familiarise yourself with every possible route out of town, so you’re not caught off-guard by road closures.
Identify how you’ll receive warnings. If the power goes out, television warnings become useless. Make sure you have backups: a battery powered radio, a police scanner and emergency notification apps on your phone.
Create a laminated contact list. Include all important numbers including local and out-of-town family members, the local police and fire departments, schools and workplaces. Make a few of these and chuck them in your disaster-preparedness kit.
Secure your valuables at home. Purchase a fire and waterproof safe or lockbox to store all important documents like passports, birth certificates, deeds, titles, and identification documents.
Secure large outdoor items. If disaster is imminent and there is still time, secure your outdoor items to prevent them from turning into projectiles that could hurt someone or damage your home.
Priority number three is home insurance, which will cover you when a sudden and unforeseeable event (like an act of nature) damages your property.
Not all plans cover all acts of nature, so you should read your PDS to understand what your policy covers and what it does not. Generally, you are eligible to claim if your home is damaged by an act of nature and if that act of nature is listed in your policy.
Acts of nature commonly covered include:
- Impact from objects like falling trees
- Floods (usually at an extra cost)
- Earthquakes and tsunamis (usually at an extra cost)
Home insurance will not cover you for acts of nature that are avoidable or that were preventable. These are situations you should have noticed when purchasing the house, or could have prevented had you noticed them during their early stages.
Acts of nature usually not covered include:
- Termite damage
- Tree-root damage
- Shifting soil
- Natural events you have not opted to include, like floods and earthquakes
- Actions of the sea, including storm surges (except if it’s a tsunami caused by earthquake and you’ve chosen that cover)
Many Australians are the victim of underinsurance, a situation in which their insurance is inadequate for the amount of damage caused.
There are two main ways you can be underinsured:
Your claim limits are too low. Some people choose lower claim limits in order to lock in lower premiums. This gamble does not always pay off.
You aren’t covered for a specific act of nature. Certain acts like floods and earthquakes aren’t included in most basic policies. People in flood-prone areas commonly find themselves stuck when they realise they don’t have flood cover.
If you live in an area that is susceptible to natural disasters, there are a couple of actions you can take to ensure you are not underinsured:
Look at historical records. Gauge the likelihood of a disaster striking your property, and then assess your property to estimate the amount of damage that could occur.
Do your research. Research various home and contents policies and identify the ones that will cover you for the threats identified. Be sure to read the PDS of each policy in detail to understand how they define their terms and limitations.
Don’t skimp. After you’ve identified the most cost-effective policy that suits your needs, be sure to choose claim limits that will adequately compensate you for damages.
A lesson out of Queensland
If you want to understand the consequences of underinsurance, look no further than Queensland. Despite experiencing 25% of all flood cases in Australia, Queensland is the most unprepared state – with 17% of the population unprepared for natural disaster according to finder.com.au.
The Sunshine State often experiences highly-destructive cyclones that confound insurance claims. According to finder.com.au, damage from cyclones between 2011-2016 resulted in more than $1.4 billion worth of uninsured losses.
Cyclones are wrapped up in highly-complex weather patterns and not all of the ensuing weather events (like storm surges and floods) are covered by all policies. Losses can be minimised if people protect themselves against underinsurance.
As long as you follow the guidelines above, you can avoid a similar fate and be better-equipped to handle whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
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Updated November 22nd, 2019