Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Is your insurance geared for the devastating impact of weather catastrophes?

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Fire, Floods, Brimstone… and Tornados?

Is your insurance geared for the devastating impact of weather catastrophes?

South Africa has been battered by severe weather phenomena, with startling disparities ranging from severe drought, devastating floods, violent hail storms, heavy snowfalls and even tornados, leaving a trail of destruction across the country.   

“Tornados are not uncommon for South Africa, although in general, the frequency and severity of this peril is substantially lower than that of the southern states of the USA,” says Pieter Visser, a Catastrophe Analyst at Aon Benfield.  “The value of the largest loss that could result from a disaster such as a tornado over a residential area in South Africa has been pegged at R8 billion, compared to R13 billion for a hailstorm,” he adds.

Contrary to popular belief, several tornados have occurred over Gauteng over the years. “In 1952 a tornado West of Johannesburg left 600 people injured and 24 deceased.  More recently, tornados also affected Midrand, with substantial damages to aircraft at Grand Central Airport.  The impact of a tornado is, however, hugely underestimated and the insurance industry has been fortunate not to have suffered greater losses,” says Pieter.

A tornado is defined as a violently rotating convective storm of small diameter, often not bigger than a few hundred metres. Wind velocity is at its strongest inside a tornado with speeds that can exceed 480 km/h which can remove a train from its tracks and launch debris projectiles that can completely destroy fixed structures.

“Policyholders have little recourse when it comes to a tornado, other than ensuring that their building structures comply with standards set within the regional buildings regulations. There are very few preventative measures that can be taken to mitigate your losses when it comes to an approaching tornado,” explains Pieter.

In terms of personal safety, it is recommended to move into the most rigid room within a facility, such as a restroom or an enclosed storeroom. A basement within a building is also regarded as a safer option. If you find yourself out in the open, lying flat in a ditch or under a large bridge will provide some protection.  At all costs, avoid standing outside and watching an approaching tornado as it can change direction rapidly and take you entirely by surprise,” warns Pieter.

According to Mandy Barret of insurance brokerage and risk advisors, Aon South Africa, it is imperative to check whether your insurance policy is geared to address what the insurance industry terms “acts of god”. 

“In most insurance policies you will find that you are covered for basic perils which include hail, severe rain storms, wind storms such as tornados and snow.  It is, however, a good idea to confirm, as hail damage, for example, can be excluded on some insurance policies unless specified,” warns Mandy. 

“It is also pertinent to note that there is a distinct difference between what is covered under your homeowners insurance policy and what is covered under the contents.  You will be covered under your homeowners insurance if a tornado blew the roof off your home, but that same insurance policy will not respond to the damage done to furniture, electrical appliances or the contents of cupboards.  The same goes for vehicles that are parked in a garage.   In a flood, the actual structure will be covered by your homeowners insurance policy, while tools and equipment within the garage will fall under your contents insurance plan.  Damage to the vehicles will be insured under your motor insurance policy,” says Mandy.

“It is always a good idea to discuss your risk needs with a professional insurance broker who will be able to pinpoint any specific requirements or glaring exclusions within your insurance policy,” Mandy urges.

“While taking a closer look at your insurance cover, it is also advisable to take note of the added benefits that your insurance policy offers.  A 24-hour home service assistant or the aid of a plumber may be a lifesaver when your home has been battered by severe elements of nature, leaving you exposed and vulnerable,” says Mandy.

Aon offers the following advice for policyholders filing for weather related damage claims:

  • Confirm whether you are in fact covered for severe ‘acts of god’ on your motor, home and contents insurance policies.
  • Assess the damage as soon as possible and make a comprehensive list of all items and damage.
  • Take photos of the damage if you can – this will be very helpful to the insurance assessor inspecting the damage for repair purposes.
  • Notify your broker or insurer of the claim as soon as possible - the timeframe is usually around 60 days but it is wise to check your policy wording as some insurers differ on this.
  • Remember that some insurers work with pre-approved repair companies – check with your broker before you embark on any emergency repairs or you could find yourself having to pay a larger excess or your settlement being less than expected.
  • Due to high claims volumes you could experience delays in repair due to the strain on available capacity of service providers and a shortage of materials.

“Our current climate is a stark reminder of just how vulnerable we are to weather catastrophes. It is essential to review the terms and levels of your household and motor insurance on a regular basis so that you are not financially compromised in a worst case scenario.  Here a broker plays an invaluable role in the making of a well-rounded insurance portfolio that addresses every eventuality, takes your specific needs in account and suits your pocket,” concludes Mandy.