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Editorial: Be ready for flooding, severe weather

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The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reminds the public water is essential to life, but when it comes in the form of a flood, it can inflict severe financial damage and even render a home unlivable. The risk can be alleviated with flood insurance, but it's important to understand its terms and conditions.

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The average annual flood losses from 2001 to 2011 were more than $2.9 billion, according to information from American Family Insurance. Federal aid may be available in areas defined by the government as federal disaster areas. Often times, however, that aid is in the form of a loan that must eventually be repaid, and the cost per month is typically much higher than flood insurance premiums. Moreover, fewer than 10 percent of all natural disasters qualify for that assistance.

Contrary to popular belief, damage from flooding is usually not covered under a homeowners or renters policy. Instead, flood insurance may be purchased from an insurance agent through the NFIP. To qualify for the NFIP, property owners must live in a community participating in the program. The federal government requires flood insurance as a part of mortgages for houses in flood-prone areas. Homeowners might be eligible for a reduced rate if the community in which they live has agreed to certain zoning regulations.

Generally, there's a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to become effective once the full premium has been paid. The waiting period is waived, however, when obtaining, increasing, extending or renewing a federally backed loan for a property. In cases where a property has been reclassified as high-risk due to a revision in the Flood Insurance Rate Map (now in a floodplain where before it wasn't), the waiting period is only one day.

To help minimize the risk for large losses, moving electronics and valuables to higher areas of the house are other good ideas. Also, if needing flood insurance in excess of the NFIP's limits of $250,000 for residential coverage of the building and $100,000 for personal property, and $500,000 each for building and contents of commercial properties, ask an insurance agent about specialized policies to provide excess coverage. There are contents-only policies available for renters as well.

For more information on the NFIP, contact an insurance agent or go to www.floodsmart.gov.

The Wisconsin Emergency Management team wants everyone to be prepared for severe weather threats. Each year, individuals are killed or seriously injured by tornadoes and other types of severe weather. In 2012, there were more than 450 weather-related fatalities and nearly 2,600 injuries.

The team offers this advice:

--Know the risk. The first step to becoming weather-ready is to understand the type of hazardous weather that can affect where people live and work, and how it could impact them and their family. Check the weather forecast regularly and visit severeweather and readywisconsin to learn more about how to be better prepared and how to arrange protection during emergencies.

--Pledge and take action. Pledging to prepare includes filling out a family communications plan one can email to oneself, putting an emergency kit together, keeping important papers and valuables in a safe place and getting involved. Obtain a NOAA Weather Radio and check to see if cell phones are equipped to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts, and sign up for localized alerts from emergency management officials. Stay informed by having multiple sources for weather alerts--NOAA Weather Radio, Weather.gov and Wireless Emergency Alerts. Subscribe to receive alerts at http://www.weather.gov/subscribe.

--Be an example. Once taking action, share the story with others. Create a YouTube video, post a story on Facebook, comment on a blog or send a tweet. Studies show many people use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they're safe. People are most likely to take preparedness steps if they observe the preparations taken by others.

More information and ideas can be found at ReadyWisconsin.wi.gov. Information on the different types of severe weather, such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flooding is available at www.weather.gov and ready.gov/severe-weather. For daily safety tips, look to Facebook (www.facebook.com/ReadyWisconsin) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/ReadyWisconsin).

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