Despite the Gulf Coast experiencing its first hurricane of the season, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said it's not too late to make preparations for the rest of the year.

"We're heading into what's looking like a very active hurricane season," Donelon told the American Press. "This is the earliest ‘H' named storm — Hanna — in the history of the naming of storms. The previous record was a hurricane named Gert in 2005, which happens also to be the year of Rita and Katrina. It was kind of sobering when I read that last week."

Donelon said the most important message he can convey each year at this time is to encourage residents to access the heavily subsidized National Flood Insurance Program, which he said benefits Louisiana more than any other state in the history of the program.

"We are so dependent upon this program, and it's not just for hurricanes, it's for flash floods from rain storms and the overtopping of rivers that have flooded thousands of homes over the state over the years."

He said it's important to remember there is a 30-day wait period for the program's insurance to kick in after a resident signs up and pays their first premium.

There's also a delay period when signing up for private insurance also.

"The rule of thumb for private insurance is once a storm enters the Gulf, they stop writing new business until that storm makes landfall and dissipates."

Donelon said he also encourages homeowners to request a meeting with their insurance provider to go over all of their coverage.

"It's a good time of year to have a checkup, with emphasis on your property coverage insurance and in particular what's available for you in the event your home receives damage during a named storm or hurricane," he said. "Back when Katrina and Rita came to our state, about half of the policies for property insurance policies had a named storm or hurricane deductible applicable to the damage that happened. Now, almost every property insurance policy comes with a named storm or hurricane deductible."

Know what your coverage is and know your policy doesn't cover, he said.

"A named storm deductible is 2-5 percent typically not of the damage you received but of you're insured value."

He said for a typical home valued at $200,000, the 5 percent deductible would cause the homeowner to pay $10,000 out of pocket before their property policy kicks in.

Donelons said homeowners should use this time to document their property — inside and out.

"Walk through your house, film your assets, film your furnishings, film your carpeting, your curtains for ease in doing your claim after the event has come through," he said. "Be aware also that you have in your policy not only a duty to report your damage but also the right to minimize the damage to your property. That means the policy will reimburse you for paying someone to come out and put a tarp on your roof in their is a hole or leak caused by the storm or repair windows or doors that were damaged. Keep those receipts."

Donelon said evacuation plans are crucial this year because of the coronavirus.

"The risk that comes with traveling and accessing hotel accommodations or what have you is something to remember," he said. "Take with you your important documents — your insurance policies, those pictures of your property, the contact information for your agent. Be prepared to start the claims process after the storm sooner rather than later. The sooner you get in line to get an adjuster sent down to you, the sooner you'll be able to wrap up the claim, the repairs, and get your life back together.

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