When a natural disaster hits your community

With every passing year, we are seeing an increased frequency of extreme weather conditions leaving destruction in its wake. Wildfires have become the norm with recordbreaking summer temperatures, heavy rainfall can cause flooding and mudslides and the risk of earthquake looms year over year. In the event of a natural disaster, the impacts can be catastrophic displacing communities and causing wide-spread property damage.

The most important measure to take is to ensure your and your family’s safety, including those around you. It is critical to follow guidance outlined by the BC Government and your local municipality, which may require you to evacuate from your community.

Essential documents to pack during an evacuation
  • All government issued documents (birth certificate, passport, driver’s licence, Social Insurance Number (SIN), marriage certificate, etc.)
  • All insurance policy documents (e.g., home/rental, auto, etc.)
  • Banking/financial information
  • Utilities information (if you need to cancel or suspend services)

Once you've settled and are safe from the effects of extreme weather, reality sets in and you realize that property losses may have occurred such as your home, car, business, etc.

You’re insured – What to do next

  • File an insurance claim as soon as possible – your insurance agent or broker is available to help you determine the extent of your insurance coverage, what can be claimed and how it may impact your insurance premiums.
  • If you don’t know the name of your insurer or insurance representative, contact the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Consumer Information Centre at 1-844-2ASK-IBC.
  • Before you contact your agent/broker:
    • Have your policy number on hand – you can ask for a copy of your policy if it was lost or destroyed in the disaster.
    • Gather a list of questions you have such as coverage limits, deductibles, what reasonable actions you can take to minimize damage, etc., and make notes for future reference.
    • If you had to evacuate your home and need alternative living arrangements while your home is being repaired, the insurance representative can let you know what expenses you are entitled to (e.g., hotel or short-term housing) and for how long – make sure to keep receipts for your hotel stay and meals.
    • Find out whether there are circumstances that you are not covered by the insurer such as overland flooding, as you may be entitled to government financial assistance. (More on this below)
  • If you haven’t already, create a detailed home inventory list of all your valuables and possessions to make it easier for you when you file your insurance claim.

When it is safe to do so, you can then assess the damage and document the wreckage. Your insurance representative may advise you to take photos, notes on timeline, etc. It is also up to insurance holdersto try to minimize damage such as securing your premises by sandbagging, moving animals/vehicles off premises, boarding up broken windows, etc., and salvaging your belongings. In some cases this may not be possible due to safety reasons or impending weather conditions.

Making an insurance claim

  • Claims should be filed as soon as possible even if you haven’t had the opportunity to return to your home to assess the damage.
  • Most insurers have a 24/7 claims service to assist you, or you can contact your insurance agent/broker to start your claim.
  • Ask for a claim file number and document who you spoke with and when you placed the call.
  • Provide as much detail as you can about the damage to your property including item descriptions and costs; this is where your home inventory list will come in handy.
  • If possible, gather receipts/proof of purchases and warranties – this will help with the claims process.
  • Find out if you can use a contractor or supplier of your choice for repairs, and if so, the amount of coverage for such.
  • An adjuster will be assigned to your case to assess the damage – don’t be afraid to ask questions, the adjuster is there to work with you and is available to answer any questions during the process.
  • Provide all your contact information so the adjuster can reach you to investigate your claim and explain next steps. If you are not currently staying on your property, you may also want to post your contact information on your front door for when they arrive to make an assessment.

What if your insurance provider doesn’t offer coverage?

If the provincial government declared that the event is eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) and it was determined that your insurer does not provide coverage or limited coverage in your case, you may be eligible for DFA. Your insurance representative can help you apply and authorize your application for DFA.
  • Review the criteria online to ensure you are eligible – if you’re unsure, you can contact the Province’s DFA Assistance team by email or phone at 1-888-257-4777
  • Apply for DFA by completing the application form – you can talk to your insurance representative who can help you complete the form and send it on your behalf along with the authorization form verifying lack of coverage
  • Applications must be sent within 90 days of the disaster – the sooner they receive your application the faster you can receive emergency funds

Arranging clean up and repairs

You can start the clean-up process once it is deemed safe. Take plenty of photos and/or videos to document how things looked before you began the cleanup or temporary repairs.

Talk to your claims adjuster about saving restorable property, remember it is up to you to try to minimize damage as much as possible. This in no way means that you should put your health at risk. Your adjuster is knowledgeable to instruct you on how you can safely, clean, remove and stow your belongings or advise if it’s best to allow professionals to do the work. The insurance company will likely provide a list of contractors for hire for the clean-up and repairs. If you decide to choose your own contractor, do your research to ensure they are reputable and can work within the amount set by the insurance company. Also, request a written contract containing detailed work descriptions and warranties for work completed and materials used. Once you have the contract ready, make sure the adjuster approves the work before signing.

If you’re a renter, you’re responsible for your belongings and the landlord is responsible for ensuring the rental property is habitable, as well as allowing tenants re-entry to rental units when it is safe to do so. Go through your policy or talk to your insurance representative to understand what’s covered in your tenant insurance. Consult the Residential Tenancy Board to learn your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.

Take care of yourself

The insurance agent/broker and adjuster are valuable resources who are here to help you navigate this difficult time. We recommend preparing a list of questions so you can gather all the information you need to successfully make an insurance claim and recover losses as soon as possible.

Finally, recognize that this is an extremely stressful situation that can impact your mental health and wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Local organizations and non-profits such as the Canadian Red Cross provide on-the-ground services for those in need. Local food banks are also available, search for the location nearest you here.

Find out if your employer has extended health benefits where you can access a mental health professional to help you process the circumstances. There are also free or low-cost virtual mental health resources available here.

For more information on insurance coverage related to disaster specific events visit the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s website.