There are few places in America that aren't subject to some type of natural disaster. Whether it's severe weather like tornadoes and thunderstorms, floods, earthquakes or wildfires, or water damage from a burst pipe, it is important to be aware of the potential hazards that could affect your family and your property.

This means having a plan in place in the event of a natural disaster -- and understanding the best strategies for dealing with insurance companies in the wake of such an event. Knowing how to get your insurance claim filed, processed and paid as quickly as possible can be a major help in getting your life back in order.

1. Before a Disaster, Take Pictures and Inventory

Even before a disaster strikes, photograph and take inventory of your home and possessions that you can show to the insurance company as a reference. Digitize and catalog the photos as a back up on a cloud-based system like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, or another online storage platform. This will allow you to show immediate proof of your possessions even if they are completely destroyed.

2. Move Quickly

Insurance companies deal with claims on a first come, first serve basis. In a large storm that may impact hundreds or thousands of people, you'll need to act fast to get the quickest response possible. Contact your insurance company to begin your claim as soon as possible following such an event. Keep copies of all of your important documents in one convenient folder -- such as mortgage information, land titles and insurance forms -- that can be quickly retrieved as part of your essentials in the event of an evacuation or for easy reference following a natural disaster.

3. Take Pictures of the Damage ASAP

If there is a hole in your roof, don't wait for the insurance adjuster to examine the roof before you fix the problem. Take a picture of the damage and do what you need to do to keep the problem from getting worse. This level of diligence is required by most homeowner's insurance policies. Be sure to keep receipts of any supplies purchased or expenses you incur, as they may be reimbursed.

Additionally, if you are unable to live in your home because of the damage, keep track of all expenses you're responsible for during the interim. You may also be reimbursed for these costs, or you may be given a stipend to cover your expenses.

4. Keep Records as You Talk to the Insurance Company

It might be difficult, but it is vital to keep track of all of the correspondence you have with your insurance provider. This can be as simple as a notebook or as detailed as an Excel workbook. It is important to keep track of the date and time of correspondence and a brief description of the conversation. An easy way to do this is to interact with your agent through email, which ensures you have a digital record of the entire process. Print the conversations and store them in a safe place as a backup.

5. Meet Your Adjuster in Person

Even if you have to evacuate for the disaster, make sure to be there when your adjuster inspects the damage. By being there in person, you can help explain what happened and answer any questions that may arise on site. Offering detailed instructions and having first-hand proof can help you get the highest possible amount from your claim.

6. Get a Second Opinion

Did you know you can get an independent adjuster to review your claim if you don't feel the insurance adjuster is looking at the whole story? If you feel like the adjuster is short-changing you on a claim, find out your insurance company's policy on contesting claims. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion. The National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters has a list of accredited public adjusters that can offer a professional assessment of your claim. The initial cost of this could save you thousands in legal fees down the road should you decide to challenge the adjustment your insurance offers.

7. Be Diligent

Don't just file the claim and sit back and wait -- the work is far from done. It's vital to maintain contact with the insurance company to see to the progress of the claim and offer feedback in the event of a dispute. If the company denies the claim, be sure to find out the language in the policy that caused them to deny it. Perhaps they have overlooked something or made a mistake. If you feel like you are being mistreated, you may want to contact a lawyer or file a complaint with your state insurance department. They may be able to mediate the claim without requiring you to take it to court.

Preparedness is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family against natural disasters. This means having a plan for disaster -- and for the aftermath. While filing an insurance claim can be stressful, if you prepare before an accident happens and stay organized during the process, you can handle the claim quickly and efficiently.

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