What the Notre Dame inferno teaches homeowners about insurance

The disastrous inferno that ravaged the 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral on April 15 has sparked talk about the importance of insurance in securing not just high value and historic structures, but also the assets of many property owners around the world.

The incident has provided a critical lesson for many homeowners — it emphasized the importance of having an inventory list and evacuation plan in place for valuables should unforeseen accidents happen, Private Risk Management Association (PRMA) executive director Lisa Lindsay said.

“Creating an inventory list as part of an overall preparedness plan is very important and is an often-overlooked step. The inventory list will be invaluable if you suffer a loss and need to work with insurance professionals to report a claim,” she said. “The list also enables you to more thoroughly recall all of your possessions and items that may have been damaged or lost.”

Efficient and modern strategies

Producing a list of valuable items could be a daunting task for some but Lindsay believes there are modern and practical ways as to how homeowners can accomplish the task. For instance, they can create a list by videotaping all of their valuable possessions inside the house and garage with the use of smartphones.

“Creating a video will also allow you to add specifics, such as the date you purchased an item, place and cost. You can also take photos or even use a home inventory app. Once you’ve recorded all of your items, remember to back-up your video so that you can easily access it if you do experience a loss,” Lindsay said.

For those who collect fine art, jewellery, cars, and memorabilia, Lindsay suggests keeping an inventory list with updated appraisals. There are also firms which specialize with inventory processes and it pays to seek help from these professionals.

Safeguards for valuables

Aside from creating an inventory list, Lindsay stressed the importance of having a comprehensive plan, especially for valuables that are not easily replaced. The plan should outline whether the items will be moved off-site or whether they will be part of a “shelter in place” plan.

“This plan dictates where in the home they will be safest and how they will be protected. The key to these plans is that they are realistic and able to be implemented. This means that the necessary resources such as labor, material, and transportation, are lined up and available before a disaster when labor and material often become scarce,” she said.

Homeowners should also come up with a preparedness plan for their families, which tackles several facets including the identification of emergencies likely to happen, an action plan for each emergency and a communication plan.

The crucial part of this is the action plan, which looks at each emergency and assigns roles and responsibilities to all family members: who will be in charge of pets, the protection of property and who will monitor the news for updates. Lindsay said the action plan also needs to include the necessary steps for the protection of property like the installation of storm shutters and testing of generators.

With regards to the communication plan, which is often forgotten, Lindsay said it should outline ways to ensure that all family members are accounted for safely and have access to necessary resources.

“Key elements of the communication plan will include names and contact information for all family members, meeting places if an evacuation is necessary and an emergency contact number outside of the local area for family members to call and check in,” she said.

Special protections from insurance firms

If necessary, homeowners should be able to speak with their insurance firms about special protections for threats such as fire and hurricanes.

Lindsay cited wildfire protective services that can include an at-home consultation to identify ways to make the home safer, such as landscape maintenance and emergency response services.

“These might include removing flammables near structures and applying fire suppressants or retardants to vulnerable areas,” she said.

Meanwhile, hurricane services can include pre-season disaster planning consultation, pre-storm assistance with removal of valuable artwork, and post-storm outreach.

“Insurers may also contract art collection management professionals to remove and transport pieces safely,” Lindsay said.

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