Hurricane Sandy hitting the east coast of North America; tsunami warnings on the west coast, through to Hawaii. Like any home, vacation rental properties can unexpectedly be positioned directly in the path of disasters.

When an emergency strikes, there are two things you need to protect: Your home and your guests. If recent situations have caught you off-guard, plan ahead so everything is prepared for next time.

Protect Your Home With The Right Insurance Coverage

When buying insurance for your vacation rental, work with a provider who will clearly explain what’s covered and what isn’t by the insurance packages available in your state or jurisdiction.

Your needs for a vacation rental are different from what you need for your primary residence, so look for an insurance provider who understands the vacation rental industry. The last thing you want is to believe you’re covered only to learn after the fact that you’re not!

Natural disasters aside, you must have good property insurance – coverage that will protect a building and its contents, at least in typical situations. A standard policy may include damage caused by winds (i.e. broken windows), for example, but not flooding from rising water like tidal waves.

In some states, natural disaster insurance is required above your standard insurance policy –  but even if it’s not mandatory, it may be worth considering additional coverage for earthquake, flood or wind (including hurricanes and tornadoes). This coverage can come with hefty premiums and deductibles, however, so you’ll need to carefully evaluate whether purchasing the additional coverage is worth it for you.

Another option you may want to consider is business interruption or rental insurance, which is intended to cover your losses in a situation where you are unable to use your property due to repairs. As part of the decision-making process, remember to ask your provider how lost income is calculated.

One thing homeowners and businesses alike often wonder: If you skip the insurance, will help come from the government? There may be assistance available. However, while help may materialize, the underlying reality is that you can’t count on it.

Protect Your Home Through Preventative Maintenance

Whether you do it yourself or hire contractors, proactively fortifying your home against disaster can reduce your risk of significant damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has compiled a searchable portfolio of projects that different individuals and groups have done to mitigate losses, like fire-resistant building materials in California or building a safe room as protection from hurricanes in Texas.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has also done extensive testing to develop recommendations that can protect your property, from hurricanes to wildfires and freezing weather; just review the ‘Risks’ information provided through their site.

Protect Your Guests With Supplies And A Plan

For every-day issues, provide a basic first aid kit and a list of emergency numbers readily available. You can purchase assembled kits from a variety of stores, or put one together yourself.

If you can see a disaster coming, like a storm or fire, supplement the first aid kit with recommended 72-hour emergency supplies. Doing so isn’t just good service as a host; if your guests are injured or trapped as a result of a natural disaster, you could be held liable.

In case of an unpredictable disaster, have an evacuation plan in place and ensure any emergency procedures are included in your plan.

Your emergency plan should address most likely scenarios – fire, flood, or other risks for your area. Your plan should include:

  • Local emergency numbers
  • Your contact information
  • A local map
  • Information sources including websites, community organizations and local radio stations
  • A designated meeting place on your property
  • A community meeting place, if applicable
  • A contact number for people who speak other languages, particularly if this is one of your target markets

If your property is located within a building or complex, there will likely be a site-wide emergency plan available; there may also be a community emergency plan in place. Be sure to include any additional details with your information.

Has your vacation rental been caught in a natural disaster, recently or in the past? How did you manage it, and what did you learn?