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What homeowners should do before - and after - a tornado

(MoneyWatch) What would you do if a tornado touched down near you? Are you properly prepared for a disaster of that magnitude?

There are several quick and easy steps you can take, now or right before disaster strikes, to protect your home and property and speed your recovery along as quickly as possible. It all starts with understanding the limits of your homeowner's insurance policy.

Make sure you have the right coverage

"The good news here is that tornado damage is included in standard home insurance policies," said Amy Danise, editorial director of, an insurance resource site. "You don't have to buy a special tornado policy, as you do for floods and earthquakes."

The bigger question is do you have adequate coverage? You need to have both dwelling coverage, which pays for rebuilding or repairing the structure itself, and content coverage.

Content coverage is typically set at 50 percent of the amount of dwelling coverage, so if your dwelling is insured for $200,000 your contents coverage should be $100,000. You can always adjust this amount, so spend some time adding up how much it would cost to replace the contents of your home to determine if you think this is adequate, Danise said.

Prepare ahead of time

Disasters like the ones unfolding in Oklahoma are good reminders to prepare yourself and your home as much as possible and as early as possible. Take these steps now:

-- Make a home inventory by taking video, pictures and making a list of items. Store the list away from your home in a bank safety deposit box or even at a friend's house. Insurance companies also often offer a digital place to store this information online in the cloud, so ask your agent for help. Maintain and update your inventory annually, or whenever you make a significant purchase.

-- Gather your important documents together in one place so you can easily access them or transport them. Digitizing documents and storing them in the cloud is an excellent idea but you should consider having a copy stored separately away from your home.

-- Make sure you know the evacuation routes in your community, in case any roads are blocked. If you need to get out fast, you'll want to know the quickest routes.

10 minutes' worth of quick tips if you're under a tornado watch or warning

-- If you're facing impending bad weather and haven't taken steps to protect yourself or your belongings, there are a few things you can do in 10 minutes to prepare for the disaster:

-- If you haven't created a home inventory, grab a cell phone or a camera and pan around every room and closet in your home. If you can, send the video to yourself or someone else over e-mail or upload it online so you can access this inventory anywhere. If not, make sure you keep your cell phone or camera with you as you leave the property. If you connect to your G+ account on your cell phone, it should automatically pull the photos online and make them available for sharing.

-- Make a quick list of all insurance policy numbers and contact information for your agent and insurance carriers. If you have time, snap a photo of the contact page. If not, then as soon as possible, snap a photo of your handwritten list of numbers and send it to yourself.

-- Grab medical supplies and all medications you may need for the next few days


-- If you're evacuating early or hunkering down in a safe space, think about taking only things that are not replaceable, like a photo album or family heirloom. Anything that just has a monetary value but little personal value can be replaced by insurance, said Bill Mellander, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Company and a member of the company's national catastrophe team.

After the storm

Once the tornado has passed and you've had time to check in with friends and family, the next step is to call your insurance agent.

"The biggest thing here is you want to start the process as quickly as humanly possible," Mellander said. "The sooner you file your claim, the sooner your road to recovery can begin."

Remember that insurance companies often bring in extra staff to deal with these kinds of disasters and they are sometimes allowed back into areas of destruction before residents and can tell you what kind of damage your home suffered.

Most homeowner's insurance will also reimburse you for living expenses if your home is unlivable, so ask your insurance agent how to proceed with those claims.

Keep in mind that you can make small emergency repairs to your home before an insurance agent sees it, just keep photos and videos as documented proof of the damage.

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