When forced to evacuate your home due to a disaster the first concern for every family is to make sure everyone is safe. Worrying about property damage is second but it is important to think about how you will file your insurance claim if you don't have access to your home.
What to do before you are forced to evacuate:
If you know you will be forced to evacuate your home soon, after making sure your family matters are in order, try to find your insurance company policy information to take with you. Ideally this information should be kept in your wallet at all times but if not it is important to know your insurance companies name and 1-800# since sometimes your agent may represent various insurance companies.
Get your prepared inventory list or try to quickly prepare an inventory list of your household belongings. If you have time, take a video camera and quickly walk through your home and video all your possessions and make sure to bring the tape with you when you evacuate.
If you have already evacuated and have no access to your home:
If you know your home is damaged notify your insurance company immediately. Even if it is something small it is important to let the insurance company know as soon as possible to get the process started. In the case of a large disaster, such as a hurricane, the most seriously damaged homes will be handled first.
Another important reason to contact your insurance company immediately is you may be entitled to the loss-of-use benefit in your policy. Loss-of-use typically covers living expenses if you cannot live in your home while repairs are being made or if you are denied access by government order. These expenses can include motel bills, meals, and other basic living expenses. This will give you some immediately needed cash.
Unfortunately, your claim process cannot be started until your insurance company's claim representative can document the damage to your home. So until there is access to your home you will have to try and wait patiently. While waiting, if you don't already have one, try to make a list of your personal possessions as this will help speed up the claims process.
After you return home and the claim process starts:
Once you can gain access to your home again document and assess the damage to your property. Try to document damage by using a video camera and/or digital camera along with written documentation of all damage you immediately notice and keep those documentation items handy for any future damage you discover.
Make any temporary repairs you can. You are responsible for preventing future damage, so try to make any immediate repairs you can such as putting a tarp over a leaky roof. Also make sure you save the receipts from the supplies you use so you can be reimbursed for these expenses (make sure the expenses are reasonable to avoid a denial in reimbursement). Don't make any permanent repairs though until you have gotten the OK from your insurance company to do so, otherwise, depending on the cost of the permanent repairs, you may not get a full reimbursement.
Be prepared to work with your claims representative on distinguishing what caused the damage. For example, when a tree falls on your home from a tornado and that was the only disaster in the area it is less complicated to determine damage. But in the case of two disasters such as a hurricane and flooding, water damage due to the hurricane will have to be separated from water damage due to flooding since flood related damage is only covered by a special flood insurance policy. You can learn more about flood damage at Preparing for a Flood