June marks the beginning of the 2012 Hurricane Season and if you’re not prepared, now is the time to begin. Consumers who are aware of their rights well in advance of any disaster, and of the scams which often follow in the wake of these events, will be better able to make informed choices.

The Miami-Dade Business Affairs Division encourages all residents to inform themselves about their rights as consumers as part of their preparation for the hurricane season.

Hurricane preparedness isn’t just about protecting your family and property against the effects of extreme wind and rain. It’s also about creating a plan ahead of time by organizing the important documents you might need in case of an emergency:

Check your insurance – Review all current insurance policies before the storm season, especially flood or property insurance. A policy that was written several years ago may not reflect the value of your home today, especially if you've made additions or renovations. Inquire whether any home, health or other insurance policy you may have will pay for temporary shelter, replacement clothing, furniture or other items if you are affected by a hurricane. 

Renters Insurance – If you are a renter, it is a good idea to purchase renters insurance. This may come as a shock to you, but most landlord tenant leases do not protect your personal property in the event of a hurricane. It is a common misperception among renters that they are covered by their landlord's insurance. But the landlord's insurance protects only the building, so it is a very good idea to buy renters insurance. This policy will pay you if your personal property is damaged or stolen. Renters insurance can cover fire and smoke damage, theft, vandalism, damage from windstorms and hail, damage from explosions, water damage from plumbing problems and many other hazards. It also protects you from liability if an accident happens in your home and may pay your temporary living expenses if an emergency forces you to leave your home.

Take an inventory of your property – Take an inventory of your personal property, such as clothes, jewelry, furniture, computers and audio/video equipment, and document it with photos and/or a video. Keep sales receipts in a safe place along with the model and the serial numbers of the items in your household. This will make filing a post-hurricane/disaster insurance claim much simpler.

Secure your documents – Secure all of your important documents and valuables in a safe location and store them in waterproof containers, or in a safe deposit box. This includes but is not limited to birth

certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, passports and automobile and homeowners insurance documents. If evacuation is required, take the items with you.

Flood proof your home – Flood zones are rated on a standard used by most federal and state agencies. How likely is it that a flood will hit your home? Use the online Flood Zone Finder to determine the risk level for your home. If you live in a flood zone, find out whether you can do anything to flood proof your home now. Also, purchase flood insurance and visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's floodsmart.gov to obtain more information. There is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect, so don’t delay.

Flood proof your business – Most standard insurance policies do not cover flood damage and the resulting loss of income. Flood insurance is available to homeowners, renters, condo owners/renters and commercial owners/renters. Costs vary depending on how much insurance is purchased, what it covers, and the property's flood risk. Coverage for your building and contents is available. Typically, there's a 30-day waiting period from date of purchase before your policy goes into effect. That means now is the best time to buy flood insurance. A disaster-ready business will be able to recover faster and suffer less financial loss. In addition, develop a business continuity plan by determining the processes and equipment needed to keep your business open. You may want to prepare a photo/video inventory of assets and store in a safe location. In addition, consider emailing the inventory footage to a Web-based email account for easy retrieval. 

For more consumer tips, visit the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection website at miamidade.gov/business, or call 305-375-3677.