BILLION-DOLLAR WEATHER EVENTS ARE ON THE RISE. HAVE YOU TAKEN STEPS TO SAFEGUARD YOUR COLLECTION?
By James Appleton
Severe weather has become one of the leading concerns in the insurance industry. Billion-dollar insurance losses have been on an upward trajectory for the past several decades in a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that weather events with losses over $1 billion increased dramatically from 1980-1989 to 2010-2019.† The total number of billion-dollar events in each 10-year period jumped from 31 to 128, and the cost of insured losses for each period increased from $195 billion to $891 billion. Data for the current decade, 2020-2021, indicates a precipitous climb across both areas of measurement. This two-year period already has seen 42 billion-dollar weather events with insured losses totaling $257 billion.
Museums and galleries maintain loss-prevention plans for severe weather, and many of the key components are applicable to private collectors. Being prepared before a catastrophic event, taking action when severe weather is imminent, and responding quickly in the aftermath can help to minimize the risk of damage and loss to your treasured investments.
For collections stored in your home, consider installing protective shutters, reinforced windows, and hurricane clips. Fortified, waterproof storm closets are available prefabricated or can be custom-built. Avoid storing fine art, furniture, rugs, and other collectible items in a basement or attic. Installing an HVAC climate-control system with a back-up generator can protect against rising humidity levels that can damage artwork. In areas prone to severe storms and flooding, it may be prudent to evacuate your collection to an art storage facility in the event of impending severe weather.
Prepare and maintain an inventory of items in the collection that includes the artist or maker name, title, dimensions, media, year, photographs, invoices, and other relevant documentation. In addition, create a list of contact information that includes your insurance agent or broker, insurance company and policy numbers, conservators, art storage facility, art transport company, suppliers for emergency generators and fuel, and contractors for emergency repair work. Keep copies of the inventory and contact information in a minimum of three places: a water- and fire-proof safe or storage box, a secure off-site location, and electronically either “in the cloud” or on a portable hard drive.
Responding to Storm Warnings
When a warning is issued for a hurricane or other severe weather, contact the art storage facility and transport company and alert your insurance broker of any objects that are being relocated. Mount plywood over exposed windows or doors. Be aware that taping windows can increase the potential damage to your property and increase the risk of injury. If possible, bring outdoor sculptures inside and securely wrap them with plastic sheeting. Sculptures that must remain outside should be wrapped in blankets and secured with rope. Outdoor furniture should be bolted down.
Move objects to a storm closet or water-resistant area of your home and place them on shelves or racks. Waterproof cases may be used to protect works on paper, paintings, and small objects. Use blocks, pallets, or shelving to elevate objects and storage cases at least six inches off the floor.
Assessing the Damage
Once it is safe to do so, make an inspection to identify any damage to your collection. Document each room and object in detail with photos and video. If objects are wet, gently blot away moisture with towels and remove any wet backings, mats, and frames. Inspect furnishings for loosened or detached wood elements, damage, and deterioration. Move art objects to an air-conditioned area if electricity is available. If the power is out, move items to a lighted area with good ventilation to discourage the growth of mold. For outdoor sculptures, remove the protective wrappings and rinse with clean water. In coastal areas, a fine salt residue may have been deposited on objects and furnishings. This can be removed by carefully dusting items with a soft brush or cloth.
In the event of damage or loss, contact your insurance broker as soon as possible to start the claim process. Do not discard any damaged items until a claims adjuster has inspected and documented the property.
With the frequency and severity of catastrophic weather events on the rise across the country, creating a loss-prevention plan for your fine art collection is a worthwhile endeavor – and one that could help minimize damage to your treasured belongings.
JAMES APPLETON is Director of Sales, Special Risk, for Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency, and manages the company’s collectibles insurance program.