With the catastrophic storms that affected many area resident in May, taking an initiative to be prepared for disasters could save individual families thousands of dollars in the long run.

On May 20, an EF-2 tornado tore through the town of Peggs, and during the week of May 27, several Oklahomans braced for historic flooding moving in. While the residents of Peggs came together to help one another in the month after the storm, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives arrived June 20.

FEMA is offering housing repair grants for homeowners and renters who may be underinsured or uninsured. That money can be used to cover the costs of storage, moving, cleaning, repairs or replacement.

State Farm Insurance Agent Mark Hodson stressed that FEMA does make a tremendous impact for those affected by disasters and those who do not carry insurance. However, there is a limit of $34,900 - the most FEMA would pay for a total loss of a house. He said the best planning is getting proper insurance.

"Obviously, it seems that the weather patterns are sometimes changing, just like the Illinois River has had two incidences that have been record highs in just the past few years and the Cookson tornado in November. That just normally doesn't happen in this particular area," said Hodson. "Weather is unpredictable, so you just never know when you might need coverage, and that's what insurance is all about."

While homeowners cannot get "tornado insurance," they can still be prepared when a disaster happens. Homeowners' insurance covers wind damage; therefore, it covers tornado damage, although flood coverage is excluded. Run-off water or rising water can both define flood waters. Homeowners are required by some mortgage companies to carry flood insurance.

"It's from a flood determination. There's a company that specializes in determining what addresses are in a flood zone," said Hodson. "An example would be if they are in a Zone A; that means they're in a flood zone, if they are in a Zone X, they're generally outside of a flood zone."

If homeowners are outside of a flood plain, they can purchase flood insurance at any time. Hodson has polices for people who are concerned with run-off water to their property. He said it is "considerably cheaper" for those outside of the floodplain areas.

Celeste Looney Insurance Agent Brandi Barnett said insurance is a numbers game. Rates eventually increase, and understanding a policy, talking to an agent and asking questions are key considerations when homeowners want to get the most out of their insurance.

"When the cost of building increases, it makes sense that insurance rates go up. One way or another, rates eventually increase. It's a cyclical process, which is why being with an independent agent is advantageous for customers," she said.

It's very important for policy holders to read the documentation and ask questions to ensure what they want covered is actually insured. There are various kinds of homeowners' policies that cover a variety of perils.

"We are here to guide you. We're on your side. Every policy is different, just like every person is different," said Barnett. "What might be right for your neighbor might not be right for you, so it's important to take the initiative to read the policy and have the conversation with your agent."

Louise Porter, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration, spoke at the July 1 Tahlequah City Council meeting. She said Cherokee County has been declared a disaster area, and residents are eligible to register with FEMA.

"When people register based on their answers, they may be referred to the small business administration. People get confused because SBA provides low interest rate loans to homeowners and renters, as well as all business of all sizes," said Porter.

If a homeowner completes the registration and is approved, the loan then becomes an option.

Those who get approved for SBA loans have up to six months after approval to decide if they want the loan of the time. Property owners who are declined are referred back to FEMA for other needs assistance.

The top two reasons a person could be declined on a registration are lack of repayment ability and poor credit history.

"It's super-important that people complete that application - there's only so far FEMA may be able to assist them if they have that referral," said Porter.

She said that approximately 60 percent of people in Cherokee County have been referred to SPA for their personal property and their real estate. The deadline for completing the application and registering with FEMA is July 31.

Programs for businesses with economic injury are also available through SBA.

Due to some business owners' not realizing they were affected by economic injury, the deadline was extended until 2020.

Business owners will want to have current financial and tax information available for the application.

"An economic injury is to help businesses keep their doors open through the recovery period, and that deadline isn't until March 2," said Porter.

Those who have renters' insurance would still need to purchase flood insurance, since that is excluded in the policy, just as it is for homeowners.

Get help

Those unable to visit a Disaster Recovery Center can call FEMA at 800-621-3362, and SBA at 800-659-2955. Information is available at www.disasterassistance.gov.