The careful small-business owner and home-based worker take precautions against viruses and make backups to take the sting out of hard-drive crashes, but there are other hazards to guard against as well: illness, theft, fire, and natural disaster. How prepared are you for the uncomfortable and the unthinkable?

It should come as no surprise that you can make preparations on the Web—by researching insurance and even buying protection online. Let’s take a look.

Health insurance
Want to get instant quotes or browse insurance plans offered by national carriers such as Aetna and Blue Cross? Try Not all plans described are offered in all states, so you’ll need to do some sifting. The Small Group Medical Plan, for example, which covers groups of up to 50 employees, offers plans only in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Having trouble figuring out insurance lingo? Check the glossary in the Advisor section for definitions of terms. Know what COBRA is? It stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. COBRA ensures that, if you leave your present job, you’ll get to keep your company’s insurance coverage for up to 18 months—though at your expense. Handy thing to know if you’re planning to break away from the corporate world to set out your own shingle.

What about when COBRA runs out? You’ll want to have done your homework on a PPO to join. HealthAxis defines PPO as a Preferred Provider Organization: “a plan through which a sponsoring group negotiates price discounts with providers in exchange for patients. The sponsor may be an insurer, employer, or third-party administrator.”

You can also consult a library of articles on insurance while visiting the Advisor section. And clicking on the link to Profiles helps you pick a situation similar to yours in order to see what the site recommends for you. Have you just struck out on your own, or are you thinking about it? Click the scenario for consultants and self-employed workers.

All-around coverage, The Consumer Insurance Guide, is a resource you can use when shopping for insurance of all kinds: health, home, life, auto, and business. But the site’s true value is as a hub for insurance information—it collects insurance articles, papers, and press releases from a variety of sources. One article on the site offers a chart showing which industries have the most work-related injuries. IT workers, it turns out, aren’t in much danger. But workers in meat packing plants—watch out!

A more relevant article talks about a new trend inspired by the recent denial-of-service hacker attacks—policies that cover Internet outages. Another talks about crime insurance, which can help fight losses incurred by employee theft and fraud. And yet another correlates increases in computer theft with the rise in popularity of laptop and notebook computers.

According to the site, about 88 percent of all computer-related claims in 1999 pertained to notebooks and laptops. But most of those claims (52 percent) resulted from an accident, such as dropping the computer. Theft accounted for 29 percent of those claims. As for desktop PC claims, power surges claimed the most processors and hard drives. Lesson for tech folk: keep your eyes and hands on the laptop, and invest in a universal power supply for the desktop.

What else does the site do? It rates insurance companies, helps you find insurance companies and agents in your state, defines terms in its glossary, and offers an extensive collection of links.

Extra insurance
Here are a few more sites to help you with your insurance needs:

  • e-insure lets you search its database of 400 insurance companies and 300 agents.
  • QuickenInsurance offers info on two common types of insurance for small businesses: the Business Owner’s Policy and Workers’ Compensation.
  • The LA Times has a short course on everything you want to know about life insurance in its Insurance 101 site.
  • The Small Business Insurance Center specializes in selling insurance to computer consultants, ISPs, Web page designers, and software developers. It has plans for companies employing one to 100 people.
  • For more links on insurance than you’d probably care to click, head over to the Insurance section at the Open Directory Project.

And that’s what I’ve seen worth citing this week.

Lauren Willoughby is a Web editor at The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, KY, where she also writes the weekly “Technophobe” column. At night, she turns into an online auction junkie. When she’s not spotting deals on refurbished 486s, she’s reading a science fiction novel.

If you’d like to share your opinion, please post a comment at the bottom of this page or send the editor an e-mail.