It could happen to any of us. Natural disasters like fires, mud slides, tornadoes, hurricanes, polar vortexes are happening more frequently. If you live in Texas, Florida, California and Louisiana, you may know first-hand how devastating these events can be. No matter where you live, there are a few things you can do pre-emptively that may help.
What to Do if Disaster Strikes
The most immediate concern is safety and survival. Many people will be in shock and may need help just thinking through what they need to do. If you have been affected, or you have friends or family that need help, here are some initial considerations:
- Restore household stability. The Red Cross can help you find emergency shelter. If your area has been declared a federal disaster area, you may qualify for financial relief. Your property insurance agent may be able to help you file a claim on your homeowners’ or other types of insurance policies.
- If you have been injured, you may need to file for disability benefits. If you have this type of coverage through your employer, give your human resource representative a call. If you have coverage outside of your company, call the insurance company to file a claim.
- If you are OK, but a family member needs your care, you may be able to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act without losing your job. To find out more, contact the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-487-9243 or dol.gov.
- For more extensive information on Disasters and Financial Planning, get the Red Cross Disaster Financial Planning Guide.
If you are just going back to your home, you may need to focus on what documents you need to find and take with you. If you are lucky enough to not be affected (this time), you may also want to put together essential documents that you can grab if you need to evacuate quickly. Here’s a few things that could be extremely important:
- Online passwords
- Financial account numbers
- Check book, savings passbook, other sources of financial assets
- Insurance policy numbers and contact information
- Medical records including prescription drug information (think about scanning these to a jump drive and always carrying them)
- Investment account and retirement account numbers and access information
- Debit card or ATM card (you may want to get a couple weeks’ worth of cash to cover emergencies)
Much of this can be provided by your financial advisor (if you have one). If you have an online portal, you can scan and store this type of information to be accessed from anywhere.
If you have a smart phone or tablet, consider putting the following information in your contact information:
- Family cell phone numbers and email addresses
- Police, fire and ambulance phone numbers
- Red Cross local phone number (redcross.org)
- Local emergency response center
- Your employer’s human resource center contact information
When you Have the Luxury of Time
Until some type of disaster happens to you, you think you’ll be immune. We all tend to be overconfident at times, but perhaps now is a good time to revisit the need for flood or earthquake insurance. Yes, it can be expensive, but covering a catastrophic event may be worth it.
As an advisor, I frequently talk about the need for a home inventory. I speak from personal experience in knowing that you may need to have a room-by-room list of your belongings including photos of each room and its contents. Keep records of the cost of more expensive items. Much of this can be scanned and kept online. It won’t help you to keep a hard copy at home if your home is part of the disaster.
Once a year or so, run through a disaster contingency drill. Here are a few things you may want to consider:
- Make sure that all adults in the house know how to shut off the water, gas and electricity. And all family members should know how to use a fire extinguisher. Have you tested the fire extinguishers lately?
- Your family should put together a plan in case a natural disaster hits and you need to leave your home. You should discuss multiple escape routes from your home, where to meet if the family should be separated at the time disaster hits and make sure that someone is in charge of getting the family pets out. Additionally, you will need to have a bag that you can take with you that contains cash, clothes and important papers (your “go bag”).
- Keep a list of what you need to grab if you’re forced to leave your home by car. Make sure you can fit those items, plus your loved ones, in the car before you have to go.
- Do you have enough water and non-perishable food to get you through an immediate crisis? Don’t forget the pets.
- Do you have a first-aid kit (bandages, gauze, anti-biotic cream, aspirin, etc.) and a survival kit (flashlights, radio, new batteries, various tools and clothes)?
- Practice escaping the house if the usual entry ways are blocked.
- Have a weeks’ worth of important medications on hand. Don’t wait until your prescription is empty to refill it.
- Keep a phone charger in your car in case you need to charge it there. Keep emergency supplies like a first aid kit, a flashlight and a blanket or two in your car.
For more information on emergency preparedness please visit www.ready.gov.
Stories and images of people helping people in whatever ways are needed give us all hope. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for assistance. We are all in this together and there are many organizations that can summon resources for the collective good in a compassionate outpouring of love.
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