Disasters like tornadoes, house fires and floods can devastate our lives. What can make these situations even worse is picking up the disorganized pieces when a little preparation could have helped alleviate some of the chaos. I’m here to offer tips on what to collect and how to keep important documents safe if the unexpected happens.
Q: What documents do you suggest I collect to prepare for a disaster?
SP: You should gather personal identification for everyone in your household such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports and pet identification tags. Collect insurance policy numbers and the insurance company contact information for each type of coverage. You also will want to store a copy of property records like deeds and mortgage documents, medical information including prescriptions, estate-planning documents and legal and financial records including taxes from the past few years. Record contact information for family and friends in case you don’t have access to your cell phone and need to reach out for help.
Q: Where should I store all of these important documents?
SP: Select a way to store the items that’s easy to grab in a hurry. Options include a fireproof and waterproof safe, a binder with sleeves to hold all documents, or a safety deposit box at your local financial institution. You also could opt to store everything electronically on a memory stick, external hard drive, or the cloud. It might be wise to combine a few options — a safe for paper documents plus an electronic storage option so you have a backup. Whatever you choose, place it where it could be grabbed quickly and easily as you head out the door.
Q: What’s the best way to keep track of my possessions in case they’re destroyed in a disaster?
SP: You’ll want to take inventory of your possessions, which is especially helpful if you need to file an insurance claim. Go through your home room by room, and record your belongings. Make a note of household valuables, such as jewelry, antiques, or collectibles and write down their worth. Take photos or videos of your home’s contents so you have proof of your possessions. Store your inventory list and photos or videos with other important documents.
Q: How much money should I have on hand in case of a disaster?
SP: If a disaster affects your whole community, it’s likely your local financial institution will be affected as well, making it difficult to access your money. Additionally, merchants might not have electricity, making a quick swipe of your debit or credit card impossible. Set aside enough cash to cover essentials for a couple of days, which might include a few nights in a hotel, food, water and basic amenities such as clothing. Have a mix of large and small bills on hand in case someone isn’t able to break a larger bill.
Q: What other tips do you have to help my family prepare for a disaster?
SP: In case you’re stuck at home, have three days of nonperishable food and water on hand. For water, a general rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day for drinking, cooking and bathing. If you must leave town, identify an out-of-town family member or friend you can stay with and count on for support. It’s also good practice to establish a plan for how to reconnect with your family by designating a meeting spot. If something happens while you’re at work or the kids are at school, choose a location that’s easy for everyone to get to. If a disaster occurs while at home, such as a house fire, plan your escape routes and identify a landmark, such as the neighbor’s mailbox or a light pole as your family meeting spot. Panicking during a disaster situation only leads to more chaos, but following these tips could help provide the peace of mind you need to stay calm.
Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial educational series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.