It's coming. Again.
Hurricane season is on its way. Tornadoes have already started making their debuts across the South and Midwest. With the memories of Katrina and Rita all too vivid, and fears of another disaster abundant, families must begin thinking now about disaster plans. Even people who feel they have plans in place ready should review them. If 2005 taught us anything, it is that hurricanes can be almost unimaginably devastating.
The better you prepare for a disaster, the better chance you have of being able to survive it, says the Insurance Information Institute in New York. Without a doubt, these are words to live by. Most people
think about major natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and how to prepare for them, at least to some degree. But less dramatic, more common incidents such as house fires or extended power outages can wreak havoc, too.
With that in mind, experts say the first step of any planning agenda has to be securing the safety of all family members. Safeguarding any property or valuable personal information must come second. A number
of websites offer good safety tips for creating evacuation plans and emergency supply kits, most notably:
The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org).
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (http://www.ready.gov).
While you can't do anything unless you ensure your physical safety, you'll also need to have financial safety measures in place. Start by purchasing a container or safe to store duplicates of important documents, such as your mortgage records and deeds, your will and testament, home/life insurance policies, stock/bond certificates, etc. Make sure this container is not only waterproof, but fireproof. Families should make a list of financial accounts and prescription drug/medical needs as well.
"This ranges from protecting your financial documents to making sure you have spending money available," said Mark Cybulski, a spokesperson for MassMutual Financial Group in Springfield, Mass. The container should be something you can grab if you need to leave the house in a hurry."
Families should also have a game plan in mind for how they will cope with expenses if they're forced to abandon their home. Keeping a stash of cash in an envelope in case local banks or ATMs are shut down is a start, with smaller denominations preferable. The smaller the bill, the more useable it is in more places. Keeping a supply of quarters on hand can be helpful for smaller purchases as well as emergency pay phone calls.
Taking a broader approach to financial management, people should also have a savings account or other liquid investments accessible if they're out of work for awhile or need to cover emergency costs. If all your funds are tied up in stocks, bonds or IRAs, it could be difficult to get your hands on them quickly, as well as avoid surcharges and penalties. Other easy step you can take is to photocopy the front and back of all the cards in your wallet, so you have a record of your accounts, contacts, and creditors.
The Insurance Information Institute says families should take steps to protect their property, especially those living along the Gulf Coast and other parts of the East Coast that are vulnerable to hurricanes and high winds. Meteorologists have predicted that we we are in the midst of a geologic cycle in which we may experience powerful hurricane seasons regularly until 2020 or 2005. This is not a threat to take lightly.
The Institute for Business and Home Safety (http://www.ibhs.org) has some good tips for protecting property from floods, freezing conditions, high winds, fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Families can get information about flood damage and insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (http://www.floodsmart.gov). Whatever it takes to be prepared, you should do it. You may only get one chance!