September is Disaster Preparedness Month. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the anticipation of Hurricane Irma are sobering reminders of the importance of being prepared. Here in the Midwest, hurricanes are not part of our reality, but we are at risk for other types of disasters, many of which strike suddenly with little or no warning.
In a disaster, safety is first priority. We need to be prepared to quickly evacuate from a fire or seek shelter in a tornado, for example, and have a way to stay warm if a winter storm causes an extended power outage. Ready.gov is a central site for information on how to be as fully prepared as possible; they have many useful publications related to specific needs, as well.
There is a second aspect of preparedness that also deserves our attention: we need to be prepared for recovery. This includes:
- Having insurance coverage that meets our needs, and reviewing it every couple of years to make sure it is keeping up with changes in our situation;
- Creating and updating a household inventory (typically via photos or video) to assist in filing insurance claims;
- Keeping irreplaceable documents (birth certificates, military records, property titles, and more) in a safe deposit box;
- Having copies of key documents and information stored away from our home – perhaps with a friend or family member in another community, or in secure cloud storage. This includes insurance policies (or at least policy numbers and contact information), financial account information, most recent tax return, along with key medical information (including vaccination records) and contact information for both professional and personal contacts. Pet vaccination records matter too.
The list above is NOT all-inclusive, but it’s a good starting point. I am reminded that it has been a few years since I took household inventory photos — I’m going to update that this weekend. What are you going to do?
Want more info? University of Minnesota Extension houses an award-winning disaster recovery toolkit (available for free download) and some related resources.
Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.
Do you ever think about what would happen if your house was flooded or some sort of disaster was happening and you only had a few short minutes to grab meaningful financial and personal documents? What would you grab? You definitely won’t find yourself hauling the entire filing cabinet out the door, so the best solution is to have a consolidated set of files set aside just in case you would ever find yourself in this situation. The idea is…THE RED FILE!
The concept is fairly basic. Get yourself an accordion file of some sort, preferably red (or another bright color) for easy finding, and include the following things in it:
- List of vital information such as:
- Contact Information (family members, financial advisors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, employers, doctors)
- Bank, Credit Union, and credit card account information
- Insurance policy information
- Summary of vital information (personal, property, financial…etc)
- Originals or photocopies of:
- Birth and Marriage certificates/divorce decrees
- Social security cards of all members in the household
- Driver’s license and other wallet cards (copies of)
- Will/Trust documents; powers of attorney
- Most recent income tax return
- Passports/identity documents
- Military discharge papers
- List of prescriptions (name on medication, dosage, pharmacy…etc)
- You will also need:
- Safe deposit keys/combination
- Computer user names or passwords; CD with relevant personal, financial, and legal files
- Some emergency cash
If an emergency ever occurs, you can grab this file and know that you have all the basic information you need for you and your family.
If you have the capability, another great option is to scan in copies of all these documents, and save them on a flash drive or upload them to a safe place online. HAPPY FILING!
~Leslie Kohlhaas (guest blogger)
Leslie is an ISU senior intern working with Barb this semester. Other disaster tips can be found at the Dealing with Disasters webpage: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/topic/recovering-disasters
Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.