National Preparedness Month: Practice and Build Out Your Plans
By Mary Wade Triplett
That’s why a week of September’s National Threat Preparedness Month is devoted to the topic of “Practice and Build Out Your Plans.”
In the previous weeks, we’ve gone over what to do in an emergency, not only about calling 911 but also being prepared in case first responders cannot get to you immediately. Some great ways to do that are to have items on hand in your home such as a three-day supply of food and water for all residents, including pets, as well as familiarizing yourself with evacuation routes and area shelters.
Now it’s time to think about getting your finances in order, as well as important papers that you might need during or in the aftermath of a disaster.
The Ready Campaign at ready.gov has some tips for creating an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, and it requires more than just setting up an account where you can deposit money in case of a crisis.
The first step is to get your information together—not only your finances but also critical personal, household and medical data that could come in handy during a time of need. Household data can include photo IDs and birth certificates for everyone in the family, Social Security cards to apply for disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), paperwork proving military service and identification tags for pets.
This is also a good time to make a list of important telephone contact numbers, not only of friends, family and relatives but also insurance agents and other professionals whose help you might need. You very well may have some of these numbers in your cell phone, but if you lost it or were unable to recharge it, it can be critical to have this information in a separate place.
Other documents to get in order are housing payments, insurance policies to re-establish financial accounts and tax statements to provide contact information for financial and legal providers and to apply for FEMA disaster assistance.
As for finances, you might want to consider saving money in an emergency savings account to be used in any crisis. Whether or not that is feasible, you should have a small amount of cash at home in a safe place. It’s important to have some small bills on hand because ATMs and/or credit cards might not work during a disaster. You also might need sources of income to maintain payments and credit.
And if you are still getting your checks in the mail, you might consider switching to electronic payments. A disaster can disrupt mail service, and automatic deposit also eliminates the risk of stolen checks. Federal benefit recipients can sign up by calling 800-333-1795 or by going online to fiscal.treasury.gov/GoDirect/. Or get the Direct Express prepaid debit card, which is designed as a safe and easy alternative to paper.
It’s also time to look into various types of insurance that you might need, including health, life and property insurance whether you are a homeowner or a renter. Review existing policies to make sure that what you already have in place will be sufficient for you and your family for all possible hazards.
Of course, homeowners’ insurance usually does not cover flooding, and with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma demonstrating unusual strength, as well as the occurrence of devastating floods in West Virginia during the last two summers, you might want to re-think that.
Homeowners in certain areas deemed flood hazards might be required to purchase flood insurance. Also, following the receipt of federal disaster assistance, there is an obtain-and-maintain requirement for homeowners who wish to be eligible for assistance in the future.
FEMA also operates the National Flood Insurance Program (www.FloodSmart.gov). Renters and homeowners who live in National Flood Insurance Program-participating communities can purchase a policy through FEMA.
If your home isn’t in a participating community, you can go through your insurance agent. Floods can happen anywhere, FEMA notes. The agency’s literature states that more than 20 percent of flood claims come from properties outside high-risk flood zones, and that floods are the most common and costly disasters in the United States. Premiums might be lower for low-risk homes as well.
It’s a lot to think about, but with the images of Harvey and Irma still fresh in our imaginations, examining the choices and taking these steps can take a burden off your mind.