If you’ve ever read any articles or blogs on how to deal with a natural disaster, you’ll notice one major tip in common: the need to have a disaster plan in place.
So, what should be in a disaster plan? For starters, evacuation routes; shelter ideas; how your family will communicate to each other (FEMA provides some templates for communications plans); and instructions on how to turn off utilities.
As you prepare your plan, make sure it is suited to your family’s particular situation—if you have kids, pets, a family member who needs prescription medicine or specific medical equipment, or you work at home, etc.
DISASTER KITS: Emergency preparedness experts strongly urge everyone to have a preparedness kit, preferably one for your home (for every member of your family, including pets), your work location, and your car. But if you can’t do all of that—at least having one for your home would be ideal. What should be in it? The basics: food and water for at least two to three days, an emergency radio and batteries, first aid kit and extra prescription medicine, a way to charge your cell phone, flashlights, blankets and sleeping bags, an emergency supply of cash. The American Red Cross provides ideas and various kits for purchase.
FINANCIALLY DEALING WITH A DISASTER: A natural disaster can not only be emotionally stressful, especially if you suffer a total loss of a home, but it also could be financially draining. So, before disaster strikes, financial experts recommend two things:
- Make sure your insurance is updated and is able to cover all that you own, including personal belongings. Many affected by a natural disaster discover too late that they were underinsured.
- Make sure to place all important documents, such as birth certificate, mortgage papers, and insurance papers, in a safe, preferably fireproof, and easily transportable location. Make a list of everything in your house and keep that in the same location as your important papers —this will come in handy should you have to remember what you’ve lost.
One thing people might tend to forget in the midst of a disaster are their bills. Financial experts recommend talking to all your creditors—mortgage companies or financial institutions, car lenders, student loan companies, utility companies, and credit card companies—as soon as possible about your options. Depending on how widespread the disaster is, creditors might be willing to give you a break from paying your bills for a certain period of time, or in some cases provide some aid in making payments. But you do need to ask. And you need to understand the ramifications of not paying your loans, even if allowed to do so; you might still have to pay the accrued interest.
Other recommended actions: maintain a written record of your conversations with creditors so you have a back-up in case of a dispute, add a statement to your credit report with all three credit-reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—that you’ve been involved in a natural disaster which can help lenders later on understand why there were issues with paying certain accounts.