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Planning for a disaster: Getting one’s house in order

family emergency evacuation exampleResidents of the southeastern United States prepare regularly for hurricanes and have learned many lessons that can be applied to other types of disasters. While most people naturally think first and foremost about safeguarding themselves and securing their property before a disaster strikes, their next thought should be about safeguarding documents and paperwork that will help in recovery during the aftermath. In the wake of the hurricane season that devastated the Gulf states this past year, many people found themselves without the financial information tools they needed to react quickly to their changed circumstances.

Act now
Getting one’s financial house in order before hurricanes or other unexpected events occur will help immensely, from both financial and personal perspectives, in bouncing back. Preparation is essential, and preparations should include plans for oneself as well as elderly relatives or others for whom the planner is responsible. Some basic steps to be better prepared include:
Related Links
Disaster preparedness list
Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site
American Red Cross Web site
Operation Hope’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit
Small Business Administration Web site
  • keeping an adequate amount of cash on hand (enough to last a week until a banking institution can be reached for additional resources);
  • having credit cards as an alternate means to make purchases (credit cards should have a sufficient balance against which to make charges);
  • gathering important documents and keeping them together in a waterproof and fireproof container in an easily accessible and safe place (it’s advisable to include among these documents an address book with current phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc., for family and business contacts; family records and legal documents; insurance policies and medical records; family photos; and any other irreplaceable documents);
  • compiling a list of credit card account numbers, bank and other financial account numbers, and other monthly bills or periodic household accounts (these numbers and contact information should be included with important documents); and
  • conducting a household inventory by photographing or videotaping each room in a house for insurance claim purposes.

The aftermath of disasters presents many unexpected circumstances. In addition to taking these steps to ensure readiness for dealing with financial matters, individuals should also consider arranging direct deposit of paychecks and learning to manage checking accounts and bills online. Online bill payment can prove invaluable during periods when local financial service providers are unavailable.

Finally, there are many governmental and nonprofit agencies whose sole purpose is to assist citizens following disastrous events (see “Disaster preparedness list”).

Learn to plan
As a learning experience for students, have them create a financial preparedness plan for themselves and their families. This exercise will not only help them realize the value of looking ahead but will also introduce them to the kinds of financial questions they should begin thinking about for their future.

By Gail Psilos, community relations manager, New Orleans Branch

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