Hurricane Fay is just the latest in a long string of natural disasters that have wrecked havoc on people's lives over the last few months. Hurricanes, devastating California wildfires, terrible flooding in the mid-West--we've all gotten a good reminder that natural disasters can strike anywhere, anytime.
Having lived through two hurricanes ourselves, we know good preparation is critical. But beyond your standard stockpile of food, flashlights and other emergency items, we want to help you be prepared for the financial side of a disaster.
We hope you never need this information, but it will be invaluable if you ever get that knock on your door that it's time to evacuate or find yourself dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Let's look at the critical documents you must have ready in case of an emergency.
# 1 Keep Your Financial Documents Safe
For all important documents, it's critical that you keep them in a safe, secure and easily reachable location. We recommend you keep one copy in your home in a watertight container in a secure spot. If you have a fire-proof or built-in safe, that's ideal. Keep these documents all together in a small enough container that you can grab and take with you in case of an evacuation.
It's also a good idea to keep a second set of these documents in a safe-deposit box. That way, you are covered if the copy in your home is destroyed. But can also get to them if for some reason you can't access your safe deposit box (for example, if your bank is damaged and is closed in the days following a disaster).#2 Critical phone numbers you can't leave home without
Write down the following phone numbers on one sheet of paper and put them in your Emergency Packet:
- Emergency contact phone numbers for friends and family who might be impacted by the disaster so you can stay in touch.
- A 24-hour emergency phone number for your property insurance agent -- homeowner's, auto and boat -- and your health insurer.
#3 BIG lesson from Hurricane Katrina
Before Katrina, most people didn't think about this one, but be sure you pack a copy of your children's school records with your important documents. Although it's difficult to think about, in a true catastrophe, it's possible that your children may no longer have a school to return to. A staggering 327,000 school age children could not return to their schools after Katrina and had to enroll elsewhere.
In case your school records are destroyed in a catastrophe, get a copy of your child's latest school records at the end of each school year. Simply contact your school and ask for a copy. Store them in a safe place that you can access quickly and easily in case you need to evacuate in a hurry.
#4 Immunization records and other important medical records for the whole family.
Like school records, you may be asked to provide immunization records or other documents related to your health in order to get into a new school or even possibly into a shelter, depending on the type of disaster you are dealing with.
Contact your doctor and ask for a copy of your immunization records and any other documents related to special health needs (like the need to carry a syringe or medication). Be sure to get a copy of your newest records at your annual doctor's visit.
#5 Standard Proof of Identification
Keep a photocopy of your photo IDs, driver's license, social security cards and passports with your crucial documents. Keep the hard copies with you and make sure you have copies tucked away in a safe place like a safe deposit box. The last thing you want is to be stranded during or after a crisis without ways to prove who you are. Besides needing them immediately for things like food and shelter, you may need them in the post-disaster recovery. Plus, these documents are difficult and time consuming to replace.
#6 Your family's emergency plan
You family plan is an absolutely critical document to tuck away in your Emergency Packet. Make sure you also send one to all family members. Plus, send a copy to school attached to your child's emergency contact form so that your child's school knows how to find your family. For more on what to include in your family's emergency plan, visit Dolans.com to watch our disaster planning video.
#7 Bank, brokerage and credit card information.
Make a list of all of your bank, brokerage and credit card accounts with your account number and a phone number for each. Make sure you have the main bank phone number as well as your local branch. Whether or not your bank is "working" during the recovery phase of a disaster, you may need to access your account or information from your account from a different state. This information will be critical should you need access to your money in the aftermath of a disaster.
#8 Copy of your insurance policies and insurance cards.
These may be some of the most important documents you'll need. In case you or another member of your family become sick or injured while you're displaced from your home or town, you'll likely need to show proof of your medical insurance.
If your property is damaged during the disaster, your homeowners, auto, boat and flood insurance will also come into play. Having a copy of all insurance policies (along with the 24-hour phone number for your insurance companies) will help make a rough time a little bit smoother.
#9 Marriage certificates and custody decrees.
These aren't documents most people think about, but they can be critical in the case of an emergency. In the event you, your spouse or child are injured, these types of documents will be vital in case one of you needs to make medical or other important decisions about a family member's care. They can also be necessary if you and your children somehow get separated and you need to prove that you have legal custody and can remove them from a shelter.
#10 Protect Yourself from ID Theft
If you find yourself evacuating your home for a natural disaster, identity theft might not be the first thing on your mind, but it is an issue. Keeping your key financial documents together in one place and taking them with you is an easy way to protect yourself. If you leave your home in a disaster, grab the important financial documents we've discussed so that they are not at risk of being lost or stolen during a disaster. The last thing you want to deal with is having your identity being stolen because your social security card or passport ends up in the next town over thanks to a tornado or flood.
Now you know the critical financial documents you'll need in case of a disaster. Taking a little time right now to prepare your Emergency Packet can save you hassle and heartache in case of a disaster.
But of course the most important concern in a disaster is your family and your home. We've created a Dolans.com 6 Step Disaster Prep Plan that can help you protect them both.
Personal Finance experts Ken and Daria Dolan show you ways to save money, spend smarter and live richer with simple, proven solutions to all your money worries at Dolans.com.