It's Time to Update Personal Disaster Plan

Start of hurricane season marks a good time to review provisions, key documents and insurance.


Hurricane season is upon us, so it's time for what should be at least an annual preparedness drill for you and your possessions. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a normal storm season, there is nothing normal about a hurricane or other disaster. Here's a checklist of steps to take.

Emergency food, water and supplies. Set aside enough food and water for at least a week, and put extra lights, batteries and the like in waterproof containers. I went online last year at my friendly warehouse membership site and ordered a complete disaster preparedness kit that came packed in a waterproof plastic bin. It will keep me fed, hydrated and relatively secure against extended power and service outages. Too bad it didn't help against economic disasters! A friend of mine regularly fills multiple 5-gallon jugs of water and also stores water in her bathtub every time a serious storm is forecast. I'd probably save the bathtub for my own use if a bad storm hit, but then, she's a lot cleaner than I am. Communications and evacuations plans. Make sure all the numbers you need are programmed into your cell phone. If you don't have a cell phone, reconsider. This is not a luxury item anymore but a necessary communications tool. If you needed to leave your area and drive to safer ground, do you know which route you'd take?

Key documents. Make digital copies of important documents. A lot of home office printers include scanners these days. If this is beyond you, take the documents to a local FedEx Office or other office-support outlet and have them make the copies. Next -- and this is a must -- open a free E-mail account with one of the major providers (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.) and send copies of all the documents to yourself. Not only will they be safe, but you can access them from any computer. Wells Fargo recently began offering such a "vSafe" service for several dollars a month so if the do-it-yourself route is daunting, check out its service. However, you still need to digitize the documents you'd provide to Wells Fargo.

Treasured Photos. While you're in digitizing mode, make copies of those precious family and personal photos that may well mean more to you than your material possessions. Upload copies to that E-mail account or set up aFacebook account and park them there.

Insurance. Do you know what your home insurance covers? Remember, home insurance does not cover flooding. You need flood insurance for that. It's provided through the National Flood Insurance Program.  You should have an inventory of insured possessions. Make a video inventory and an accompanying written inventory.  Make digital copies of both and upload all of this to that free E-mail account you were so smart to set up! What good does it do to watch all of that paperwork floating out the front door in a flood?

Here's an insurance emergency checklist provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners:

  1. Do you have phone numbers for your insurance agent and company, in case you have to file a claim?
  2. Do you know how to access your home inventory and important papers? And do you have a personal identification document with a photo to prove your name and address?
  3. Do you know if your policy requires you to file a claim within a certain time frame?
  4. Keep all correspondence and a log of when you speak with your agent or an insurance company representative.
  5. Have you documented the damage with photos or videotape?
  6. Make temporary repairs and save all receipts.
  7. Contact the state insurance department if you feel you are being treated unfairly.