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How to Prepare for Disasters

If you hadn’t seen the news, there are several large fires right now in my home state of Colorado. I have seen the smoke up close. I was four miles away when the Treasure Fire started just outside of Leadville and work just over the hill from the Flatiron Fire in Boulder.

Yesterday, I was told a family friend in Colorado Springs lost their home to the Waldo Canyon Fire along with hundreds of their neighbors. My sister’s friend’s family in Woodland Park may have been evacuated this morning along with much of the rest of the town.

This got me thinking. We often avoid anything that has to do with a worst case scenario, but we need to plan for the worst and have an action plan in place in case we get hit with an unexpected tragedy.

Financial Accounts

If your house burned down while you were at work today, would you be able to quickly track down all of your financial data? Even if you use a free site like Personal Capital for your finances or Manilla for your bills, you probably won’t have everything easy to get to in one place.

It is important to have a list of your accounts somewhere easy to get to no matter what. I suggest you put together a list of accounts, account numbers, and contact information for each account on Google Docs. You can get to that list on vacation, at work, or anywhere else you can get online.

Financial Backup

You should keep your bank account statements and taxes for at least seven years in case a dispute comes up or you get audited. While many of us don’t keep paper copies anymore, you should definitely have a copy backed up online.

My accountant scans in all of my tax info and I download all of my bank statements to my computer each month. To take it a step further in case something happens to your computer, you should back everything up on a free Dropbox account.

Important Documents

Things like birth certificates, social security cards, and property titles are rarely needed, but they are important to be able to get to when you really need them. After a disaster, you may need something to establish identity or ownership, so you don’t want them gone.

I have my important documents locked away in a bank safe deposit box. Nothing should happen to them when they are behind a giant, steel door in a fireproof room behind a smaller metal door, also fire resistant, under two locks. Most small safe deposit boxes only cost about $20-$50 per year.

Valuable Items

If you have a coin collection, stamp collection, baseball card collection, record collection, or other valuables, it could be smart to buy a fire safe for your home. Many insurance policies will not insure these collections, so keeping them safe falls on you.

Safes that will hold most valuables are available at local or online retailers. I have found that the best safes for the money can be found at warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club. You can also consider a safe deposit box.

Family Photos and Videos

Do you still have boxes or albums of old pictures around the house? Those irreplaceable family memories could be gone in an instant, so it is important to have a copy. In this day and age, you can easily convert VHS and DVD movies into a digital format and can scan in old pictures.

You can do it yourself or pay to have it done, but you don’t want to lose out if they disappear.

Once you have them digitized, you should back them up to an external hard drive and an online service like Dropbox or Google Drive.

It Is Only Stuff

Remember, at the end of the day, it is only stuff. In all of the fires in Colorado this summer, only three people have been killed. Thousands were evacuated and hundreds have lost their homes. Those people are alive and healthy. If you have your family, your friends, and your health, you have the most important things in the world.

Your Backup Plan

Have any of you implemented emergency preparedness measures? What do you do? Please share in the comments.

Image GDA 2010/flickr

12 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Disasters”

  1. Jeff @ Sustainable Life BLog

    Dont forget insurance information man! when you get evacuated and if your house gets damaged because of a natural disaster, you’re going to want to start the insurance process as quick as possible!

    1. For sure! It is a good idea to have a scanned copy of your newest policy online with your agent’s contact information. If it happened to you, it probably happened to lots of people. Getting the ball rolling is important to make sure you get fast service.

  2. We faced pre-evacuation orders a long time ago. You realize real quick what is important to save when you have very little time and space. Life is the most important and then important papers and photos become a priority.

  3. I was thinking about this last night, and the worst part was the thought of losing family photos and memories. Having to recreate your financial picture from scratch would make any disaster that much worse.

    1. The smell has gotten better and worse depending on the wind. Some days it was like walking outside into a campfire. Other days it has just been hazy.

  4. We live with hurricane threat. During the season (already started) we keep a suitcase ready with document, passport, cash, certificates, degrees, insurance papers, etc. Valuables are store din bank vault.

  5. These kinds of disasters – whatever it might be in our particular area – can and do happen. Maybe statistically they happen every 100 years or some other time frame, but things do happen.
    I often wonder why so many people are so incredibly keen on living near water. I know it’s clearly different than the fire example you shared from Colorado, but all it takes is one hurricane, tsunami, or just a really bad storm, and flooding can devastate a community.
    People think these things won’t happen to them, but nobody is immune from “unexpected” disasters. Best to be prepared, as you note.

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