Monday, May 16, 2011

Are You Ready for an Emergency--for Real?

Tip of the Week, April 24 and May 1, 2011

The coverage of the recent tornadoes that tore through the southeast region of the U.S. has been both jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching. Though I'm no stranger to living in disaster-prone areas, having grown up in a hurricane zone and now residing in earthquake country, the particular damage wrought by these twisters is almost unfathomable to me.

One of the most remarkable things I read was the story of a woman who, finding debris in her front yard from towns that were hundreds of miles away from her, started a group on Facebook to post information about these objects--photos, mortgage documents, and other kinds of papers--in the hope of reuniting them with the people who'd lost them. (Read the story here.) I was struck by how far these items were carried, and it occurred to me that even those people in the tornado zone who had prepared for emergencies by gathering their important papers in one spot for grab-and-go access could potentially be powerless against the might of one of these storms.

Beyond Basic Preparation
Much of the advice about emergency preparedness focuses on creating a disaster readiness plan, having essential supplies on hand, and having easy access to the critical records you might need in the wake of an emergency--all excellent advice, and all worthy endeavors. (See below for links to some of my favorite resources for this kind of preparation.)

However, what the recent tornadoes remind us is that it's also extraordinarily important to take the extra step of ensuring that your most vital records, whether you define those as financial account records and copies of passports and birth certificates or duplicates of cherished family photos and letters, are stored somewhere other than your own home, as it just may not be possible to grab your grab-and-go kit if you're forced to flee with seconds to spare.

Here's what I recommend:
  • Use an online service like Evernote or Dropbox, to store digital copies of your important documents. If those documents are ever lost in a disaster, you'll still have access to the info they contain.
  • Send hardcopies of important documents (like insurance policies and wills) and data (such as account numbers for credit cards and bank accounts) to a trusted friend or family member who lives well beyond your local area.
  • Consider scanning your favorite photos and storing them online via a service like Flickr or Picasa.
The extra bit of effort involved in creating offsite storage solutions for your valuable papers will pay off hugely should you ever find yourself facing an emergency that prevents you from getting your hands on them when you need them.

And if, like me (I confess!), you could stand to brush up on emergency preparedness basics, here are some resources that can help with that.
  • Ready.gov, FEMA's comprehensive emergency preparedness website, with information on disaster planning for individuals and families as well as businesses.
  • Preparation Nation blog, written by my organizing colleague Margaret Lukens, which features info and projects designed to help you be better prepared for natural and other disasters.
  • Securita's Vital Records PortaVault, a grab-and-go organizer for important papers and data. (I tried the PortaVault out a few years ago and wrote a Tip about it.)

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