Make sure your family has a disaster plan


June 1 marked the beginning of hurricane season. Meanwhile, across much of the Western U.S., major droughts have greatly increased the danger for summer wildfires. And don’t forget last winter’s record-breaking winter storms – or the ongoing potential for earthquakes, tornados, floods and other natural disasters.

Such catastrophic events are inevitable, largely unpreventable and often strike without warning. Even though we can’t always predict natural disasters, we can anticipate their likely aftermaths, including property loss, power or water service disruption and scarcity of food and supplies.

Sit down with your family and develop a disaster plan. By planning ahead and knowing what you might need under dire circumstances, you can save yourselves a lot of time, money and grief.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (, offers great suggestions for developing a family emergency plan, building an emergency supply kit, and learning what to do before, during and after emergencies (everything from home fires to terrorist attacks). They even provide an emergency plan for family pets.

Here are some emergency-planning ideas you may not have considered:

  • Pick meeting spots both in and outside your neighborhood where your family can gather after an emergency.
  • Choose one person (possibly out-of-town) everyone can contact for updates.
  • Make sure your kids know how to escape the house in case of fire.
  • Identify and stock essential items you’ll need to survive for at least three days in case help is unavailable. Include ample water (at least a gallon per person, per day), non-perishable food, and medications. Don’t forget water, food and supplies for pets.
  • Stock an emergency kit with batteries, flashlight, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio, water-purification tablets, clothes, blankets, can opener, tools, toilet paper, moist towelettes, garbage bags, solar cellphone charger, etc.
  • If a family member receives life-sustaining treatments (e.g., dialysis), identify alternate treatment locations in case yours becomes incapacitated.
  • Take a picture of yourself with your pets in case you should become separated.
  • Safely store emergency cash in case ATMs aren’t working.

Should disaster strike, you’ll need access to financial and legal records. Take these steps now to ensure easier access when the time comes:

  • Create a log of all account numbers, emergency numbers, contact information and passwords for your bank and credit card accounts, loans, insurance policies, utilities and other important accounts.
  • Update it regularly and save hardcopies in secure, offsite locations such as a safety deposit box or with a trusted friend living in another area.
  • You can also email the list to yourself in an encrypted, password-protected file, save it on a CD or USB drive, or use a cloud-based storage service that will let you access it from any Internet connection.
  • Make PDF copies of tax returns, insurance policies and legal documents and save offsite, as above, in case your files or computer are damaged. Also make digital copies of invaluable family photos, documents and memorabilia that money can’t replace.

If you ever need to file an insurance claim or claim a tax deduction for lost, stolen or damaged property, it’ll be much easier if you have an inventory of everything you own – photos or videos are even better. Try the Insurance Information Institute’s free, secure home inventory software application (

Also, investigate what is and isn’t covered by your insurance policies for natural disasters. You may need additional coverage for damage associated with hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and other weather conditions.

Bottom line: Having a family emergency plan in place could lessen the blow should disaster strike.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter:

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