Preparing for an Emergency

>> Friday, July 9, 2010

There are a myriad of ways the important documents and possessions in our homes could be lost, stolen or damaged and it is really important to prepare for these events so that if (heaven forbid) the "worst" should happen, you are in the best position possible to pick up the pieces and move on. Unfortunately, a lot of people just don't even know where to start in order to get their houses/lives in order in case of emergency. Most of us recognize the wisdom of having a little food and water set aside, but how many of us have given a thought to what we would do if our homes were broken into? Or destroyed by fire? Well, here's my super simple "Getting Started" guide to preparing our homes for emergencies.

Step 1: Get homeowners/renters insurance! This is really, really important, even if you are a renter. When I moved away to college and started living with roommates, my parents insurance company offered a ridiculously low renter's insurance rate which I accepted and have kept (and upgraded) ever since. It's really only a small expense and can make a huge difference if there's ever an emergency. Example: shortly after I got married, my husband and I invested a small fortune (for us, at least...we were poor college students) in nice mountain bikes. About 3 months later my bike was stolen (I cried) from the bike racks of our apartment complex. Now, we had no way to replace my bike out of our own money, but I called my insurance company and the "personal property" part of my policy protected all my belongings (even my car to a certain degree) while on the rented property. So, I got a check for the value of my bike and soon was back on the trails.
Moral of the story: BE INSURED

Step 2: Protect your important documents. Most of us know exactly where we keep papers such as birth certificates, social security cards and insurance policies, but what would you do if  your home flooded or was destroyed by fire? Are your important documents protected? I (being a little paranoid) have 2 ways of preserving these vital papers. The first is to scan these documents and save them to a flashdrive/external memory device of your choice. More about where to keep those files in a minute. The second way is a fire proof box. You don't have a fireproof box, you say? WELL. They are super easy to find (your local office supply store will have basic models) and relatively inexpenive so GO GET ONE. Put the original copies of all your essential papers in this box and, if it's big enough, any small, irreplaceable possessions that are suseptable to fire/water damage. You'll feel lots better knowing that your vital documents are protected. :-)
As a side note: you may want to add "proof of purchase" information for large ticket items to this file of documents. Having the receipt for my bike, so I could prove the value meant that I received what I paid for it from the insurance company, rather than their standard "bike" reimbursment. Probably not as important as your birth certificate, but something to think about.

Step 3: Inventory your home. I know. I know. This sounds like a HUGE hassle. But, trust me. It's not that difficult and is worth your time. You want to be able to prove loss in case of a robbery or fire and, if you are anything like me, it might take you a while to notice certain things (like rarely worn jewelry) are missing. SO. Inventory your home. I think the easiest way to do this is through photographs. Get a dedicated memory card for your digital camera and go room to room, taking pictures of the whole room.  You could stand in the center and slowly rotate, but if there are small valuables (like an antique on a shelf) you'll want to be sure those are clearly identifiable, so just make sure everything is documented in the pictures. If you have valuable single items, take pictures of each item individually (like all the pieces of grandma's silver tea service). Then, for large items (like your television, computer etc...) take pictures of the identifying information (the serial number on the back, model number etc...). These numbers are really important for insurance claims and can help identify your property if it is ever recovered after a robbery, so make sure you have those too! Make sure these pictures are clear and easy to read. It doesn't make sense to take the time to take the pictures if later the serial number is so small you can't read it. Unless you are a millionaire and live in a giant mansion, I'll bet you could do this for your whole house and all your valuables in about an hour. Go! Take pictures! Save the pictures!

Now, what to do with your scanned, saved copies of important documents and your photo inventory? Well, you could do several things.
1. You could put them in your fireproof box. (Remember? You're going to go get one TODAY). This is fine, but there is the problem of "all your eggs in one basket".
2. You could put the flashdrives/memory card in a safe deposit box. This would work just fine, if you are willing to pay the monthly rental fee. Remember, though, if there's some sort of natural disaster (think Hurricane Katrina), it may be a while before you could get to said safe deposit box, so consider that when evaluating your options.
3. Put one copy of the files in your fire proof box and send another copy to a family member.  I recommend this option. You have everything in one place (your fireproof box) that is easily accessible and a "back up" system just in case you can't get into your home for some reason.

See! It's not too hard to get prepared and it doesn't require a great deal of time or money! Go for it!


Amber C July 9, 2010 at 12:40 PM  

Erin thanks for the tips. We've got most things covered except the inventory and photographs. I'm definitely going to take care of those ASAP.

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