It’s no secret that people who live in disaster-prone areas (and many others) keep emergency kits and “bug-out” bags filled with necessary supplies in case they need to leave home in a hurry.
But in addition to items that can help you physically in an emergency, it’s a good idea to put together a “financial emergency kit”: information and documents that could help keep your life “running” and get you access to help you need even if you’re away from home for an extended period of time.
Are You Prepared for an Emergency? Read This
“I want you to think about preparing for the what-ifs,” money expert Clark Howard says. “Let’s talk about when the storm comes. How are you prepared for that? Where’s your key paperwork? Do you have copies of things stored in the Cloud or at a friend’s house or whatever?”
This article will cover some of the important preparations you need to make for a physical and financial emergency kit.
Most of us just need to do basic preparation. Many times when the moment of need comes, it will be far less dramatic than you might imagine — but still really disruptive to your life.
Important Documents To Have When You Leave
Below is a list of important documents that can help keep your life running. You should try to take physical copies with you or have access to them online. The list is based on guidance from the Insurance Information Institute and the American Red Cross.
- Insurance policies and related contact information
- Prescriptions and/or important medical records
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Mortgage information
- Car registration
- Driver’s license or personal identification
- Social Security cards
- Recent tax returns
- Employment information
- Wills and deeds
- Stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates
- Bank, savings and retirement account numbers
- Copies of your pet’s medical records
- Any other identification/tags for your pets and/or pet carrier
- Copy of a recent utility bill, school registration records and/or recent government document(s) to prove your legal place of residen
Having your documents in a safe place is really important. Two storage methods that Clark uses are a portable, fireproof safe and the Cloud.
A Fireproof Safe
“Are you going to have a firebox?” Clark says. “We’ve got one. We have a big fire safe that is supposedly waterproof and fireproof.”
Clark says he has an electronic record of account numbers and similar sensitive information. “If the paper files are destroyed, I still have access to the information,” he says.
“If you have to evacuate due to a disaster or whatever, how are you going to know what bills you have to pay and when they’re due? I have that stored on my phone: all the bills I have to pay and when they’re due,” Clark says.
Aside from a cell phone, another digital storage option is an external hard drive that backs up your data. I use a 4TB LaCie external hard drive with my MacBook Pro. But you can find some inexpensive external hard drives with 2TB for around $60 on Amazon.
To really have peace of mind when it comes to data, back it up twice by also uploading it to a free cloud service such as:
- Google One: Free account comes with 15GB of space.
- MediaFire: Free account comes with 10 GB of space.
- iCloud: Free account comes with 5GB of space.
“I have online access set up for my auto insurer, my homeowners’ insurer. I know where I can go to get that information,” Clark says.
Don’t Forget Essential Emergency Items
In addition to the documents listed above, the American Red Cross suggests you have the following physical items in your emergency kit:
- Water: one gallon per person, per day (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
- Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
- Battery-powered radio (NOAA Weather radio, if possible)
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Medications (seven-day supply minimum) and medical items
- Multi-purpose tool
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- Cell phone with chargers
- Extra cash (Clark recommends $400)
- Emergency blankets
- Contact information of family and/or friends
- Map(s) of the area
Best Ways To Get in Touch With Loved Ones
Communication with loved ones can be challenging during a natural disaster. Wired recommends the following:
- Text instead of calling. Leave the phone lines open for first responders. Try using text messages rather than voice calls to avoid getting blocked by any network congestion.
- Use apps. While cell networks and phone lines are generally limited to one communication protocol, apps such as Twitter or Facebook Messenger may be more likely to get your message through.
If people are trying to reach you:
- Get to a hardwired data connection. If you’re in an impacted area, a cable internet connection might be your best bet: They’re designed to handle larger surges of traffic.
- Think viral. Email a contact who’s most likely to be able and willing to disseminate information for you, update your Facebook status, tweet your condition and whereabouts. Whether you’re totally fine or in desperate need of help, let the viral nature of the internet work for you.
- Update your voicemail message. If you can make only one call, make it to your voicemail. Change your outgoing message, so that when folks try to reach you and the call goes straight to voicemail, they still get updated on your status.
It’s no fun to be unprepared. These are simple things you can do that require minimal money and a small investment of your time!