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3 tips to shelter your finances in a natural disaster

When disaster strikes, you think first about the lives of those closest to you, not about grabbing a strongbox full of financial documents.

By Stacy Johnson May 11, 2011 8:42AM

This post comes from Michael Koretzky at partner site Money Talks News.


As someone who has survived a couple hurricanes at home and driven into several others as a newspaper reporter, I know this: Billions of dollars and hundreds of lives don't matter as much as your money and your family's lives. In a natural disaster, your priority is to take care of your own.


Sadly, few folks know how to do this. And the most reliable information isn't always available on the first page of a Internet search about "natural disaster preparation."


As a journalist, I covered Hurricanes Elena, Kate and Andrew. As a resident, I hunkered down for Wilma and Katrina. Here are a few tips I've learned along the way:


Think outside of the box. FEMA has always advised keeping "important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container." Some insurance companies suggest storing them "in a location designed to survive a natural disaster, like a safe-deposit box."


Problem is, you can't get to a safe-deposit box right after a natural disaster because everything's usually closed. Also, banks can get destroyed, too -- and as the FDIC says on its website, "The contents of a safe deposit box are not insured by the FDIC."

As for keeping important papers in a strongbox at home, that's a great idea. Sadly, I've interviewed more than a few distraught homeowners who either forgot to grab that box, forgot to put all their important papers in it, or couldn't readily find it in their cars that were packed with everything else important they owned. Post continues after video.

You can take photos of important documents and store them on Amazon CloudDriveDropbox or a similar cloud storage service. It takes only a few minutes to do, and only a few minutes to locate. Just make sure to use a strong password.

Take inventory of your life. Charles Schwab has this good advice:

Take snapshots and/or write down a good description for each item of value, including clothes, jewelry, furniture, electronics, appliances, fixtures, etc. Keep the inventory along with any professional appraisals and estimates of replacement values in a safe place away from your home (e.g., a safe-deposit box or with an out-of-town relative).

Every year at this time -- when the wife and I embark on spring cleaning -- I take photos of our furniture, appliances and computers. (I partly do this so I don't have to clean as much: "Sorry, honey, I'm taking pictures!") They can also be kept on a cloud storage service.  


Pack pen and paper. This might seem trivial, but I can't tell you how often I've witnessed evacuees crave these items as they call insurance adjusters, family members, hotels, and other folks as they try to deal with the immediate crisis and try to rebuild their lives.


You don't think about a pen and paper when you're putting together an emergency kit. And even the ones for sale will include everything but.


Yet, when I was newspaper reporter, I'd often be asked if I had an extra pen and paper I could spare. Eventually, I just took along lots of extras so I could dole them out -- which always led to more interviews for me.


Do it this weekend

Take a few minutes to put a disaster plan together, one that includes pictures of your possessions and papers, preferably stored in cyberspace. Think about, then talk about, exactly what you and your loved ones will do, what you'll take, and where you'll take it. 


It will either be a waste of time -- or the smartest thing you've ever done.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 19, 2011 11:43PM
I would NEVER store my important documents on the Internet.  I don't care how "safe" a service claims to be.  It seems that anything on the Internet can eventually be hacked.
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