The thought of having to leave your home in an emergency may seem far-fetched, but for thousands of people affected by Colorado’s recent spate of wildfires, it’s not so remote. Nor was it for those forced from home by the Texas fires in 2011, massive New England blizzards in 2010, or any other disasters that strike homeowners every year.
In fact, evacuations are less rare than most people probably think. Fires and floods are the most common reason people are forced to evacuate, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But hundreds of other evacuations are caused every year by hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, biological threats and industrial accidents.
Evacuations can take place almost anywhere. Coastal areas are subject to hurricanes and tropical storms and inland regions experience tornadoes, as well as floods. Earthquakes are most common in the Western United States, and blizzards and other severe winter storma are more typical of the Northern states. Fires, however, can happen anywhere, and industrial accidents, such as spills of toxic materials, are also not limited by geography.
Whatever the nature of the emergency, the personal safety of loved ones is always the most important concern. As the National Endowment for Financial Education points out, your financial future is also at risk any time you are required to leave your home. Securing your finances is an important part of taking care of family members during an emergency.
For the most part, addressing the financial aspects of an evacuation consists of planning ahead, making sure important documents are handy, and selecting what to take when you go.
Here are some tips for the financial side of evacuating:
Be sure you have access to required paperwork for medical and disability coverage, including insurance cards in case you or a loved one becomes ill or injured during a disaster. Check policies to see what procedures are required in the event of an emergency. Also look to see what is covered, as you may be pleasantly surprised. Coverage may, for instance, pay for temporary living expenses.
Home and property
If you are permitted to enter your home and have time, gather important financial documents along with valuables and mementos. The list may include wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, Social Security cards, checkbooks and bank account information, among others. Also consider unplugging electrical devices, like TVs and stereos, to reduce risk of fire. Leave refrigerators and freezers powered up, unless flooding is expected.
Bank and other accounts
Make sure you have a list, paper or digital, of user names and passwords for important accounts.
Banks and ATMs may not work during a large-scale disaster. It’s a good idea to have a cache of cash just in case. If you are short, the Red Cross or FEMA may be able to help with cash assistance. You might also contact your employer about a pay advance.
As soon as is convenient, call the toll-free number on the back of your credit card to let your issuer know what’s going on. Also inform your mortgage company, auto lender and other creditors, as they may be willing to let you make a late payment or two.
You may be able to stop paying some bills, such as telephone and cable providers, on the property you vacated. Make sure to inquire about the termination and reconnect charges before you have service disconnected.
Let your employer know ASAP if you may miss some work. Employers may also sponsor disability or other benefits that can help. The Family Medical and Leave Act may apply in some cases, for instance, if you are caring for an injured family member.
Finally, close and lock doors and windows to secure your home and property. You can’t bring everything with you in an emergency, but you can take steps to protect what you leave behind.
”Packing Up: Preparing Your Finances for an Emergency Evacuation” was written by Mark Henricks.
The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on your taxes, your investments, the law or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.