Be prepared in case of disaster

When a disaster forces you to evacuate, and you have minutes to decide what to take with you, you may not have the time to search through files to find your passport, or wait for printouts of your important documents. Whether it’s an earthquake, a fire, or a tsunami warning, you’ve got to get to safety as quickly as possible.

But if you keep an emergency pack by the door, filled in advance with essentials for basic survival and copies of financial documents that can aid your recovery, you’ll be in a much better position to respond to the disaster, both in the short term and the long term.

When it comes to disaster and your personal finances, you will want to be sure of three things: that you can continue to manage your day-to-day finances, that you can efficiently deal with the damage, and that you’ve preserved important documents that would be difficult to replace.

You also will want to anticipate handling these tasks without the Internet, access to your computer, a power source or a network for your cellphone, or electricity in general. Disasters are unpredictable, and the more prepared you are, the better off you will be if things take a turn worse than expected.

Managing your finances. If you have a working landline, and nothing else, you can still make sure you pay your bills on time, or notify your creditors about unexpected financial hardship that came with the disaster. You just need a printed list that includes the bills that are expected every month, quarter and year. List customer service phone numbers, account numbers and bank account numbers, both from your regular account and your emergency fund, and you’ll be able to manage your finances right off the bat.

Be sure to safeguard this information: you want it available, but you also don’t want identity thieves to get a hold of it. Keep it in a safe place, and tell your trusted family members about it, so that they know to grab it if you’re not home.

Dealing with disaster. You will want contact information and copies of your insurance policies in your pack, along with receipts and an inventory of your belongings. Having that information with you can give you peace of mind, and it can smooth the way for the claims process. You also should consider keeping some emergency cash in your bag.

Preserving your important documents. It’s a good idea to place your family’s most important papers (records on birth, death, adoption, marriage, divorce, social security, medical instructions), financial records (wills, deeds, insurance policies, tax returns), and digital backups in a safety deposit box. For more peace of mind, you can add copies of these documents to your emergency pack, along with your family’s health insurance cards, prescriptions, passports, emergency contact numbers and an inventory of your financial accounts.

Preparing your finances for disaster can take some time and effort. But when those minutes really count, you’ll be glad you did so.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 19 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. You can email him at


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