- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2008

NEW YORK | The lines of cars evacuating the Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Fay made its way toward land were the latest reminder of the need to be prepared for a disaster, whether natural or man-made.

Experts warn that the planning for such an event should include personal financial information, along with an evacuation plan and a stash of food and water.

The question people should ask themselves is, “If I can’t get into my house for a month, will I have the important information that I’ll need, so that I can get back into my house, and so I can get my life back to normal?” said Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit group funded by the industry.

The first item on the list should be something that links you to your home, said Laura Howe, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.

“One of the things we saw repeatedly after Katrina was people coming to us needing help, and they would tell us they were a Katrina victim, and we didn’t have any way to verify that,” she said. “I think it’s indicative of things that happen when there’s a major disaster, people leave their homes and they leave behind, amazingly, their wallet or things that can tie them to their home and identity.”

That’s one reason experts advise people to have the needed information stored in one location, preferably in a waterproof, fireproof container.

Ms. Howe noted that if you recently moved and your driver’s license does not list your current address, you should keep a copy of a lease, a utility bill or something else with a name and address on it with other papers that can be easily taken during an evacuation.

Likewise, updated medical information may also be needed on short notice, and someone who relocates, even temporarily, might need to see new doctors, she said.

Another thing many disaster victims don’t have readily available is cash. “Don’t assume that if you evacuate, you’ll be able to either get access to an automated teller machine or that you’ll be able to use a credit card,” Miss Howe warned, noting that extended power outages could render bank machines and credit card processing equipment useless.

There are a number of resources available with checklists for preparing a disaster supply kit, including one offered by the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org and the preparedness site of the Department of Homeland Security.

Also among the most important documents to have on hand is a copy of your homeowners insurance policy and contact information for the insurance company. Homeowners should periodically review their policies to make sure their coverage is adequate and should consider flood insurance, which typically is needed to cover damage related to water.

Also among the financial paperwork recommended for a disaster kit:

• Copies of deeds and titles for your home, car and other property.

• Copies of the previous year’s income tax returns.

• Copies or originals of wills and powers of attorney.

• Checking and savings account, loan, credit card and investment account information and backups of computerized financial records.

• An inventory of the property in your home, including such things as personal computers, consumer electronics and jewelry. The Insurance Information Institute has software for developing an inventory online at Know Your Stuff.

• The key to your safe-deposit box.

Most experts recommend keeping the originals of such things as deeds and titles in a bank safe-deposit box, along with inventories and appraisals for expensive possessions, original certificates for stocks, bonds and other investments. A copy of your most recent tax return and copies of wills and powers of attorney may also find a place in there, but the nature and extent of a disaster may make it difficult to reach those documents for some time.

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