United States: Contingency Planning: Don't Let A Disaster Disrupt Your Life

Last Updated: November 9 2016
Article by Adam Pechin

As chief operating officer, Leah oversaw the creation of her company's contingency (or disaster) plan. When a Category 4 hurricane put that plan to the test, it passed with flying colors. No employees were harmed and the company was able to resume operations only two days after the storm. Although the office sustained damage, insurance covered repair costs.

Unfortunately, Leah's family wasn't as prepared. She had trouble getting in touch with her husband and children as the storm approached, and though everyone was safe, their home was badly damaged. Worse, their homeowners' insurance policy provided only limited flood coverage, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Leah learned a hard lesson: Individuals and families need disaster plans, too. Here is how to put one together.

First Things First
Start with your homeowners' insurance. Make sure your policy covers flood, wind and other damage that is a real possibility in your region and that its dollar amount is adequate to cover replacement costs. Also, review and, if necessary, update your life and disability insurance.

Next, document all of your assets. Create a list of your bank accounts, titles, deeds, mortgages, home equity loans, investments and tax records. Then, inventory physical assets not only in writing (including brand names and model and serial numbers), but also by photographing them.

Ready Documents
It's smart to store copies of important financial and personal documents somewhere other than your home. Secure, offsite locations include a safe deposit box at your bank or your attorney's office.

You probably also have digital documents and data you want to protect. Consider "cloud computing" — storing files with a secure web-based storage provider so you can access them anywhere — or back up files on portable flash or hard drives you keep somewhere other than your home.

Cash on Hand
When a disaster strikes you may not receive insurance money right away. And while government relief funds may be made available (depending on the severity of the incident ) those funds typically are distributed weeks or months after the event. Having a cash reserve readily available is a key component of any recovery plan.

A good rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months' worth of living expenses in a savings or money market account. You can draw from this cash reserve to pay for a hotel room and other day-to-day expenses in the interim.

Also consider keeping a cash reserve in your home in the event you are unable to access your bank accounts immediately. For an added level of protection, keep this cash in a durable, fireproof safe.

Communications and Supplies
Of course, if a disaster occurs, your physical security is paramount. Establish a family emergency plan that includes methods of getting in touch and a safe place to meet. Also devise evacuation routes should you need to leave your home, neighborhood or city quickly.

On the other hand, should a disaster require you to stay in your home for an extended period, you will need emergency supplies.

Finally, to stay informed of the latest developments, consider buying a battery-powered radio in case phone and data lines and wireless networks are down.

Do Not Procrastinate
You never know when disaster is going to strike. As many businesses have learned, it does not pay to put off contingency planning. And in many cases, families have a lot more to lose.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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