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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recovering from a Natural Disaster Requires Advance Preparation: Tips from Professional Organizers

Surviving a natural disaster is one thing.  Recovering from it is another.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall with wind speeds of 127 mph.  By the time it was over, 1,833 people had died and damages were estimated at $108 Billion.  An additional $75 billion was paid for in disaster relief.  According to Data Center Research.org,  Katrina was the third
deadliest hurricane in American history and the deadliest since the introduction of the weather satellite.   It was the costliest hurricane in American history.  The pain that accompanied the loss of family members, homes and prized possessions is immeasurable.

Since that hurricane, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has worked hard not only to prepare state and local governments to assist in the necessary response,  but also to educate citizens on how to prepare for an emergency.  September has been designated National Disaster Preparedness Month in an effort to not only publicize the need for individuals to take some responsibility for preparing for a disaster, but also to provide practical tips and steps that can be taken. For more information, click here.

Even The Government Lost Its Records

In an insightful article in the November/December 2005 issue of the Information Management Journal, author Nikki Swartz described the many types of records lost in Katrina and the consequences of the loss.   For example, approximately one third (5,000 to 6,000) of the law offices in the area were destroyed, along with their libraries, computers and client files.   Hundreds of thousands of victims lost personal and financial records, including medical, dental, and tax records, birth certificates, and Social Security cards, as well as credit cards and driver’s licenses.

To make matters even worse, many of the governmental warehouses where the original records were stored were obliterated.   In an ironic twist, perhaps the only people to benefit from the disaster were criminals. The records for over 3,000 criminal cases were also destroyed and many criminals were let go because the cases could not be prosecuted without the proper paperwork.

How do you recover from this?

The Missing Piece

If you are in a disaster, survival is clearly your first and most important task. But after you survive, you need to put your life back together again.  As Katrina demonstrated, you may not be able to rely on governmental agencies to properly protect your vital financial, health and identity records. You might be on your own.

To help you, and as part of our participation in National Disaster Preparedness Month, we've asked 3 of the nation's top professional organizers to provide some tips on how you can protect yourself and also organize and protect your important records so you can more easily and quickly recover from a disaster.

Monica Friel, Chaos to Order
Being organized not only helps with finding important items quickly when there is an emergency, you also know what you have. Digitizing and keeping a backup of records can be a lifesaver when disaster strikes. Also consider creating a digital inventory of valuables and uploading all information to SafelyFiled to ensure protection.
Sara Skillen, SkillSet Organizing
"I often ask my clients (particularly those who have just moved to our area) about their home emergency kits and plans - and unfortunately I’m not surprised to learn that most people don’t even think about it until I bring it up.  Sometimes families are reluctant to store the necessary supplies and talk about what to do for fear of upsetting their children.  But where we live (Nashville, TN), tornado sirens are an all-too-familiar reality.  Floods and ice storms are often fun surprises as well. I encourage clients to create their kits of water, flashlights, canned foods, and other necessary items with their children.  It's important to talk to kids about this process and have them help with gathering items and planning. Two online resources, http://www.ready.gov/kids and http://www.redcross.org/monsterguardhave attractive graphics and games to help kids understand the concept of preparedness in a less frightening way.  If your child has a medical condition, make copies of their records and prescription information to place in your kit - and be sure to back that information up in SafelyFiled/SafelyMD. Empowering the whole family with good information is the key, and children will be less frightened if they know what to expect."
Julie Starr Hook,  Five Starr Organizing and Design
                             Author “From Frazzled to Freedom”
When a person is in a crisis, the last thing people want to do is to shuffle through a bunch of paperwork. Getting a plan in place for documents now will save stress, time and money in the future. It’s easy to neglect things like this, preparing wills and planning for end-of-life decisions. When people organize these areas of their lives, they don’t regret it.
Our thanks to Monica, Sara and Julie for sharing their advice.

3 Steps To Take Now

Though the disasters caused by hurricanes, tornados and floods get media attention, a house fire or burglary can cause you just as much pain as if you were caught up in a Katrina.  So whether you are the only one on your block dealing with a disaster or one of millions impacted, here are three things you can do now to help recover from a future disaster:

  1. Inventory.  Or, to make it simple, take pictures of your stuff and store the pictures away from your home, in a safe deposit box if you print them, or with a secure cloud storage service like SafelyFiled. This will help you with your insurance claim and any tax deductions you may be entitled to.
  2. Secure your important papers.  Your insurance policies, your will, your healthcare power of attorney and your bank statements become more important in a disaster.  Make sure you can access them quickly and that they are safe.  Again, use a safe deposit box or even better, a secure cloud based storage service so they are available even if the bank is closed.
  3. Have your medical records handy.  Especially if you are older, have a chronic illness or have anyone in the family with special needs, having a list of medications, allergies and special instructions could save a life.  Consider a secure cloud-based service like SafelyMD to make sure your medical information is always available.

You can probably think of a few other things you can do now to help prepare for and recover from a disaster that we all hope never comes.  Take the time to do them.  You never know.

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