Last month when Japan was hit with a terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami the world watched in horror and helplessness as news teams and cell phone cameras captured the tragic loss of lives, homes, families and belongings.  Since that day nations have come together to help the victims recover what they can and begin rebuilding, but there are some things that are simply lost forever.

Since then, I have been thinking about how prepared we might be should disaster strike close to home; not only myself and my family, but my friends and clients as well. My first thoughts, of course, are of security and survival—emergency plan of action, water, food, and other survival necessities—but what happens after the first 24 hours?  Once you know your family is secure, how do you protect your financial assets and valuables?

I have here a list of things you can do to prepare for the days and weeks after a natural disaster.  Most of these preparations are relatively easy to make, but can have a huge impact on how you and your family weather the long-term effects of a disaster.

1. Always have a secret supply of cash on hand. If ATMs are down, or if you don’t have access to a vehicle or clear roads, you may not be able to use your credit or debit cards.

2. A cell phone and a cell phone charger (a car charger may work better than one designed for an electrical outlet in some circumstances), as cell phones may resume service before landlines.

3. A list of family members, friends, and necessary business colleagues along with their contact information (this includes your insurance company contact information.)

4. A list of contact information and account numbers for any regular bills or payment obligations.  If you are unable to make regularly scheduled payments it will benefit you to call and inform creditors ahead of time, if possible.

In addition to the above, you may also want to consider taking the following actions which are larger in scope and require a little more advanced planning—but can end up saving your family hundreds of dollars:

5. Take out an umbrella insurance policy covering your home, vehicles, and other valuables.

6. Californians may want to consider getting earthquake insurance on their homes.

7. Have a “scheduled list” (with appraisals, if applicable) of all jewelry, collections, or other valuables.  It never hurts to have photos or videos attached to this list.

8. Invest in a fire-safe in which to put important legal documents, certificates, etc.  Have copies of these documents and certificates (either electronic or paper) stored in another location. (For a list of services or organizations that will take scanned copies and store them on back up facilities for a minimal fee please contact our office.)

I know it can be a lot to think about, and especially difficult to motivate oneself when such a disaster seems distant and unlikely, but when the steps are so simple and easy, and can save your family so much hardship, there’s no excuse not for not being prepared. Far from being a hindrance, having a basic emergency plan in place gives you the freedom to go on with your everyday life, knowing that you’ve done what you can to be ready when disaster does strike.

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