5 Ways To Be Prepared for Costly Natural Disasters

It pays to be prepared. I first learned about the Be Prepared motto way back when I was a Girl Guide playing with basic survival techniques and understanding the dangers in nature. Back in those days I earned pretty badges for knowing not to wipe my butt with poison ivy, for demonstrating how to safely put out a camp fire, and for showing the younger girls how to float in turbulent water.

As a top-ranked Girl Guide with all the badges I knew that being prepared for a myriad of emergency events was money (or badges) in the bank. But later in life I never thought that being prepared could save me both from nature and from financial ruin — until now.

bc forest fires california wildfires helicopter
View of the BC Terrace Mountain Fire from Okanagan Lake

Over the last month my home has been under a blanket of smoke due to blazing forest fires around British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The skies have been dark and the air has been impossible to breathe. Because I live in the middle of a forest I’ve had to be prepared on a moment’s notice for an evacuation order and face losing my home and everything in it.

helicopter water bomber forest fires
A water bomber helicopter works to contain the BC forest fires.

I’m lucky though. Many people live in areas where natural disasters can strike without the slightest warning. It only takes minutes or seconds for a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, tsunami, flood, earthquake, or other deadly disaster to blow your house down, taking your finances with it.

After taking the time to reflect, I’d like to share what I did to be financially prepared for a natural disaster. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather some emergency preparedness (and common sense) steps you can take today to help ease your financial losses if a natural disaster happens to you.

1. Do a Home Inventory

You count your money, right? Well it’s time to count all those pairs of shoes you own. Creating a home inventory is free and can help you strengthen an insurance claim in case of fire, robbery, or a natural disaster. It just makes good financial sense to have a record of your stuff so it can be replaced after the dust has settled. Download these free Home Inventory Worksheets to get you started.

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Download:
15 Free Home Inventory Worksheets

I’ve kept a home inventory ever since being robbed decades ago. So when the fires in BC sparked, I was relieved to know that all of my belongings were cataloged on a CD and stored in a safe deposit box far away from my home. If you need some help putting together a home inventory, check out How to Make a Home Inventory to get started. It’s kinda fun, promise.

2. Update Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policy

Now that you’ve created a home inventory, it’s easy to call up your insurer and update your policy to reflect the value of your belongings. Besides, reviewing your policy every year is an excellent way to make changes to your coverage if you buy or sell some big ticket items. Be sure to get insurance for those natural disaster dangers in your area too. If you live in a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire zone then get some level of coverage to protect yourself from a catastrophic loss.

If you’re currently without homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, consider getting yourself insured. Spending a few hundred bucks a year is well worth the expense if it means protecting yourself against losing everything. Here are 5 ways to cut your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance costs:

  • Raise your deductible. A deductible is the amount of money you pay before the insurance company pays up. If you increase your deductible from a standard $250 to $500 or even $1,000, you could save up to 15% on your insurance premium.
  • Get group coverage. If you work at a large company, have an alumni association through college or university, or are a member of a business association, then there are discounts to be had through group insurance plans. Just call up your group to discover your preferred rate and get a quote.
  • Get a senior’s discount. Going gray has it’s privileges, and a discounted insurance premium is one of them. If you’re at least 55 years young or retired, you may qualify for an easy 10% discount.
  • Get home and auto insurance from the same company. Depending on your country, state, or province of residence, many insurance companies offer a discount if you get both home and auto insurance with them. I’ve saved hundreds of bucks by bundling my policies while living in Ontario — but living in BC with public insurance I’m outta luck.
  • Ask for a discount. Asking for a better deal is free. Just open your mouth and say, “Is this is the best rate you can offer me?” Be polite and you just may be surprised to save a few bucks on coverage.

3. Get a Safe Deposit Box

Opening a safe deposit box at your local bank is an inexpensive way to protect valuable documents (like stock or bond certificates), jewelry, your home inventory, and other non-replaceable items threatened by fire, water, or theft in your home. Smaller safe deposit boxes can cost around $50 per year while larger ones can set you back hundreds. Regardless of this fee, keeping certain items off-site and out of your home can prove to be priceless if you’re struck by a natural disaster. I’ve kept an updated home inventory CD in a safe deposit box for the last few years just in case.

If you live in the USA or Canada, you may be able to claim your safe deposit box fee as a tax deduction. Check out Overlooked Tax Credits for US Residents and Tips on Safe Deposit Boxes for Canadians to get all the details.

4. Check Emergency Preparedness Checklists

The type of natural disaster you should be prepared for depends on where you live. Those who live along the Cascadia Subduction Zone are more prone to earthquakes and tsunamis while those living in forested areas should be aware of wildfires or forest fires. If you live in a region prone to flash floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes, then you have concerns and emergency preparedness procedures unlike those who live in the Arctic.

To help you prepare for a natural disaster, it’s best to find an emergency supply or preparedness checklist specific to your region. These lists are also valuable to help your family plan an evacuation if required. Saving your finances is one thing, but saving lives and being in the know is golden. I’ve listed a few general emergency preparedness checklists and online sources to find one close to your home below.

United States

Canada

United Kingdom

World

Not every area will face a Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, or BC forest fires so get to know your region and find an emergency preparedness checklist that’s right for you. Just download and print. :)

5. Pack a Ready Bag

A Ready Bag is a fancy name for a knapsack or bag that contains your essential emergency items. It can be kept in a designated public shelter or taken along during an emergency evacuation. It sounds dire, but it’s a good idea to pack a Ready Bag during the high season for natural disasters in your area.

During the months of July and August I prepared my own Ready Bag and filled it with non-perishable food, warm clothing, toiletries, a blanket, and a few valuables. It’s doesn’t cost a cent to prepare a Ready Bag and it could help protect you from the weather elements if you’re stuck outside or waiting to find shelter. I also packed my pocket-sized SAS Survival Guide since it’s small and contains A LOT of handy and practical tips.

Ready Bag Essentials

  • Phone Numbers: emergency and personal contacts
  • Cash
  • Flashlight
  • Spare batteries
  • Copies of important documents (passport, driver’s license)
  • Essential medications or prescriptions
  • First-aid kit
  • Child care items
  • Bottled water
  • Energy bars or non-perishable foods
  • Blanket
  • Sleeping bag
  • A set of spare clothing
  • Favorite survival gear
  • Small valuables (engagement ring)
  • SAS Survival Guide Handbook (pocket Gem format)

Most of the items listed are compact and easy to carry. While it is tempting to pack cherished items like Grandma’s antique china, it’s probably a good idea to leave bulky things behind. Stuff that slows you down won’t keep you safe in times of danger. So stick to the essentials in your Ready Bag and keep yourself safe.

Bonus: Keep Your Car Fueled

Depending on where you live, it’s a good idea to keep your car fueled and ready to flee. I must admit that my dear hubby Carl was a little obsessive about checking the car over and keeping the tank full. Since we live on the outskirts of nowhere, it was imperative for us to get to a safe zone out of harm’s way if or when the forest fire blew our way. Knowing that our tires were pumped, the engine was checked, and our tank was full kept us a little bit safer.

It’s been a few weeks since the BC forest fires were contained in our area keeping us safe in our home. It’s a scary situation to face losing everything you own due to a natural disaster — but planning ahead and being prepared is sometimes the most sane thing to do to keep yourself and your finances as safe as possible. Scout’s honor! ;)

Are you prepared if a disaster strikes your area? Been through an evacuation? Got something to add?

Your two cents:

  1. Bucksome September 6th, 2009

    The recent wildfires got me to thinking about this topic, but you covered it so well:)

    We live in Southern California and were evacuated due to wildfires two years ago and couldn’t return home for three days. It was very scary because over 350 homes were burned in our community. Thankfully, my home and workplace were spared.

    Planning ahead is essential because we were awakened early in the morning with orders to evacuate and had to just grab our things and go.

  2. Mark in Chilliwack September 6th, 2009

    First, let me say – sincerely – keep up the great work, Kerry! I look forward to and always enjoy reading your very informative e-mails.
    I too am a BC resident and while this isn’t intended to be an advertisement, I have saved a substantial amount of $$$ by insuring my car and my home through Canadian Direct. Their premiums are the lowest available (I’ve shopped around with BCAA and other private insurers and have verified this personally) and their claims service is excellent.
    Just because you live in BC doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.
    I understand they don’t insure everyone (unlike ICBC that must ensure all comers) but if you qualify for their coverage, it’s way better than ICBC’s for less money.

  3. Rina September 6th, 2009

    FABULOUS post. Stumbled and Tweeted – you give so much info here and it’s all incredibly relevant and useful, thank you!

  4. Aman@BullsBattleBears September 6th, 2009

    Cash is one thing I fumbled on having when I was stuck in a “disaster”.

    When the GTA had its blackout a few years back, I was out of luck everywhere I turned to for either gas, or food (basic necessities) since I did not have more than a couple of dollars in my pockets.

    From that time, I know always have $100 stored in my home that is solely to be used for emergency situations. I am a still a plastic purchaser but will not stray too far from a cash stash anymore!

  5. Amy Lynn September 6th, 2009

    Very sorry to hear about the conditions around you, but they sure did inspire a wonderful post!

  6. Canadian Capitalist September 7th, 2009

    Thanks for the mention! I’d second the comment about keeping some cash around the house — it’s great for an emergency or can be tapped if you run out of cash in your wallet and don’t have the time to drive to a bank machine.

  7. Rachel September 7th, 2009

    We live in a motor home full-time and travel throughout the U.S. for our business. Last spring we were at an RV park in Moab, Utah and someone had thoughtlessly tossed a lit cigarette into the surrounding woods. This caused a huge fire and the RV park was evacuated. I was so grateful that I use a laptop and was able to quickly shut it down and put it into its case and take it with me. This laptop has our complete business records on it; nowadays I also have a small external drive that has all my laptop back-ups on it, just in case.

    Kerry, love your great ideas!

    Rachel

  8. SkimbleCat September 11th, 2009

    Something to add to your emergency kit: if you have pets make sure you create a kit for them too! Food, water, medicine, spare leash/collar, copies of latest vaccination records, etc.

    Also, if you are evacuated most human temporary shelters won’t allow you to bring your pets. So have someone you can leave your pet with, or look for a group like Noah’s Wish (http://noahswish.org). I was volunteering with Noah’s Wish in Lillooet for a week this summer – we come in and set up an animal shelter where people can bring their pets during disasters. We look after the animals until the people can return to their homes.

  9. angel September 20th, 2009

    I would say not “essential medications or prescriptions” but essential medications AND prescriptions. I’m a physician and served in an evacuee clinic in the Houston area after Katrina and learned 1st hand the value of having a COPY of your prescription. You cannot necessarily count on being able to get back home OR back to your doctor for a long time if ever. If you have serious medical problems or are pregnant a copy of your medical record would also be a very good idea. Your doctor’s copy may also be destroyed by the disaster and or unavailable for extended periods of time. If you need to seek care somewhere during your evacuation a copy of essential parts of your record can be invaluable to you and the physician who doesn’t know you.

  10. Chiot's Run October 21st, 2009

    Instead of a safety deposit box a friend and I each bought fire safes and we exchanged personal information. We keep copies of our home inventory and other docuemtns in there along with a master list of important information: bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc along with phone numbers to each of these places. That way if something happens to either of us we someone has the information. This would also come in handy if either of us is on vacation and our wallet is stolen. One call to my friend and I have all the infmormation I need to close all of my accounts.

    We also keep several large gas cans filled with gas. We keep a date on them and swap them out every so often to keep the gas fresh. A couple years ago the electric went off here for a week or so and none of the gas stations could offer gas, the closest station was 30 miles away. Since we had several cans of gas we could keep the generator running without making any trips out for gas.

  11. Katie September 11th, 2011

    Lots of good tech options now for saving your valuable info and photos if you don’t want to use a safe deposit box. An external drive will protect you against hard drive failure but not against disasters.

    For free options, you can save copies and scans of important stuff (photos, home inventory, important documents etc.) to Dropbox, and/or email it to yourself in Gmail (I do this when travelling…scan of my passport in my email).

    You can also use a remote backup service like Mozy or Backblaze (I’ve used both & prefer the latter)…they back up everything on your computer to a remote server for around $5 per month so if your whole city goes up in flames your digital stuff is still safe.

    You can also have all your pre-digital photos and movies digitized (I’m doing this now with ScanDigital) and back them up too so you don’t lose your precious old family photos in a disaster.

  12. Allyson December 16th, 2011

    There is a big difference between evacuating and being stuck in your home with no power for a week at a time. Its important to know which one you are more likely to face and prepare accordingly.

    A couple of missed “esentials” for the go-bag: toilet paper (people often don’t think about it but many shelters do not provide this), hand sanatizer, nail clipers, and a toothbrush.

  13. ShipCarpenter305 March 29th, 2012

    To build on SkimbleCat’s pet preparations, I keep two pet carriers in my apartment fully assembled (one for each individual kitty) and ready to go for their safety. Like fire alarms and parachutes, it only matters when you need them and minutes count.

  14. Christine Weadick September 8th, 2012

    Excellent article and food for thought. We keep some emergency things in the truck especially in the winter as we live in SW Ontario, in the snow belt. Around here a blizzard is the most likely problem here. As my hubby is not well right now we have a separate bag for him that goes to any and all medical appointments, it has a book to read, some clean clothes and his meds. This after we were caught having him admitted to hospital a couple of times when we went for doctor’s appointments. We have a friend that lives in Nebraska and she came very close to being evacuated as did you. They had their van packed and ready to go. Speaking of the Cascadia Subduction Zone… have you read the book ‘Cascadia’s Fault’? Can’t think of the author of hand but it was a very good book….

  15. Malcolm September 24th, 2012

    I am sure most of us here have been test with natural disaster around us. Although it seems the current condition of the world is getting critical by the minute, hurricane here, flash flood there, and landslides and sinkholes somewhere…..it’s just such a relief to read wonderful post like this one. Cheers! Let’s pray that the heavens keep us safe in these trying times.

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