The community of Miñi Miñi flooded after the Carraizo Dam released water, due to the overflow brought by Hurricane María. The category 4 hurricane tore through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Yuisa Rios/Federal Emergency Management Agency)

Weathering a Crisis Requires Financial Preparedness

Disasters are occurring more frequently and with greater impact. Pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, and other disaster events all have the capacity to disrupt entire communities, leaving economic, social and physical destruction in their wake.

Ensuring financial preparedness for a crisis can make tough times easier to manage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers financial resilience a building block of individual and community preparedness. The Agency encourages people to improve their economic resilience and make a plan to prepare for disasters. The more financially prepared individuals, families and communities are, the more resilient the nation will become.

Review Insurance Policies

Americans need to remain vigilant about COVID-19. However, with hurricane season underway, now is also the time to prepare for potential storms. Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, predict an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts until November 30, 2020. Please visit FEMA’s Ready. gov site at ready.gov for information that can help you prepare for hurricanes and other disasters.

Most people are surprised to learn that homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover floods. Flood insurance is important for everyone, so please speak to your regular insurance agent or an agent near you. You can also visit floodsmart.gov to learn more about the importance of flood insurance and how to acquire it. According to FEMA, just one inch of floodwater in a home can result in up to $25,000 in repair costs.

Both homeowners and renters should review their insurance coverage every year to fully understand what is covered and adjust if needed. FEMA offers a brochure at Floodsmart.gov called “Why Do I Need Flood Insurance” that explains how to make sure you have the right insurance coverage.

Gather and Secure Documents

Now is the time to review your finances and ensure you have all the documents you need and that they are easily accessible. Visit ready.gov/financial-preparedness, which includes free tools for financial preparedness, including the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK).

In partnership with the nonprofit organization Operation HOPE, FEMA created the toolkit to help individuals and families collect and organize critical financial, medical, and household contact information. The toolkit also helps those impacted by disaster navigate the recovery process and apply for individual assistance.

FEMA is continually improving the EFFAK based on feedback from communities. The toolkit can help jumpstart preparation by offering guidance on organizing and securing important documents. You can also fill out the document electronically.

The toolkit includes:

• A document checklist to ensure important documents are collected, such as Social Security cards, marriage licenses, passports—and even pet microchip information;

• Forms that identify household information and important contact information for doctors, lawyers, landlords, and more;

 • A checklist of medical information, from prescriptions to health insurance ID cards; and

• A checklist of financial and legal information such as rental or mortgage documents, credit card information, bank accounts, insurance documents, photos of the property, forms to list financial institutions, and account numbers.

In addition to documenting critical information, it is crucial to store papers somewhere safe that cannot be damaged in case of a flood or fire. A fireproof safe and backing up your documents online in a protected, secure location can help you store these documents, and easily access them when disaster strikes. Be sure not to store your passwords with these documents.

The toolkit is available for free at ready.gov/financial-preparedness in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Check it out and download a copy to complete today!

Learn More About Disaster Assistance

While FEMA cannot make you whole again, its preparation tips, resources, and tools can help fill in the gaps to help you be more financially resilient. If you have been affected by an incident that is a Presidential major disaster-declared declaration, you may apply for federal assistance through FEMA.

FEMA’s online disaster application can be completed at DisasterAssistance.gov. When you apply, you must self-certify that you or a member of your household is a United States citizen. You will also need the following information to complete an application: address of the damaged property, current contact information, Social Security Number, the name of your insurance company (if applicable), and current income. If you have insurance, you will need to file a claim with your insurance company.

Disasters can strike with minimal or no warning. One certainty is that being ready to meet the financial challenges they present can make the recovery process much more manageable. Knowing that you have enough insurance or resources set aside for a disaster, and that you have taken steps to prepare for an expensive repair or bill can be priceless.

For additional information about any of the tools and resources mentioned above, please contact FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov.

This article was first published at APWA

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Chad Gorman is Acting Assistant Administrator of the National Preparedness Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency. He also serves at Deputy Team Lead for National IMAT Gold and Director of the National Exercise Division. From 2009 to 2017, Gorman served as Director of the CBRN Office at FEMA. He served as co-lead of the National Preparedness Science and Technology Task Force, Nuclear/Radiological Hazard Team, and co-lead of the Department of Homeland Security's Joint Requirements Council - CBRN Portfolio Team.

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