Rande Spiegelman, vice president of financial planning at the Schwab Center for Investment Research, says there are several things you can do to protect yourself ahead of time. In addition to the basics -- creating a disaster communication plan, stocking up on food and supplies, securing property -- Spiegelman suggests going over the following checklist:
Make sure you're covered.
Go over your homeowners or renters insurance to determine whether you are protected if a natural disaster strikes. You may need additional flood or earthquake insurance, so talk to your agent for details. And ask about discounts -- you might be able to secure a lower premium if you take preventive measures to protect your property, like anchoring your foundation or clearing brush and trees away from the house.
Make a list of your household possessions.
Your video camera isn't just for home movies -- use it to inventory your goods. If you don't have one, take pictures and record a description and value for everything you own. Store your inventory in a safe place that's not your home. Spiegelman suggests updating each year.
Create a document evacuation box.
While original copies of wills, insurance policies and the like are best kept in a safe-deposit box, keep copies, along with other important documents, in a fireproof, waterproof evacuation box you can grab and go. You can also consider scanning your documents and storing them online.
Have cash on hand.
Don't rely on ATMs for money if there's an emergency. Keep enough cash to cover a few days worth of expenses.
By Marshall Loeb