MANHATTAN, Kan. – Recent weather has caused widespread destruction and billions of dollars in property damage.
And, while those who are affected can be anxious to put the experience behind them, the re-building process can be slowed by a lack of essential information.
“In times of loss, law enforcement officials typically require identification before allowing homeowners to inspect their property,” said Elizabeth Kiss, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist.
“Insurance companies and emergency management teams also will require identification, proof of ownership, insurance coverage, etc., to begin the claims process,” she said.
If such documents are stored in damaged property such as a home, garage or shed, the documents may be gone; if in a safe deposit box with a financial service provider that experienced storm damage, a vault may not be immediately accessible.
A disaster may limit access to the Internet, said Kiss, who advised organizing important documents and making copies for a grab-and-go box to simplify the recovery process.
According to Kiss, an ideal grab-and-go box should be fireproof and waterproof, big enough to store important documents, but portable enough for members in the family (older children, if parents are not at home) to pick it up and carry it to a storm shelter or a neighbor’s basement.
To begin, Kiss advised gathering (and copying) documents that will be most difficult to replace first.
Examples might include birth certificate; Social Security, Medicare and health insurance cards; marriage certificate; homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies, as well as policies for vehicles and other assets (boat or camper); and copies of credit cards and passports.
Copies of financial records (account numbers and a recent statement) and cash also should be included.
The amount of cash will depend on personal spending patterns and the number of people in the household, said Kiss, who also advised including prescription medications for three days, an extra pair of eyeglasses, and digital (or duplicate) copies of family photos.
“Let family members know that you are compiling the information in the box,” said Kiss, who urged families to practice an evacuation as they would a school fire drill.
“Everyone in the family should know where the grab-and-go box and emergency supplies are stored,” said Kiss, who also encouraged families to plan where they will gather if separated during a storm and how they will get in touch with each other once the crisis has subsided.
Pending local conditions, she suggested it may be wise to agree to call a relative who lives in another area (not affected by the storm).
Kiss also advised insurance customers to review their policy and coverage prior to annual renewal, and again, prior to seasonal weather-related events.
“Discuss questions and concerns with your insurance provider to adjust coverage before storm season,” she said. A home should be insured for no less than 80 percent of replacement value on the structure and contents.
Insurance companies will require documentation before compensating policy holders for a loss, said Kiss, who added, “That’s why a household inventory is important.”
While the thought of inventorying everything in your home can be overwhelming, Kiss suggested taking photos of each wall in each room, with additional photos of special items and cupboard and closet doors open (to show contents).
Taking a video in (or around) each room can be a quick and easy start, she said.
For a more detailed list, which is recommended, Kiss suggested starting with one room – or one wall – at a time, with a goal of inventorying one room a month to complete a household inventory in a year or less.
Once an inventory is completed, it becomes a fluid document, meaning that if you replace a piece of furniture, appliance, home computer, winter coat, etc., a quick notation will be all that’s needed to update the inventory, she said.
Add a copy of the inventory to the Grab-and-Go Box, and consider sending a copy to a relative who lives elsewhere, she said.
“Get Financially Prepared: Take Steps Ahead of Disaster” (K-State Research and Extension Publication MF 3055) is available and at local K-State Research and Extension offices. More information also is available at Ready.gov.