September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. It also is the month for the annual Prepare Kansas social media campaign from K-State Research and Extension.

In Kansas, we need to be prepared for disasters that often take us by surprise. Tornadoes, floods and wildfires can happen without warning.

But what if you had days of warning? What if the storm you were facing was bigger than your entire state? And what if it was headed directly toward you?

The need to be prepared for disaster became personal this month. My sister lives on the east coast of Florida, in the early predicted path of Hurricane Irma. A series of text messages described her efforts to prepare for the coming disaster.

• Wednesday, Sept. 6, 10:18 a.m.: “This will be my line of hurricane communication. Hurricane Irma is looking pretty scary. I’m off work gathering important paperwork and saving things online. We have plenty of food and water and full tanks of gas. Hopefully this thing will miss us, but it is twice as wide as the entire state so we will surely get something. I’ll keep you posted.”

• Wednesday, 3:55 p.m.: “The latest on the storm doesn’t look good for us. Our county has declared a state of emergency. I have all my important papers copied and in a file to bring with us if we have to leave — tax returns, mortgage info, car and home insurance, important numbers, account information, I.D. etc. I also made an emergency contact sheet with our doctors’ names and phone numbers, prescriptions, family contact info, etc. (If I can’t use my phone I won’t have access to all those numbers.) I spent the day copying it all, so the next hurricane I won’t have to do that again! I took pictures of all the rooms in the house before Hurricane Matthew last year! Lol!”

• Friday, Sept. 8, 8:18 a.m.: “We are as prepared as we can be. We are hunkering down and praying for the best. The roads are clogged going north and there is no gas, so it is just as well. More later.”

The rain started in my sister’s area on Saturday, with howling wind and as many as nine tornado warnings by Sunday. The power went off on Sunday night (and was ultimately off for five days), but on Monday morning came the message we were waiting to hear — “Made it! All is good. Still no power but no major damage.”

If a killer storm was headed your way, how would you prepare? My sister protected her property as much as possible, then gathered the documents she would need to recover if it was all destroyed. Prepare Kansas calls this a financial grab-and-go kit.

Why is this important? If you have your most important documents and information at hand in a grab-and-go kit, it can help to get you back on firm financial footing more quickly.

According to the Prepare Kansas campaign, your kit should be a waterproof, fireproof container that can be taken with you at a moment’s notice. Be sure to keep it in a secure place in your home.

What should be included in the kit? At a minimum you’ll want to have some cash and the financial information and personal identification needed to conduct your day-to-day financial life.

Other information to include in a grab-and-go kit:

• Personal information such as copies of driver’s licenses, passport and Social Security cards and key documents that might be needed to restore your financial records.

• Account information such as financial account numbers; copies of ATM, debit and credit cards; insurance cards, policies or other proof of insurance coverage; and contact information for all financial and insurance providers.

• Household inventory.

• Safe deposit key.

• Important medical information, including prescriptions for medications and glasses, and children’s immunization records.

• Contact information for family members, doctors and other important service providers.

So, take a lesson from my sister in Florida. Don’t wait until a hurricane (or a Kansas tornado) is bearing down on you. Get prepared before disaster. Follow the Prepare Kansas pointers and challenges this month on the K-State Research and Extension Facebook page, read more at the Prepare Kansas blog ( and download the disaster preparedness fact sheet from the K-State Research and Extension bookstore at

Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.