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Take steps before disaster

The tornado disaster in Oklahoma dominated the news this week with tales of heartache and loss. The terrible destruction should be a reminder for all of us living in "tornado alley" that we are all vulnerable to the risk of violent weather.

When the tornado sirens sound, as they did in Hays on Saturday night, are you confident you are prepared to face a storm? Would you be prepared to not only survive the damage, but also ease the process of recovery?

Many of us have taken steps to protect our home and families from emergencies. We've purchased first aid kits and fire extinguishers, installed smoke alarms and dead-bolt locks. Some of us might have stocked some extra food and water in the pantry or prepared a basic emergency supply kit. But what about your financial emergency preparedness: Would you have the records and documents needed to recover if your home was damaged or destroyed?

To be financially prepared, there are steps that can -- and should -- be taken now to protect your family and your possessions. A new program and publication from Kansas State Research and Extension encourages Kansans to make a home inventory, review insurance coverage and prepare a "financial disaster kit" to protect important information. You can find the helpful publication "Get Financially Prepared: Take Steps Ahead of Disaster" at www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/mf3055.pdf.

* Prepare a home inventory. A home inventory is an itemized list of the contents of your home, including basement, attic and garage. It also should include off-site items such as children's property in school lockers or dorm rooms and items in out-buildings or storage units. An inventory of your belongings helps set an approximate value of items owned to determine insurance coverage. In case of a loss, a listing of all items lost or destroyed might be required to settle the insurance claim.

An easy way to begin a home inventory is to take photos or video of every wall in each room of your home and storage areas. Open cabinets, drawers and closets, and take close-ups of unique or expensive items. Add a list that itemizes large or expensive items such as appliances, electronics and valuables with information of approximate age, manufacturer, model and serial number. The Extension publication "Taking Inventory" gives more information at www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/l776.pdf.

* Review your insurance coverage on your home, vehicles and possessions. Consider other types of insurance, such as life insurance and disability insurance for wage earners. If at all possible, set aside emergency funds to cover the policy deductibles.

* Create a grab-and-go box of information. This financial disaster kit should include identity information that could be needed to access or restore financial records and accounts. Include bank, credit card and other financial account numbers and contact information. Add immunization records and a listing of prescriptions for medicines, glasses and hearing aids. Important phone numbers for family members, doctors, insurance agents and financial advisers also will be useful. Add a copy of your household inventory and an extra safe deposit box key.

In Kansas, the question should not be if a storm will affect my family, but when. Disasters are devastating and unpredictable, but we know spring and summer storms put us at increased risk. Instead of just hoping to avoid a disaster, put some time and attention into preparing for the possibility. In case of emergency, you'll be happy you planned ahead.

To schedule the "Financially Prepared for Disaster" program for your group, call (785) 628-9430 or stop by 601 Main.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu