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Last year’s three monster hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — along with this summer’s wildfires through Montana and much of the West, offer devastating reminders of the power of Mother Nature. While disasters can strike at the worst possible time, you can take steps to get ready before a disaster strikes.

During September’s National Preparedness Month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages everyone to prepare for emergencies. Being prepared can reduce your anxiety during a disaster and may help reduce the harm caused by Mother Nature or a man-made catastrophe.

Even the best plans sometimes ignore the financial burden disasters cause. People, no matter their income, may face the challenge of rebuilding their lives. Having access to financial, insurance and medical records, along with other personal data, can make the recovery process less stressful. Collecting and securing these critical records in advance may preserve the documentation needed to start the recovery process without delay. Here are three steps you can take:

  1. Gather financial information along with critical personal, household and medical records.
  2. Consider putting some money in an emergency savings account to use in a crisis. Keep a small amount of cash at home in a safe place. Keep small bills on hand to buy supplies, fuel or food, since ATMs and credit cards may not work during a disaster.
  3. Consider obtaining health and life insurance, along with insurance for your property as a renter or homeowner. Review existing policies for the amount and extent of coverage. Homeowners insurance does not typically cover flooding, so you may need to buy flood insurance.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Store important documents in a safety deposit box, an external drive or cloud-based storage for easier access.
  • Make sure you have identification cards, such as driver’s licenses, photo IDs, birth certificates, military IDs and Social Security cards to conduct business or apply for FEMA disaster assistance. Pet ID tags can prove useful in locating lost pets.
  • Health information and copies of health insurance information can help ensure that existing care continues uninterrupted.
  • Keep immunization records and medication lists.
  • Maintain contact information for banking, insurance agents, health professionals, service providers and houses of worship.
  • Since a disaster can temporarily disrupt mail service, the U.S. Department of the Treasury recommends that federal benefit recipients sign up for direct deposit to a checking or savings account. You can sign up online or call (800) 333-1795.

Preparation for just about any emergency starts with a plan. The next steps involve sharing the plan with everyone affected by it, testing the plan and revising it if necessary. To help you get started, download FEMA’s Emergency Preparedness Financial First Aid Kit at ready.gov.

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Greg Neill, an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 651-6407 or Gregory.nei@riverstonehealth.org.

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