Hurricane Ian is posing a dangerous threat from Tampa to South Florida. A century ago, the “1921 hurricane” made landfall in Tarpon Springs, packing 120-mile-per-hour winds. That was the last time the Tampa Bay area took a direct hit from a major hurricane. Unlike some natural disasters that you may have little time to think or prepare for the worst, at least with a hurricane you may have a few days to plan ahead. Not having access to food, gas, electricity, medical supplies or even mobile phone service for days or weeks on end can wreak havoc on your life and patience.
Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas in August of 2017 was the first Cat-4 hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since hurricane Charley wrecked South Florida in 2004, causing over $125 billion in damage. In October of 2018, Hurricane Michael became the first Cat-5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Andrew in 1992 hitting Alabama and Georgia causing $25 billion in damage.
It may look and feel like a third world country after a major hurricane hits your county with hundreds of police officers out in force upholding evening curfews in pitch blackness with most all gas stations, supermarkets and storefronts boarded up.
The following financial steps should be considered to take both before and experiencing a catastrophic hurricane or another natural disaster.
1. Get cash
Make sure to stock up on cash right before and or right after a hurricane. Banks may be closed or days or weeks on end after a natural disaster while ATM machines may run out of money or be inoperable.
Many local vendors that open their doors to the public may be on a “cash-only” economy while doling out pizza’s and cheesesteaks from their gas ovens, as most credit card payment systems will be inoperable.
2. Protect your identity
Do not to leave mail in your mailbox or trash cans outside your property that may have credit card information or other personal data lying around. Also, beware logging onto unsecured internet connections when away from home where you may be a target of identity theft. The last thing you may need at this time is a credit score disaster.
3. Safeguard your small business
If you own and run a small business, make sure to lock down, protect or remove your computers and even hard copy client data that could put a wrench in your productivity if wiped out by a natural disaster.
Consider where you may be able to set up a temporary office space for days or weeks on end so that you may be able to continue working if needed. Your clients will thank you for reaching out whether you are caring for peoples pets or portfolios.
4. Document your expenses
Save all your receipts if you can’t live in your house and make sure to keep detailed records of all additional expenses. Some homeowners policies may cover you for additional living expenses and provide advance payment options.
Contact your mortgage company and auto loan lender as soon as possible to report your claim and update them with your temporary address.
5. Get your financial life in order
Make a list of all your personal bills and make sure to pay online or by phone when due. Missed payments are not uncommon after a natural disaster strikes so make sure to call your home mortgage company and other lines of credit to see if they will allow you to negotiate a lower payment for a few months or extend your grace period.
Make sure to set up “paperless” billing options where possible and have your mail redirected to where you are temporarily living or to a post office box. Cut back or eliminate less important expenditures you will not be utilizing for the short term such as your cable and internet bills.
6. Safeguard Documents:
Make sure to store important documents in a waterproof, portable container. This could include your will, trusts, insurance policy contracts, passports, social security cards and family records (birth, marriage, death certificates.) Take pictures of your documents as a backup.
7. Document damage
After it is safe to return home, take pictures and videos as soon as possible to document damage to your home and car. While it is important to secure your property, do not make any major changes or arrange a clean-up or repairs until your insurance adjuster can come out and take their own pictures and document your claim.
8. Hire contractors
Once you get your home damage appraised by your insurance adjuster and find out how much your insurance will pay for your repairs, take time to vet out and hire contractors.
Unfortunately, in times of peril and need where there is more work than can be handled, many unscrupulous contractors will come out of the woodwork and take advantage of less suspecting people. Under no circumstances should you pay a contractor up front.
Additional Considerations for Families
Be sure to follow hurricane emergency preparedness guidelines for your family, such as taking in all your lawn furniture and lowering the water level of your pool as well as buying additional food, water, medical supplies, battery chargers and cables for your phones and computers. Program emergency phone numbers into your phone. Pet owners: Pre-identify shelters, a pet-friendly hotel, or an out-of-town friend or relative where you can take your pets in an evacuation.
Additional Considerations for Small Business Owners
For small businesses owners in the face of an approaching hurricane consider to (1) implement an effective and ongoing communications strategy for both employees and clients (2) outsource service and recovery including employees working remotely (3) ensure hardware and data is protected, secured, backed up and available for remote access. All this should be planned out in advance in writing.
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