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Are you ready for the unexpected?

Marketplace Staff Aug 25, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast a year ago this coming week. It was one of the worst and most expensive natural disasters this country’s ever seen. There’ll be opportunities enough to look back on the catastrophe over the next couple of days. But we thought we’d take a look at the present and the future. We’ve got experts to explain what records you need in case of emergency. We’ll hear how listeners are preparing their finances for disaster. But first, we sent Rachel Dornhelm to get her own financial house in order.

RACHEL DORNHELM: I thought I was on top of disaster preparedness. I live in San Francisco. But as the Katrina anniversary approached I figured I better check in on my plans.

I discovered my food stash is full of expired PowerBars that are past date. And my financial records? Scattered in filing cabinets all around the house.

But it’s not just me.

Peter and Janine Wargo live in upstate New York. They’re also trying to put together an emergency financial plan. Peter says one of their concerns is that they bank by Internet.

PETE WARGO: So as it stands now we withdraw money from the ATMs on the network. But we have no local branch so if there was a loss of power or if the ATMs were to become nonfunctional would we be out of cash.

And cash is the real question for them. How much and where to store it?

PETE: Janine likes to keep cash on hand.

JANINE: I’m a mattress stuffer

PETE: Right she’s a mattress stuffer and I ran across a stash one day and I said, gee this really belongs in the bank. And Janine said, well, no I like to keep a little around and so, there it sat, kind of a point of discussion.

And they still haven’t figured it out. So I asked Los Angeles resident Allison Hurd what she’s done. She’s gotten pretty far on her plan and says when it comes to cash, her family set aside about $1,000.

ALLISON HURD: It’s something that I think will get us through 3 days to a week of living on cash. You know, staying in a hotel, gas to get somewhere, food, supplies, basically the things that catch you off guard.

The stash is with important documents in a fireproof, waterproof safe she and her husband keep in a closet. But there are things she still hasn’t gotten to.

HURD: On my to-do list is to call insurance companies and get an actual quote and ask the important questions like what happens if my pipes burst to what happens if we’re in an earthquake, what happens if we’re in a fire.

Before starting my own plan, I called one more person. My sister-in-law, Merry Campbell. She evacuated from New Orleans before Katrina last year but left some important papers behind.

MERRY CAMPBELL: If you had your birth certificate in the house, that would be something to take. Also proof of address to get assistance from FEMA or other organizations, they require proof that you lived there.

That could be a utility bill or insurance policy.

Her final tip? It would have been great to have an evacuation plan pre-set with friends to bypass the initial cost of hotels.

Armed with all those suggestions, I started with the easiest: Copying and sending key documents to out of state relatives. Total cost: 74 cents.

Next stop an office supply store. I asked the salesman what kind of home safe I should get.

SALES GUY: The first thing that you kind of want to think about is how many items you want to protect.

DORNHELM: I was thinking about just a few key documents, something I could even take with me in the case of an emergency.

SALES GUY: So you run and grab it? OK, probably something like this guy. It is small enough where it has a handle that you can pick it up, run away with it. But if you want to you can also bolt it down.

The 15-pound box was around $30. I also looked at USB memory sticks for $60 to hold digital documents and photos.

LA mom Allison Hurd says preparing for a disaster is like preparing for birth. You can plan all you want, but who knows what will happen. Still she says it’s time well-spent.

HURD: If you’ve thought about it 15 minutes then you’re 15 minutes on the game, and you actually have that time of preparedness.

By that logic, listening to this story has put you four minutes ahead. And why stop there?

Kai . . .

RYSSDAL: Rachel thanks, and I gather after having reported that story you still have some questions don’t you?

DORNHELM: Sure do and there were a lot of specifics that came up. People were curious about travelers checks. Are those as good as cash to keep around? And how much might you want to have on an emergency. A lot of questions about documents. Do you want health records? Which documents do you need the originals? Can most documents just be copies that you take with you in an emergency? The last thing was Jeanine and Peter specifically wanted to know a checklist. What could they go through? What types of things might they need to know to just get ready?

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