November 9 is the test of the national emergency broadcast system. In preparation of that event, there have been calls to create an emergency plan for your family. I highly encourage you to pause for a few minutes over the next week or two and think about, discuss, and create a plan for your family. The likelihood of needing that plan is small; however, I have known several people in the last year who have encountered natural disasters, and someone has to be the 1%. You never know when that moment will happen, if it does, and being prepared NOW is critical to ensuring that you and your family stay as safe as possible should a natural or man-made disaster occur.
1. I know I've discussed it before, but I don't think I can say it often enough: HAVE A PLAN. Have a plan, have a plan, have a plan. Discuss where you would meet if you got separated. It's not enough, honestly, to have a spot by a tree across the road. While our fire was very, very unique in intensity, you don't know what the situation is going to be that you are presented with. There is no where in our neighborhood that was safe to meet because the evacuation order quickly spread several blocks. And there is only so long you can sit in a car wondering if your husband is alive before you need to get yourself out of danger. It would have been a bit easier in those moments had we discussed where to meet, away from our neighborhood. I can see this being especially important if you have older kids who might be at a sports practice or school or with friends. There needs to be a plan in the event that your cell phones DO NOT WORK (the horror!). I think it's prudent to discuss a few options. A) The tree across the street in ___ yard. B) The gas station down the road. C) ____'s house, a few miles away.
2. Protect your important documents. Again, we were in a unique situation with the fire, but our neighbors' fire safes were destroyed in the fire. And unfortunately you don't get warning about what's going to happen to you, so having your documents out of the house is advised. If it was a tornado or a flash flood, you also might not have time to get the things you need in time (and I know of too many people who spent a few too many minutes in their homes trying to locate their important documents before evacuating. Those moments are stressful enough without worrying about papers.) I have most documents in a safety deposit box. But I've also started giving them to my mom as well in the event we needed them. Our wills, insurance information, birth certificates, etc. Put them in a manila envelope with your name on them and ask a family member to file away.
3. Inventory your house. I am such a hypocrite on this because I still haven't done what I said I was going to, but I have thought about it at least! Even if you don't create an entire list of everything you own, take pictures and store online. Take a picture of each room, open drawers, document your clothes/shoes/jewelry. And please please take pictures of your garage and attic. It was far easier to recall the items I passed every day. It was not so easy (read: impossible) to figure out what was in the boxes in the garage. Insurance cannot compensate you for things you don't remember you had.
4. Review your insurance policy. If you live near a river or canal, consider flood insurance. Look at possible exclusions. Know your policy limits and ask your agent about reappraising your house if it's been a while and you believe your house has gone up in value (probably not as important today as in 2007). If you have jewelry exclusions or art, consider itemizing those items on your policy. Read. Ask questions. You don't want to find out in the days after a major trauma that what you thought was covered isn't.
I know there are a lot of readers who've lived through a fire. I'd love to hear additional suggestions as well as hearing what you, as a family, have done to prepare for the What if.