Your Home and Family Risk and Disaster Drill (Part II)

September 14, 2011

The majority of disaster preparedness experts … are worried about issues like natural disasters, technology failures (like power grids), and pandemic illnesses.

In the first part of the “family risk drill,” we covered a variety of issues related to your legal, financial, and insurance preparedness for a variety of risks including disasters like floods, fires, and other losses. Since that time a massive two-state, two-country blackout was in the headlines, shutting down power for several million people in Arizona, California, and parts of northern Mexico. Thankfully, the grid was restored in about 24 hours, but even that short amount of time did millions of dollars in damage and resulted in food losses, business closures, security risks and airports being shut down, not to mention that it required the shutdown of two reactors in a major nuclear power plant.

The majority of disaster preparedness experts aren’t concerned with terrorists, zombies, or enemy invasions. They are worried about issues like natural disasters, technology failures (like power grids), and pandemic illnesses. Imagine how many parts of the country would be devastated by prolonged power failures in the extremes of an East-Coast or Midwestern winter or the brutal summer in the southwest and the possibility of a disaster becomes much more realistic in our technology driven age. 

Do You Have a Plan Everyone Knows?

Have a simple plan on two key issues: where you meet if the home is lost, damaged, or inaccessible and who you call or go to if you need to leave a message or have lost your phone or transport. In some cases, just having a place to check-in is vital. If your spouse or kids could not get home because of a natural disaster, do you know where they would go instead? Do you know who they’d go to instead or check in with if their cell phone was dead?

Are Your Digital Assets Safe?

Much of your vital information is stored on a computer in the home that could be easily damaged or stolen. Make sure it’s backed, up, invest in back-up power supplies, and think about the security of those items like any other easily portable valuable. Remember that having a back-up drive that’s on the floor, under a desk, or a place likely to be stolen with the computer if your home is broken into is not much help at all, especially if you need the backed-up photos and scanned receipts to document the contents of the home that are damaged or missing. Consider using services like Lo-Jack and various cloud storage options for your computers and take advantage of the “Find My Device” features on Apple products like iPhone and iPads before a problem occurs when they are lost or stolen. Finally, password protect all computers, drives, phones, etc.

Can You Last Even a Few Days Without Technology?

Remember that we are extremely vulnerable due to our dependence on electricity and computers. Even most affluent people have very little cash on hand, a fact that renders them penniless during something as simple as a blackout or other weather emergency that will either make banks and credit/debit cards inoperable or inaccessible if they shut down due to a “run” on the bank for cash in a panic. During a prolonged period of extreme weather or a power failure food will spoil quickly and the few stores that do open won’t be able to take your credit or debit cards, only cash.

In most places the same is true for gas stations, natural gas, and even tap water, most of which is controlled by electric pumps and regulators somewhere. Make sure you can last at least a short period of time with what’s in your home. This means reasonable amount of food, water, sources of warmth, and perhaps most importantly a short reserve of prescription medicine for those who are dependent on it for life-sustaining issues as simple as insulin. Also, if power grids are down, the dispensing of controlled medications requiring prescriptions will come to a complete halt. Ever been to a Walgreens when the “system is down?” Then you know what I mean. Got a big co-pay? Good luck paying for it without your credit cards working even if the store is partially open.

Personal Security

This is perhaps the most controversial issue. This does not just mean guns, however it can often mean simple things like locks, light sources, walkie-talkies and even a good old fashioned big dog with a big bark. Think about your home and the vulnerabilities that arise in the kind of extreme situations addressed above.

As always, the list could be pages long. This discussion has a simple goal; to get you to start thinking about your exposures and address them in a calm and reasonable way, as preventative medicine.

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