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December 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Columnists / Ask an Attorney

Tips for surviving a natural disaster

Be prepared

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has made me concerned about what I would do if my home were flooded or destroyed. How can I be better prepared to keep my family safe and minimize the impact of the aftermath of a natural disaster?

Hurricane Sandy and its devastating aftermath have once again reminded us of the need to implement a crisis plan for ourselves and our families. Having a crisis plan gives us peace of mind that we can act calmly under pressure and to expect the unexpected. Here are some quick and easy steps you can take in your quest to be prepared.

Create a plan

Develop a written crisis plan. Samples and guidelines are available on the city’s Office of Emergency Management website located at www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/get_prepared/prepared_plan.shtml.

Share the plan with your family. Better yet, upload the plan to a document share site on the “cloud” like Dropbox or Google docs, and download it to your phone, so you and others can access it even if the computer goes down. Your plan should cover:

• Where your household and family members will reunite after a disaster. Identify two places to meet: one right outside of your home and another outside of your neighborhood, such as a library, community center, or place of worship.

• Identify all possible exit routes from your home and neighborhood.

• Designate an out-of-state friend or relative who your household members can call if separated during a disaster. If New York City phone circuits are busy, long-distance calls may be easier to make. Your out-of-state contact can help you and your family communicate when local land lines and cell towers are down.

• Identify a place where you could get to in the event of a flood.

• Account for everyone’s needs, especially seniors, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers.

• Ensure that household members have a copy of your household disaster plan and a “short form” card with emergency contact information to keep in their wallets and backpacks.

• Pack a “go” bag that has sufficient emergency supplies for all household members and pets. Make sure your bag includes cash for immediate money needs. (Like gas stations, ATMs do not operate in power outages.)

• Decide how you will handle caring for any pets and whether you will take them with you. Have a copy of your veterinarian’s contact information and any pet insurance policies in your “go” bag.

• Your children are never too young to review the plan with you. Instruct them on exit routes in the event of a fire and reinforce the neighborhood meeting place.

Evacuate when you’re told to do so

Too many people stayed where they were during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, despite clear evacuation orders. This was also what was so disastrous with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The issue is not just surviving the storm, but being able to weather the aftermath if rescue teams cannot get to you.

Know your flood zone and those around you. (To see if you are in a flood zone, check www.freeflood.net.) The saying “better safe than sorry” is all too applicable. During Hurricane Sandy, a family reportedly remained in the evacuation zone, because its house was looted during Irene, only to have the mother and son perish in the flood.

You can replace the stuff. You can’t replace a life. Be smart, be safe, be prepared to leave when necessary.

Make a personal financial crisis management plan

Mitigate the mess. Are you insured? Where are your insurance policies (homeowners, life, auto, disability)? Are they up to date? Are all your valuables on your homeowner rider? Are you covered in cases of flood or hurricane, or do you need a separate rider?

Confirm that you do not need any additional insurance to protect you. Take an inventory of all your home, auto, disability, and life insurance policies, put it in writing, upload it to the cloud and keep written copies in your “go” bags. You should also keep a detailed list of your bank accounts, investments, trusts, titles and deeds, mortgages and home equity loans, credit and debit cards, and tax records in a safe and secure place, together with all contact information and online passwords.

Make a legal plan

Everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, Healthcare Proxy, and Power of Attorney. For those with children, an appointment of a Standby Guardian and Medical Authorization is also helpful to have. Review the documents every few years or anytime you or a close family member experiences a significant life change such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a new family member. Every review should ensure appropriate beneficiary designations and titling of assets are up to date. Keep copies in your “go” bags and online.

Put it online

Many companies offer “online vaults” to give you secure access to your legal and financial documents from any location with an internet connection. Many financial service companies and financial planners offer this as a courtesy to their customers and clients. Putting everything in a secure online database is a great way to back up your original and photocopy records.

Mind your business

If you own a business, you must have a business disaster plan. It should include the following:

• A business continuity plan. Make sure your business can continue to run as smoothly as possible in the event that you or your employees cannot get to there, or when the power goes out at the business or your employees’ homes.

Organize your contact database, keep a regularly updated client and customer list and open items; have a written procedure manual detailing the normal workflow of your business and all emergency procedures; keep your billing and time records up to date if applicable; and execute estate planning documents for your business such as limited powers of attorney or appointing a successor managing member in your corporate operating agreement. You may want to consider moving your files or at least an automated backup in the cloud, so that you can access files remotely even if power goes out in your office.

• Insurance information. Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to many businesses. Without the right insurance, you might not be able to recoup those losses. The owner of powerHouse Books in DUMBO was reported to have as much as $100,000 in inventory losses. Without insurance to cover such loss, your business might not be able to survive.

If you are (hopefully) properly insured, should any of your business assets be affected by a natural disaster, you need to be able to contact your insurer immediately to ensure maximum coverage under your policy. You should also take photographs of any and all damaged assets, and save receipts for any work done in repairing or replacing business assets. Now is the time to make sure you have the right insurance in the event your business is flooded or inaccessible. Look into business interruption insurance, which can help cover losses incurred as a result of natural or unanticipated disasters.

• Loan information. If you need a business loan following a disaster, you can contact the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance at (800) 659–2955 or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for loans that may be available to your business.

• Additional support. Additional support for businesses can be found at the Department of Small Business Services (www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/html/home/home.shtml) and the Economic Development Corporation (www.nycedc.com/backtobusiness).

• Contact information maintenance. Be sure to retain all contact information in a safe and accessible location so that you can act quickly and efficiently towards business recovery. This should include not only all disaster-related recovery services, but also alternative and emergency contact information for your employees. In our age of smartphones, there is no excuse for not having your contacts synched to your password-protected device.

It is worth the investment of time to prepare a reliable strategy that allows you to be prepared when faced with economic and natural disasters. Be well, stay safe, and do not get lulled into complacency that we won’t see a storm like Sandy again.

More information about how you can be prepared and make a plan is available on the Office of Emergency Management website located at www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/get_prepared/prepared_plan.shtml.

Alison Arden Besunder is the founding attorney of the Law Offices of Alison Arden Besunder P.C., where she assists new and not-so-new parents with their estate planning needs. Her firm assists clients in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. You can find Besunder on Twitter @estatetrustplan and on her website at www.besunderlaw.com.

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