Wildfire is coming - Are your important items safe?
This is part three of our new series on wildfire preparation for local residents, excerpted from the Cal Fire Ready, Set, Go! program. Explore the information in more detail at www.readyforwildfire.org/Ready-Set-Go-Campaign, or take these tips to heart as we move forward into a warmer, drier future.
The premise is: Be Ready - be fire-adapted and ready; Be Set - have situational awareness; and Go! - act early.
If you've taken the steps outside your home to help protect it from a wildfire, it's time to make sure you and your family have taken measures to protect what's inside, too.
Be Set! Tip #1 - Back up your important documentsOf course your filing cabinet is impeccable, neatly organized and color-coded, so that you can find any important document in a heartbeat. So this is for the rest of us slouches.
First off, what to take?
It's smart to have your important documents ready for an emergency evacuation.
o Personal records: birth, marriage, divorce, adoption and death certificates; child custody papers.
o Personal ID documents: Driver's license, Social Security cards, passports, citizenship papers, current military ID or military discharge (DD Form 214).
o Medical records: prescriptions, copies of health insurance cards, health provider contact information; medical and vaccination records for pets along with current photos and ID chip numbers in case you are separated.
o Insurance policy information: Homeowners, renters, flood, earthquake, auto, life, health, disability, long-term care; have at least the policy number and insurance company contact information for each type of coverage.
o Family photos, keepsakes and other mementos.
FEMA also recommends
o Property records: Real estate deeds of trust and mortgage documents (at least the two-page settlement statement provided by the title company showing the actual cost of the house and purchase expenses); rental agreement or lease; auto/boat/RV registration and titles; video, photos or a list of household inventory (more on that below).
o Estate planning documents: Wills, trusts, funeral instructions, powers-of-attorney, attorney names and phone numbers.
o Financial records: First two pages of your previous year's federal and state tax returns, stock and bond certificates, investment records, brokerage and retirement account information, credit card, checking and savings account numbers, contact information for credit unions, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies and financial advisers.
o Other: Personal address book, a list of usernames and passwords for online accounts, a key to your safe deposit box, a recent photograph, fingerprints and dental records for each member of the household, account and contact information for utilities and other services (you may have to provide a new billing address or cancel certain services), a list of important documents and where originals and copies are located.
FEMA suggests all original important documents be stored offsite - like in a safe deposit box.
Next, how to take them?Of course, you can always simply make paper copies and store them in your Emergency Go Bag, but consider scanning your documents and storing them on a tiny USB flash drive (4GB costs around $10). Password protect the documents for safety. Keep one USB drive in your Emergency Go Bag and one offsite.
An alternative to USB drives is cloud storage, offered by companies like Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Drive. Cloud storage means your data is stored on remote servers that can then be accessed with your password from anywhere you can get an internet connection. Of course, cloud services have their own vulnerabilities, which is why not everyone is entirely comfortable storing their most important papers there. However, for things in mass quantity that contain little personal data, like family photos, cloud storage could be a good solution.
Tip #2 - Inventory of your homeRecovery of lost items is easier if you have an accurate home inventory.
In addition to conducting an annual home insurance “check up,” make an annual home inventory. There are a few different ways:
Make a written checklist
The Insurance Information Institute recommends that your checklist include relevant information like:
o The type of item.
o The original price of each item (including the receipt, if possible).
o The year each item was purchased.
o The make, model and serial number of appliances and electronic equipment.
o When it comes to your clothes, compile the number of items you own by type, such as shoes and pants.
o Remember to update your list whenever you make a big purchase.
Take photos and/or videos
In addition to a written list, consider taking pictures or a video to create a visual record of your belongings. A smartphone makes this a cinch. Take a video of each room in your home, and make sure to include areas like closets and drawers. Be sure to describe your home's contents in your video, noting important or expensive items.
And don't forget the garage! Many important purchases tend to live in the garage, not just in your home.
Use a smartphone app
Yes, there's an app for taking your home's inventory. Just google “home inventory app,” and you'll get lots of options. Some home insurance providers even have their own.
Once you finalize your inventory, store it in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box, with a trusted friend or family member, or on an external hard drive or the cloud.