How can I better prepare my family for a catastrophe?

By Laura Sherman, CAPI, CPRM | Founding Partner

2017 was a record year for natural disasters: Hurricanes and floods ravaged the southern United States, record-breaking acreage was devoured by wildfires and winter storms impacted much of the north. In previous years, the images of earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan were haunting and tragic—reminders of how powerful Mother Nature can be. Indeed, while we in America enjoy relative stability, it is critical to ensure that you and your family are prepared for an emergency.

Oftentimes, when counseling clients on developing family emergency plans, I hear them claim that they have taken the necessary precautions and preparedness steps. As details emerge, however, what I frequent find is that families have only a vague idea of how they would respond in a “perfect world” emergency. They proclaim things such as, “We drive to our farm in Georgia,” or “We have our pilot on standby to take us to…” The simple fact is that one may not have the luxury of advance warning, time to collect necessary supplies or even the company of loved ones. Resources we take for granted every day—cell phones, ATMs and gas stations—may be rendered useless.

Unfortunately, real emergencies often present unforeseen hindrances in a high-pressure environment. Potential obstacles need to be anticipated.

Be informed.
Learn about the disasters most likely to affect you. What actions can you take to protect yourself? Your plan should account for whether you may be homebound for some period of time or evacuated. Make sure at least one member of your family is trained in first aid and CPR and knows how to use a defibrillator.

Create a plan and put it on paper.
Develop a plan for family communication.  Agree on evacuation guidelines and routes so everyone knows where to go and what to do. Draft a document and keep it accessible. You are six times as likely to remember something if it is written down. The same goes for an emergency plan.

Engage others.
Involve the entire family, including children. Designate an out-of-town family member to act as the central contact. Engage your household staff in the plan. Include steps for unexpected emergencies and those where advance warning is possible. Create emergency supply kits for homes, vehicles, boats and aircraft.

Practice the plan.
Discuss the plan in detail on an ongoing basis. An urgent need for rapid decisions complicated by a shortage of time and lack of resources can lead to chaos. The stress of the situation can lead to poor judgment.

Another benefit to planning.
Developing a plan has other advantages. You may discover unidentified hazards or conditions that would complicate an emergency situation. The planning process may bring to light deficiencies, such as lack of resources (equipment, transportation, supplies) to address before an emergency occurs.

Finally, review your personal and commercial insurance with your independent counsel to ensure your program contemplates your catastrophe exposures. Ask your broker to provide assistance in creating a plan and if your insurer provides additional resources. Such resources may include a hurricane protection unit, which helps you prepare effectively for hurricane season and minimizes the impact of wind and water on your home post-storm. Another resource might be a wildfire protection unit, which preempts damage before wildfires have even developed.

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