Prepare Ahead of Time
The best time to start dealing with a disaster is before it happens. Clear skies and happy days are when you should be preparing your disaster response. The first thing to do is record all of your possessions. A household inventory is a list, preferably with photographs, of everything in your home. It is also a good idea to photograph the outside of your home (all sides please) and your vehicles. According to the Insurance Information Institute, having a home inventory list will "help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance."
When writing down your home inventory and taking images, remember to be as thorough as possible. If you have receipts, be sure to include a copy in your list. Include references in the photographs - for example, while it is easy to verify the length of a 2007 Ford Explorer SUV, it is not so easy to verify the height of a family heirloom vase. Place a ruler next to items like vases when taking photographs. Also, be sure to include out buildings in your listing. The main house may be the most valuable, but your workshop out back may suffer damage as well.Another option for organizing the data is to use a software package. Shelley Elmblad, our About.com Guide to Financial Software, has a great article on choosing the right software for you.
Store Your Images and List Offsite
Some Options for Offsite Storage
- Your Insurance Agent
- Safety Deposit Box at Bank
- Relative Living in Another Area
- A Trusted Friend such as Your Preacher
Move Quickly After a Disaster
After a disaster it is important to document damage as soon as it is safe to do so. Photographs of damage should be taken before any repairs are made. If a window is broken, photograph the window from inside and out, before boarding up the window. Be sure to take photographs of damage from several angles to ensure a complete image of the damage. If a roof is damaged, don't forget to photograph the inside of the damage if possible. Use items such as rulers to indicate scale where appropriate (such as high water marks).
Be sure to call your insurance agent as soon as possible and verify what is required to file a claim. FEMA recommends that you also "keep good records of repair and cleaning costs".