As I type this, I am watching the winds pick up outside of my window. It’s a gloomy day out here in eastern Pennsylvania and about to get gloomier: Hurricane Sandy is headed our way.
I grew up in coastal North Carolina. It’s hurricane central so I’ve spent plenty of time taping up windows, filling up water jugs, and yes, blasting Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” – it was sort of a tradition. My parents have gotten so used to dealing with hurricanes that my mom can boast of baking a birthday cake over a propane tank (Hurricane Diana, 1984) and my dad has rigged a makeshift shower on the deck (Hurricane Fran, 1996). They’re like pros. In fact, pretty much, every time you’ve seen Jim Cantore on a pier in North Carolina, he’s been close to my parents’ house. He even filmed a commercial at Wrightsville Beach spoofing his storm presence (you can watch it here).
So, I’m no stranger to hurricanes.
But this one, Hurricane Sandy (*insert eye roll over the ferocious sounding storm name here*) has the potential to affect millions of folks because of three factors:
1, It’s huge;
2, It’s slated to slam into a nor’easter, a la 1991’s so-called “Perfect Storm”; and
3, It is headed for several major metropolitan areas.
If Sandy is headed your way, you should take precautions. And not just the “buy batteries, candles, and bottled water – and don’t forget the booze!” variety. I’m talking financial and tax precautions. Here are a few to consider:
- Protect important tax records such as W-2s, tax returns, and other paper documents. Consider scanning those and them backing them up (you can save them to CDs or DVDs or use an online document storage service). If you keep paper copies, store those in a safe and secure place. Remember that when flooding is likely, the basement is a terrible place to store records; twice this year, I’ve had clients report that they have lost all of their documents due to flooding in the basement.
- If you have a business, consider backing up your financial and electronic files and storing them in a separate location, off-site from your actual business.
- Take pictures or videos of valuable items in your home and/or business. This is good not only for insurance purposes but provides a good starting point for documenting casualty/loss deductions on your tax return.
- Put aside an emergency fund for essentials. It’s tough to save, I know, but that “rainy day” fund can prove invaluable in the case of a disaster. My advice is to put it in account with restrictions – such as a money market that limits withdrawals – to make it less tempting to dip in on non-emergency days. You may need cash in the event that you suffer property damage and are waiting on tax or insurance relief.
- Have an emergency plan in place for your home and business and review it annually – you can find some great info to use as a starting point on FEMA’s preparedness site. With respect to your business, your employees need to know under what circumstances they should venture into work during bad weather (my advice: hardly ever unless it’s a bona fide emergency) and how they can access records remotely. Employees who handle payroll and/or personnel matters (such as hiring) need to know how and where to store backup copies of records.
- And of course, make sure that you can track the weather and any local emergency situations as they happen. Keep a weather radio at your home or business. You can also register in many counties and townships (like this one for eastern PA and parts of NJ) for text alerts to your cell phone. And don’t forget social media: you can track alerts for FEMA, NOAA, your local weather station, and the like on Facebook or Twitter. For starters, the hot hashtag is #sandy.
Got it? The key for home and business is to be prepared. Once you’ve gotten yourself settled, do me a couple of favors, will you? Check on your neighbors – especially older ones – to see if they are adequately prepared. Then call your mother and tell her you’re fine (she’ll thank you for it). And let’s be safe out there, okay?