Planning for a natural disaster is never easy. In South Florida we usually get notice of an impending hurricane or tropical storm. Unlike the earthquakes of the West Coast and the tornados in the Midwest, hurricanes are tracked from the time they form. With proper planning, some of the damage can be mitigated. Hurricanes Dorian, Irma, and Maria will remain front and center in the minds of millions of people throughout the Southeast United States and the neighboring Islands in the Caribbean. There will be wholesale changes to the plans, codes, and regulations made by municipalities, businesses, and other government agencies. Will you join their efforts and improve your plans before the next storm decides to visit?
Tragic Outcomes of Planning Failures
The results of planning failures are dire. Indeed, 12 patients at a rehabilitation clinic in Hollywood died because Hurricane Irma knocked the power out. Apparently, there was not an evacuation plan or contingency plans for how to care for the residents if the power went out. Lawsuits have already been filed over the clinic’s apparent negligence. But, the lawsuit will not bring these people back, nor will the lawsuit necessarily improve the level of planning by similarly situated businesses and care centers. Moreover, the devastation wreaked by the storms in The Bahamas, the Florida Keys, and Puerto Rico demonstrates the need for deep thinking about answering “what if?”
How Do You Start Making a Plan?
How then to plan? Where to start? I am thankful for my experience as a Marine Officer who was deployed to the Middle East in the late 90s because we were specifically trained on contingency planning. The Marine Corps looks at planning as a continuous process from planning to execution and then back to planning the next phase, which is based on the results of the execution of the original plan. Keep in mind, plans should always be flexible and adaptable. As one of my commanders phrased it – “Never fall in love with the plan.” This is an important point because no plan will survive first contact with external factors (the “enemy” in Marine speak). For example, after former Governor Rick Scott ordered an evacuation of the Florida Keys, Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike were jammed for days with people driving to escape South Florida. If your plan was to drive out then that plan became complicated because the roads were near impassable. So, what was your alternate plan?
For hurricanes, the threshold question for families and businesses is “stay or evacuate?” If you choose to stay, then there are many things you should do to acquire supplies, water, medicine, food, and associated items. This acquisition is best started months before the need ever arises. Given the most dangerous part of a hurricane is the storm surge, and related flooding, you might also choose to get a canoe. If you decide to evacuate, then you will need to determine your primary evacuation route and any alternates. Methods of evacuation should include using any type of transportation available. When I evacuated my family from the path of Hurricane Irma, we used both cars and commercial airlines to get out of dodge.
Create a Plan
We created our evacuation plan before Hurricane Irma formed. Many families don’t have a plan in place which can lead to added stress and chaos in the time leading to the hurricane’s arrival. The good news is that there is no better time than today to create a plan.
For evacuation planning, it is important to have a plan in place that ensures you and your family can get to safety in case of any natural disaster. For an evacuation plan to work, it is crucial to set conditions that activate your plan, such as when a hurricane reaches a certain category or winds above a certain strength. This will give you and your family a frame of reference to know when to act out the plan. In addition to guidelines, you should assign duties to your family members to help ensure a smoother enactment of your plan. Knowing who has to do what in preparation for your evacuation can keep the calm in times of stress. With these preparations established, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Instead of thinking “practice until you get it righ,t” consider “practice until it becomes routine.” These practice sessions will solidify your Family Emergency Communication Plan. This communication plan needs to go beyond what happens when the power and internet go out.
A good first step to execute your plan is supply acquisition. After recovering from Hurricane Irma, we created a monthly budget of about $50-$100 to contribute towards buying and restocking our emergency supplies and our go-bags. Whether you will be evacuating or not, you should have a go-bag filled with supplies you may need when surviving outside your home. A go-bag is essentially a pre-packed sturdy bag with your personal emergency supplies, clothes, medicine and cash. Now, I am sure you have read various articles outlining all the supplies you might need for an emergency such as non-perishable items, a first aid kit, flashlights, and a supply of gas for evacuating or for your generator. But, the question here is not what should be packed in your go-bag, but what is normally forgotten in a go-bag. You have packed your essentials, such as a clothes, medicine, and cash, but what about your important documents such as your ID’s, insurance documents or even your will? Any vital document should also be packed in a waterproof bag and brought with you on your travels. Some of these vital documents include:
- Driver’s license and Passport
- Birth Certificates and Adoption records
- Social Security and Citizenship documents
- Property Records
- Insurance Policies and numbers
- Estate Planning documents: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney
These documents should be kept in a safe location ready to go at a moment’s notice. If you’re not going to bring these documents with you, where will you store them and in what type of container (think fire and waterproof).
After covering the important documents that should follow you on your evacuation journey, we must highlight the importance of an annual insurance review. What if, like many people, you are running around preparing to evacuate or hunker down and you grab your important documents and find that an insurance policy has expired? During an emergency whether it be a natural disaster or not, the last thing on most people’s minds is their coverage. Is your home fully covered? What about flood insurance? Have you thought about your cars, boats or rental properties? What about your business? After such catastrophic events that we have recently witnessed, reviewing your current insurance policies is a good precaution to take for future events.
Many people, during the last minutes before Irma’s arrival, began to look over their insurance policies and were surprised to find that their mortgagee failed to make a payment to their home insurance and are now uninsured. Or maybe they bought a new car and forgot to add it their current auto policy and are now left without coverage on their new investment. Once the area is declared a disaster or a state of emergency is declared, many insurance companies will not make any policy adjustments. A thorough insurance review will be able to help identify any areas where you and your family may be vulnerable. You may find you need more coverage or maybe you didn’t know you needed coverage. Be sure to meet with your trusted advisor to review the following on an annual basis:
- Life Insurance: Are your beneficiaries and dependents assigned? When was the last time you updated your policy?
- Disability Insurance
- Business Interruption Insurance
- Home/Properties Insurance
- Rental Insurance
- Boats/Auto Insurance
What if something happens to you or your spouse before, during, or after a storm? Who will act on your behalf to provide personal and financial well-being? A Durable Power of Attorney will allow someone you trust to pay your bills, make decisions and deal with your insurance carriers if you are injured or are unable to do so. On the other hand, a Health Care Surrogate allows someone you trust to discuss treatment options with your medical providers or make treatment decisions if you are incapacitated. Without an estate plan in place or Power of Attorney, your family will not be able to immediately step in and help during or after a natural disaster or any other event if you cannot. Instead they will have to go through court and get a court appointed guardian over you and your affairs. Remember that when you don’t have a plan, your state has one for you and it may not necessarily be the easiest or preferable plan, to implement.
“What if” can sometimes be a scary question. Helping people and businesses answer that question and plan for the unexpected is our passion. We would be delighted to discuss your hurricane plan and give you some feedback. We recognize that not everyone will want to speak with us and that’s ok. But, please do start your plan and speak to someone about it. Get with your trusted advisors and talk about the plan, the alternate, and the contingency options. Remember that you are never married to the plan and you should never fall in love with it either.