Protect these key documents when prepping for natural disasters

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Michell Eloy

Combined Joint Task Force 50 (CJTF-50) search, rescue and recovery personnel conduct search operations of areas damaged by Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, U.S. August 15, 2023. Credit: U.S. Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Foster/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo.

Many residents of California — prone to earthquakes, fires, and flooding — know the basics of disaster preparation. That includes having a stock of bottled water and canned food, plus a “go” bag full of clothes, prescription meds, and other essentials.

However, the Washington Post’s personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary, adds that it’s critical to protect our financial lives and grab tough-to-replace items, such as birth certificates, social security cards, and insurance documents. She advises putting them in a fireproof and waterproof safebox that can be easily carried in a hurry — plus making digital copies as backups. 

“What do I need to grab if I've got a couple of minutes … 15 minutes … a day's notice that something's happening in California? I have all this stuff in my safe, and I can put it in my car and evacuate.” 

It’s also crucial to hold onto proof of major purchases, such as insurance, furniture, and technology. “If you can keep the receipts and keep them in a safe and you can grab that safe, great.”

Insurance policies in California have also changed recently due to the increasing risks of wildfire and high construction costs. That includes Allstate, which no longer offers insurance policies to new homeowners, and State Farm, which has stopped selling new property and casualty coverage. 

Amid these changes, Singletary advises residents to talk to their insurance agents and reassess what their policies cover. 

“Most people will say, ‘Well, just give me the minimum coverage,’ because we all hope bad things are not going to happen. But with climate change, we know that bad things are happening more frequently. And that means that you can't go for the bare bones insurance, unless you are a really good saver.” 

Renters should explore their options too. She explains that many people assume they are protected because the overall apartment building is insured, but the items in your specific rental unit are not covered. “So you need separate renter's insurance and in many areas, it's very affordable to get that coverage.” 

Plus, while flood insurance is not mandatory for all home and business owners, those with government backed-mortgages are mandated to have it. People who live outside of flood zones would benefit from it too. 

“We have these extraordinary climate events that’s impacting areas that we wouldn’t normally think flood. So you want to get information about that and get that coverage, and you need to have it in place at least 30 days before an incident.” 

The bottom line: “Before you need it — is when you need to start looking for it.”