South Carolina’s Floods Underscore Importance of Preparation

Personal Finance
Disasters Happen, So Make Sure You’re Prepared

By Laura Scharr-Bykowsky

Learn more about Laura on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

The recent devastating flooding in my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, was a stark reminder of how quickly disaster can strike and how important it is to be prepared for emergencies.

Many of those affected by the floods had only minutes to escape from their homes as the water rose and the National Guard helped carry out evacuation orders. When they are able to return, many homeowners will face enormous damage and, for some, complete destruction of their homes.

People view catastrophes as unlikely to happen to them — but every catastrophe happens to someone. How can we adequately prepare our families and ourselves? What can we do to minimize the stress and loss from such grave situations should they occur?

Review your insurance coverage

The flooding is a crucial reminder to review your property and casualty insurance policies. Remember that the purpose of insurance is to protect against rare events that have the potential to create huge losses.

Standard homeowners’ policies do not cover damage from flooding; you need special flood insurance for that. If you are in a flood zone, you should protect yourself even if you have paid off your mortgage and are no longer required by your lender to carry it. A colleague of mine who recently paid off his house canceled his flood policy just a few weeks ago. Now he is facing the almost total loss of his home.

Similarly, many homeowners affected by Hurricane Sandy three years ago did not have adequate flood coverage and had to pay large out-of-pocket expenses to repair the damage. Others weren’t able to rebuild at all because they were uninsured. They may only be able to sell their lots to recoup some of their losses.

If you are not in a flood zone, you may want to check with your insurer to see if your policy covers damage from water leakage and seepage, as well as mold and wet or dry rot. If you are concerned about earthquakes and your house is in a seismic zone, you may also want to add earthquake coverage to your policy.

Make an emergency plan

Even with careful insurance and financial planning in place, it is still important to have an emergency plan for your family.

Designate a meeting spot outside your home and a phone chain for reaching everyone. Delegate responsibilities in the family to make the best use of the limited time you may have to react. For example, you can put someone in charge of the pet, someone else in charge of the water and food, and yourself in charge of medicine and supplies.

Have emergency supplies on hand that you can easily grab as you evacuate. The following items should be included:

  • Water. Keep extra water in your home and rotate it out as it ages. You’ll want one gallon per person per day, so make sure you have enough to hold you over in the initial rush of an emergency.
  • Food. Store nonperishables that can be easily prepared with limited water. Here are some guidelines.
  • Cellphone. And don’t forget a charger.
  • Copies of insurance policies. Also keep on hand contact information for your insurance company.
  • Medicine and first aid kit. Store this in an easily accessible place and keep it stocked. You can also use it for travel.
  • Emergency toolkit. Keep flashlights, batteries, blankets and a multipurpose tool in one place.
  • Personal care and toiletries. Assemble separate sealable plastic bags that include a week’s worth of toiletries, medications and personal items so they can be tossed into a suitcase quickly.
  • Cash. Have some emergency cash in the house, preferably stored in a safe.
  • Pet supplies and food. Once again, keep a week’s supply in a resealable plastic bag.

South Carolina will get some assistance from FEMA and other government agencies, but that aid will take time and won’t fully cover the losses. The IRS has announced that some victims of the storms and flooding in counties designated as federal disaster areas will be given tax-filing extensions. Here are some helpful links and resources for families affected by the flooding.

My prayers go out to those affected, especially the families and friends of those who lost their lives.

While most of us assume that a crisis of this magnitude will never hit us, things do happen. Many of my friends, who were affected by Hurricane Sandy and now the “1,000-year flood” in Columbia, were blindsided by the devastation. Make sure you do your best to prepare yourself and your family — before you need to.

This article also appears on Nasdaq.


Image via iStock.