By Susan Gunn
Editor's Note: This article was written two weeks ago, and revised after the storms and deadly tornadoes the weekend of May 21 and 22.
It's that time of year again. Spring.
Regardless of what part of the world you live in, you only need to watch the Weather Channel to have your heart broken over all the storm ravaged areas. There have been 910 tornadoes so far this season. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones, homes, and businesses from the recent tornados and flooding. I cannot fathom the loss.
Storms come in all sizes and intensity. In Texas, we sometimes receive several days’ notice of possible severe storms. In other words, "pay attention because it could be bad." As I'm editing this newsletter Monday, the skies are black and an intense storm is rolling in.
And sometimes there is no warning, such as in the Atlanta tornado.
There is always calm before the storm. That calm is our internal early warning signal to which we must pay attention, our gut feeling. The afternoon of the tornado that hit downtown Fort Worth, near where I live, I watched the storm clouds build. It was eerily quiet and there was a scientific calm before the storm. But I was paying attention. It definitely had my attention.
Regardless of the intensity of a storm, we need to be prepared. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best! I've heard this phrase 100 times.
We must think through the worst-case scenarios — it's what gives us the things to do, the checklists. I'm not talking about becoming a doom and gloom person. But preparation requires us to no longer stick our heads in the sand. Think ahead. Things do happen when we least expect them.
Here are a few areas to consider
Have an emergency plan. Where do you go? This is the most important question in a crisis. Personal safety must be addressed. Where is the safest part of any building you regularly frequent? If there is a storm coming, figure out how the building is laid out. Find an interior reinforced room with no windows. Are there basements? Shut the doors. Where are the exits? This is similar to knowing where the exit row is when you’re flying. You never expect anything to happen, but just in case ...
Where are all your legal papers? Where is your will? I don't mean to be so direct, but if you died in the storm, you would be unable to tell anyone where all those things are located. I suggest having a bank safe deposit box. Only the worst storm in history could tear up one of those vaults. Put all your legal papers in the box, and do not put the box in your home. Look at the damage from these recent storms. Not much from the homes is recognizable, let alone recoverable.
Do you have adequate insurance for the worst-case scenario? If you’re not sure, ask your agent. That's what agents are there for, and given the number of recent natural disasters, trust me, they have a good idea on replacement costs.
Do you have an inventory of your possessions for both the house and the practice? This is most often used in valuing how much insurance you need and can be helpful in case of damage.
If it has been five years since you’ve evaluated your insurance, the replacement costs have increased. So it's logical the value of your coverage also needs to increase. After the storm is not the time to determine that you did not have enough coverage.
Have computer backups. If you've ever read an article or book or heard me speak, you know that I believe in off-site backups. I use the online backup services Mozy.com and Carbonite.com. I have them set to back up six times a day, whether I’m using the programs or not. It’s called peace of mind.
My computers and house can blow up, but my data will be secure off-site, far away, and accessible to be downloaded.
Make sure that all your data files are being backed up. Actual software programs can be replaced or reinstalled. But the data cannot be replaced unless it is backed up. Both of these online backup options have a “Files” area, where you can verify which files are being backed up. And both of these have a “History” area, where you can ensure your backups are successful. Never assume a file is being backed up — always verify.
If you download your email to the computer, for instance to Outlook or Outlook Express, be sure to include your email folders in the backup as well.
Know your financial situation. How much money do you have on hand? Do you have some cash hidden away somewhere? What is your bank balance? Where are your credit cards? Where is your checkbook? Does your spouse know all these answers?
I lived in southern California during a time of numerous earthquakes. Yes I know, California typically has numerous earthquakes, but during that time even the TV stations talked about earthquake preparedness kits — water, tennis shoes, cash, etc. During power outages, ATMs don't work so well. And it helps to have cash on hand.
Also, it helps to have accessible credit either by line of credit or credit card for an emergency, and an emergency cash fund. Determine an amount that would be sufficient in case of an emergency, for instance, six months salary. Set it aside in an online savings account. If need be, have funds automatically withdrawn from your bank account monthly to the emergency fund until it reaches your determined amount. Then it stays there — for emergencies only.
Unplug. Electrical surges during and after storms are common. If you have warning a storm is coming, unplug all your electrical equipment. If you have a TV you are using in your storm shelter/emergency area, make sure you have the TV plugged into a surge protection strip that provides protection of at least up to 900 joules. The higher the joules, the greater the protection.
After a storm, wait a while before turning on any equipment. Electrical surges and fluctuations occur after the storm for a while as the power stabilizes in the area. Your greatest equipment protection is to unplug!
Create your checklist, both personal and for the practice. Include contact phone numbers (home, work, and cell), power company, phone company, and other utilities. Use the checklist for your practice and your home to help you get started, but complete it with your own details.
Then print the list and place it inside a protective plastic sheet cover. Tape one copy to the inside of a closet door or your emergency shelter. Make sure everyone knows where the lists are located for easy access.
Have a suggestion for the checklist you'd like to share with others? Email me and I'll add to next month's newsletter.
Do you have a storm kit? If storm clouds are building in your area, what things need to be in your storm kit and on your checklist? For example, a storm could cause a power loss. So add flashlights, flashlight batteries, candles, matches, etc. to your storm kit.
Your storm kit may be nothing more than a backpack with a few necessary survival items. Here is a storm kit list to help you get started. Sometimes we don't have a lot of time to prepare, so we need to gather these things in advance and keep them in the designated shelter room. Because when the storm hits, safety should be first.
Storms can be devastating and are out of our control. How we prepare for what comes our way is within our control. For this article, I used actual weather storms as an example. But life gives us all kinds of storms, doesn't it?
If you are in an area hit by a storm and I can help, please call me. After Hurricane Katrina, Intuit replaced QuickBooks software for free. Many of those options are available. Just let me know and we will make it happen.
By the way, the Salvation Army, along with many other organizations, is still providing meals to those in storm and flood areas, and the organizations are hard at work helping victims and survivors of Sunday's wrath. Consider giving a financial donation and volunteering for these organizations as they help rebuild so many lives.
We never really expect storms to hit our area. Most of the time we think it will head somewhere else, until it happens to us. My prayers for all.
Susan Gunn's insight teaches thousands of practices to harness QuickBooks more efficiently as a powerful management tool, beyond tax accounting. Send her an e–mail to [email protected] or go to www.SusanGunnSolutions.com.
By Susan Gunn