Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Tips for Setting up a “Grab-It-Quick” Bag
in case of a fire, flood, hurricane, or tornado warning.


man carrying a travel bag

Photo by Christopher Ivanov on Unsplash

HAVE YOU EVER taken the time to think about what you would do in case of a fire, flood, hurricane, or tornado warning? A fire in the house is everyone’s worst nightmare, and this problem is twice as severe if your home is also your place of employment.

Stopping to grab “stuff” on your way out of the house could actually cost you your life, so it behooves all home-business owners to have a fireproof file or drawer to hold important papers that can’t be kept off-premise. And the more business information you can get on computer and backed up for safe storage offsite, the better.

I now have great peace of mind where my computer’s content is concerned because I began to use Carbonite’s online backup service in 2013. Unfortunately, I have dozens of file folders full of documents on or around my desk and in filing cabinets that I’ll never have time to digitize.

The things I care most about now are my years of research for books I still want to write that reside in file folders in my four-drawer filing cabinets. Files for my current book-in-progress and other work are scattered in folders on and around my desk—so many irreplaceable things that I have a checklist to remember all that I need to grab, bag, and carry to the downstairs level to protect against a tornado threat. And tornadoes have always been my primary concern here in Illinois.

In 2021, a massive tornado swept down Rt. 75 in Naperville, IL just six blocks south of where I live, destroying a couple hundred homes in my city and the next one over, and I never heard the city’s tornado siren or knew there was even any danger until it was all over. I said a heartfelt prayer of thanks to God and decided I needed a better way to stay up on tornado alerts. I don’t live on a cell phone like most people because I’m home most of the time, and it has always been easier to check the weather on my computer in the morning and at 10 o’clock each evening. In discussing this with a friend, she quickly gifted me with an NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio that has a tornado warning alert loud enough to wake the dead. It is powered with electricity, and three AA batteries take over if/when the power fails. I love it!

My Big Wake-Up Call

IT WAS THE TERRIBLE WILDFIRES in California in 2015 that once again brought this message home to me as I saw how little time some folks had to consider what personal possessions were most important to them. Victims of the four 2004 history-making hurricanes that devastated many parts of Florida and caused serious damage in nine other states that year had more time to prepare, but I’ll bet many folks lost possessions important to them simply because they didn’t have a disaster plan in place before these storms hit their homes and businesses. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be told to evacuate one’s home on short notice because of a runaway fire, flood concern, or hurricane warning, but a grab-it-quick-bag would be of immense financial value to such people if it simply contained their most important documents and some cash.

Now, whenever I hear about the latest natural disaster, be it fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or earthquake, I always wonder how many of those affected were doing business out of their home and whether they had made plans in advance to protect their business records and most treasured possessions. I am always overwhelmed with sadness whenever I hear someone say they have lost everything they owned. I think of all the precious irreplaceable personal possessions, photos, treasured collections, antiques, books, music, musical instruments, artwork, handcrafts, jewelry, and other items that are always lost in a disaster simply because their owners never thought about protecting them beforehand, or even documenting their existence with photographs or videotapes to maximize the amount of money they might get in an insurance settlement.

I also thought about fire a lot the summer our area was hit by one severe lightning storm after another. Several homes—one in my immediate area—were stuck by lightning and burned as a result. Flooding is not a problem in our area, but we had more tornado warnings than usual that year, and every time the siren sounded, I scurried to pack my “Grab-It-Quick” bags so I could get my most valuable papers and irreplaceable personal possessions downstairs, just in case.

Making a List and Checking It Again and Again

MAKING A LIST of everything that’s important to save is a good idea, but even with a list, you might not have time to grab it all if a tornado warning has just sounded or you suddenly find your house on fire. Having everything important to the preservation of your homebased business in one place or central location is vital, as is keeping a bag or two nearby that’s big enough to hold it all. For example, I have a bookcase with a built-in desk and, on the shelf above this work area, I keep important personal and business files not yet computerized, plus special recordkeeping books I need access to all the time.

My main desk is always loaded with file folders and work in progress, so I keep one of Harry’s old briefcases in the closet that will hold the contents of my desks and work areas. Many times that summer when I first began to get serious about preparing for a possible disaster, I simply scooped up everything in my office, dropped it in the briefcase, and hauled it down to the lower level along with such personal items as glasses, wallet, keys, essential meds, etc.

Liza, who loves to go downstairs.

Of course, everyone needs a plan to protect their family. In my case it’s just a cat now. I used to have to take time to find my cat and then force her into the carry bag to get her downstairs. But I have a different cat now, and one of the first things I taught Liza was, “Wanna go downstairs?” (The door to the lower level is generally closed, and going down is a treat for her). The last two times I had to take things down to the lower level for tornado concerns, all I had to do was call Liza to go downstairs and she beat me to the bottom of the stairs, tail swishing with excitement as she waited for the door to be opened.

Just knowing what you need to protect can take a lot of thinking. After each of these trips downstairs, I thought of one more thing I had forgotten to put in my bags, and it took all summer for me to actually think of everything that was especially important to me if it were destroyed. Now my checklist is taped to the cover of a black financial record book that I always grab right away. Since I could never carry everything I wanted to protect downstairs in a  matter of minutes, I finally opted to move several scrapbooks, personal journals, photo albums, and reference files to the most secure area downstairs, figuring a tornado that took the top half of the house might hop over that area of the basement.  

Protecting Passwords and Digital Devices

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT things to grab if you have to move to a protected area in your home might be your list of passwords and other essential financial information needed to do business or manage your personal financial life. Call me old and set in my ways, but I will never put my passwords in any “safe vault” on the internet. There have been far too many security breaches in sites that were guaranteed to be secure for me to ever trust the passwords to my whole financial life to any online storage vault.

In fact, my identity has previously been stolen from such secure sites as the Equifax credit bureau, CapitalOne, and Countrywide, a former mortgage holder. And in August 2021, I was notified that my Dupage Medical Group had a data breach that may have exposed the personal medical information of some 600,000 patients, including social security numbers. My SS number is already all over the deep Web because of previous security breaches so, no thank you, I won’t be putting my passwords in any online “secure vault” because I don’t believe anything online is now secure. 

Security for me is seeing my passwords on paper that I can grab and see all of them at once every day. I have a 12-page Word booklet that contains all log-in details and company contact info for both my personal and financial life on the web. I regularly update this booklet and my passwords list as well, save it to a flash drive kept in a fireproof drawer, and print a new copy as needed for my reference.

As for protecting digital devices, I’ve long been keeping my chargers for various electronic devices and the devices themselves in two office desk drawers. But this year I took everything I don’t use all the time downstairs and will need only a small bag to hold the four devices and chargers I use all the time. You might say that I’ve been “planning ahead” for years and have it down to a science now. 

In Summary

AS A WRITER and family historian in her senior years,  the things I am most concerned about losing now are my writer’s resource files, the notebook of my current book-in-progress, plus my personal journals and other notebooks not yet digitized. Bit by bit, I’m trying to scan important documents and some of my handwritten materials to the computer, but it all takes so much time. (I’m currently looking for a good OCR scanner that will let me quickly scan material and save it as an editable Word file,) The best I can do in the meantime is keep the files I’m working on handy so I can grab them in a few minutes if necessary. 

I hope these random thoughts have prompted you to rethink your own strategies for how you’re protecting your most valuable and irreplaceable personal and business possessions, and how you would recover emotionally from a disaster that took most of everything you cared about.

I’ve often heard people say, in a voice both thankful and regretful, “Well, we’re alive, and that’s what counts,” and I have to agree with that. But with just a little planning prior to a disaster that might threaten everything you own, you might end up with a lot more than just your life, and this would make life after a disaster much more bearable. Insurance would do little to salve the emotional loss of your most precious personal possessions or invaluable business records, but photos would help. I have photos of everything in my house digitized and backed up online. I figure if I did lose everything I owned, at least I’d have pictures of them, which would be better than nothing. And this kind of photo record would be absolutely essential to prove to your insurance company what you actually owned and lost.

Your comments are invited, and if you have learned anything about this topic from experience, your tips for others would be appreciated.

Recommended Resources:

Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival (Cross-Current; 3rd Edition; September 2020; print and Kindle editions).

IT’S A DISASTER! . . . and what are YOU gonna do about it? A unique customizable disaster preparedness and basic first aid manual for businesses, agencies, volunteers, nonprofits, schools, and others to help whole communities prepare for the unexpected.

SBA Disaster Loan Assistance

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