Hurricane Bill a reminder to have a family disaster plan

After a sleepy start, the 2009 hurricane season exploded this week with Ana, Bill and Claudette.

As Hurricane Bill churns across the Atlantic, this is a good time to make sure your family has an emergency plan -- and don't think you can stop reading if you don't live in a hurricane prone area.

Mother Nature wreaks havoc from coast to coast with devastating and deadly fires, floods, mudslides and more. No matter where you live, you must make sure you and your loved ones are prepared to deal with a natural disaster.

It won't take much of your time and will be worth every minute of it. Here are four simple steps to take now:

1. Have a family plan -- and make sure the whole family knows what it is! Your plan should include a place where all family members know to meet in case an emergency prevents you from getting home. It should also include an evacuation route out of your area, and a plan for where you would go (a hotel, a friend or relative, etc.).

Choose a contact person outside of the area whom all family members should call to check in with in case you can't reach each other. Give a copy of your emergency plan to that contact person and send one to your child's school as well.

Don't forget Fido or Fluffy in your planning. Very few shelters take pets, so be sure you have an alternate plan for your pets.

2. Know what your homeowner's insurance does/doesn't cover--and be sure you can live with that.

We've heard countless stories from people who suffered severe flood, hurricane or wind damage and realized after it was too late that they weren't covered by their homeowner's insurance.

3. Learn how to prepare your home should you have to evacuate.

A few preventative steps can help protect your home from damage. Learn how to shut off the gas, electricity and water to prevent damage from leaks or fire. If you aren't sure how, call your utility company.

4. Prepare copies of the important financial documents you will need in case of an emergency. Every family should have a "grab and go" bag ready that contains copies of paperwork you might need. Be sure to have copies of your insurance policy, social security card, passport, bank and credit card accounts and emergency numbers. Here's a full list of exactly what documents you'll need in an emergency.

Remember, disaster can strike no matter where you live. Take a few moments to plan now to protect your loved ones and your belongings in case of an emergency.

Learn how to protect yourself from disasters of the financial kind--such as money scams, identity theft and more at

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