Do you have a “bug-out bag” ready?

emergency preparedness checklist

If you’ve followed news about the California wildfires, you know that many people are forced to flee their homes unexpectedly at a moment’s notice. A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to disaster preparedness. One of the best ways to get ready for the worst is by putting together a “bug-out bag” – a collection of important documents and valuables, all in one place, ready to be scooped up and transported at a moment’s notice.

What’s In The Bag?

A quick online search will show a plethora of survival kits available for purchase, and while those are useful (and you already have a small emergency kit in your vehicle for the winter, right?), they’re not exactly what we’re looking for here. For most of us, wilderness survival isn’t our goal when putting together a bug-out bag – when the wildfire comes or the hurricane hits or the earthquake shakes, we want to have handy the documents and means to begin the long and complicated process of rebuilding our lives.

So think of your bug-out bag as a starting point. It’s going to have in it the stuff you need to get started again. And a lot of that stuff is paper records.

The Virtual Bag

One of the best ways to ensure that your valuable records aren’t lost is redundancy. And one of the best ways of storing those redundant records is electronically. Keep copies on your phone, on your tablet, on your PC, and in the cloud. Take care to encrypt and password-protect those files. Then you’ll have them at your fingertips when you need them the most. Do the same with irreplaceable family photographs and videos. Inventory your belongings by photo or video. If it can be digitized, digitize it! And then make sure it’s securely stored in more than one place.

What Records Are We Talking About?

The vital ones! Birth certificates, marriage certificates, deeds and titles, passports and visas, papers of incorporation, leases, contracts, you name it! Some of the most important documents to store in your bug-out bag (virtual or not) are insurance records. Make sure those documents have with them your policy numbers, your insurance agent’s contact information, and instructions on how to file a claim.

And While You’re There…

Since you’re already going through all that insurance paperwork, now’s a great time to review your policies and make sure you have adequate coverage. Have you built additions to the house not covered by the original policy? What’s your policy’s loss-of-use coverage? Has your property value increased? What’s the cost to replace your property? Maybe a quick chat with your insurance agent is in order! It can’t hurt to check in with her annually, anyway. Go see her. She’ll probably give you one of those little magnetic tear-off fridge calendars; those are cool. Whether you rent or own, staying up-to-date with your personal and business insurance is the best way to limit the damage a catastrophe can cause.

Peace of Mind

Now that your documents are digitized and distributed, your vital papers safely stashed, and your emergency supplies consolidated, relax! Enjoy the feeling of being prepared. Add items and remove them from your bug-out bag as you see fit and as your circumstances demand. It’s much easier to maintain a secure document cache than it is to create one. Once you’ve put a process in place, you’ll find it easy to maintain. And now that you’ve got all your unique documents duplicated and secured, go to FEMA for a comprehensive checklist of other items to keep close in case of emergency.

Related posts:

Get free emergency apps for National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month – here’s one simple thing you can do: Download some free apps for your phone so that if you find yourself in an emergency, you are ready. Pass them along to your family members too, so you can all be informed. Here are a few suggestions.

The free FEMA app

FEMA-appThe free FEMA app is a must. One great new feature is that you can get weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations across the nation. That allows you to follow severe weather alerts for friends and family located anywhere in the country – even if your phone is not located in the area.  The app is available in English but it will default to Spanish if those who have set that as the default language. It can be downloaded from the App Store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices.

The new weather alert feature adds to the app’s existing features: a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, maps of open shelters and Disaster Recovery Centers, and tips on how to survive natural and man-made disasters.

Some other key features of the app include:

  • Safety Tips: Tips on how to stay safe before, during, and after over 20 types of hazards, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes
  • Disaster Reporter: Users can upload and share photos of damage and recovery efforts
  • Maps of Disaster Resources: Users can locate and receive driving directions to open shelters and disaster recovery centers
  • Apply for Assistance: The app provides easy access to apply for federal disaster assistance


Red Cross has an excellent suite of free emergency apps:



First Aid – Get instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies.




Pet First Aid – Be prepared to help your furry friends with veterinary advice for everyday emergencies.





Blood – Schedule blood donation appointments, track total donations and earn rewards as you help us meet the constant need for blood.


They also have emergency apps for tornado, hurricane, wildfire, flood, earthquake and general emergencies, along with a few apps for kids.

Earthquakes, floods & other catastrophes: Could they happen here?

Depositphotos_69207769_m-2015It’s sad and shocking to see the devastation in Italy from the recent earthquakes in Italy and the widespread flooding in Louisiana. Natural catastrophes are always difficult, particularly when there is heavy loss of life and when the devastation is severe enough to cause severe dislocation and change the character of a place. Our hearts go out to victims – we’ve listed some relief efforts at the end of this post.

When disasters occur, it’s also human nature to wonder: could it happen here? Let’s take a look.

New England & earthquakes
While some regions are more geographically disposed to certain catastrophic events like earthquakes, they can indeed happen anywhere. Most of the recent New England earthquakes have been minor, but we can and have experienced more severe quakes, such as the 1755 earthquake off Cape Ann, which registered at more than 6.0. While the odds are in our favor, experts say that the chance of a damaging earthquake in New England is not zero.

Plus, an earthquake doe not need to be devastating in scope to cause property damage and typical homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquakes. This video from the Insurance Information Institute talks about earthquake damage and offers some great advice that would increase the safety of your home and property regardless of whether we ever experience a damaging quake.

Floods & New England
Floods know no geographic boundaries. While people who live near rivers, oceans or in flood plains are at the most risk, many New Englanders have been taken by surprise by flash flooding from storms. According to a list of US Floods from 2001 to the present, floods are generally caused by excessive rainfall, excessive snowmelt, storm surge from hurricanes, and dam failure.

Some old timers may recall the The Great New England Flood of 1936 but we’ve had some recent doozies too: Hurricane Irene caused severe flooding. NECN cites other historic floods that wreaked havoc in our region.

Flash floods can be very dangerous and can take quite a toll on property. And, as with earthquakes, typical homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. You need a separate flood insurance policy to be covered – and your policy must be in place for at least 30 days to be in effect, so a last-minute purchase when you hear about flooding potential would be too late. For more on protecting yourself from flood damage, see these posts:

September is a good time to focus on these matters since it September is National Preparedness Month. has before, during and after advice for all types of emergencies including floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and more.

Disaster relief for Italian Earthquakes

Disaster relief for Louisiana floods

Bees, spiders and other creepy crawlies can be dangerous driving distractions

frightened driver









Mary Chapin Carpenter sings that “Sometimes you’re the windshield / Sometimes you’re the bug.” While millions of bugs fall victim to car windshields every summer, insects have a way of getting their revenge. A single wayward bug loose in a car can cause a serious transportation accident. It’s impossible to know just how often this occurs. On the top 10 list of driving distractions, a “moving object in the vehicle” (which is defined as a pet or an insect) logs in as #9, accounting for 1% of all accidents. One percent doesn’t sound like very much, but when you consider there are more than 5 million car crashes in the U.S. each year, one percent totals 50,000 accidents. That’s a heck of a lot of accidents due to cats, dogs, bees and spiders.

We can and certainly should take steps to secure our pets in our vehicles – but it’s a little harder to keep winged or crawling creatures out. And if a stinging insect begins flying around the car or a scary looking spider is running around the dashboard, it can take nerves of steel to avoid distraction. Some people have an almost reflexive avoidance reaction that could put themselves or other drivers in jeopardy.

When driving, it’s essential that you steel yourself to focus on the road and the wheel, no matter what the distraction that might be going on in the car. Job number one is to keep control of the vehicle and bring it to a safe stop in a place that you can give attention to the crisis. Easier said than done if you are an arachnophobic or bee-phobic, we know!

Sometimes nature can deliver bigger surprises than just a wasp or a house spider. could you keep your cools with these creatures in the car?

Sometimes insects can be a hazard even when they are not inside the car. Check out this recent infestation of mayflies that made driving just about impossible in Havna, Ilinois.

Here are some tips to prevent getting creatures in your car, and some tips for what to do should they surprise you while you are driving:

Critter prevention

  • Keep car windows closed at night.
  • Don’t store food that might be attractive to rodents in your car or near your car.
  • If you fear that a cat, rodent, or snake might be attracted to the warmth of your engine, bang on the hood a few times before you enter and start the car.
  • Make sure any pets are secured in escape proof enclosures or secured in a seat.
  • Keep car windows closed while driving.

Dealing with a creature crisis while driving

  • If there is an insect or critter in your car, it is essential to keep your eyes on the road not on the critter. Grit your teeth, scream if you have to, but keep your hands firmly on the wheel
  • If it is a flying insect, open the windows to give it an exit path
  • Carefully pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Use care exiting the car if you are on a highway or traffic route.
  • If it is a bee or an insect, you should be able to focus on extricating it while parked.
  • If the pest is something more exotic like snake or a rodent, you may need to call a local wildlife specialist to safely remove it.

Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

flooded streetWe’ve said it many times before and we’ll no doubt say it again: Typical homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. This is one of the biggest consumer misconceptions we hear – and a painful, costly lesson to learn by experience. You need a separate flood insurance policy to be covered – and your policy must be in place for at least 30 days to be in effect, so a last-minute purchase when you hear about flooding potential would be too late. September is National Preparedness Month, and in this first week, the emphasis is on flood prep – so it’s a good reminder.

Now if you have water in the cellar from a burst pipe or some other household failure, your homeowners insurance may cover your flooded basement damage. But for storm-related, flooding damage, you’d need flood coverage. Here’s a listing of what is typically covered in a flood insurance policy.

While you may think your flood risk is negligible, floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states. Here are a few interesting flood facts from that you may not know:

  • In the past 5 years, all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods; Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 15 feet high.
  • People outside of mapped high-risk flood areas file over 20-percent of all National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance claims and receive one-third of Federal Disaster Assistance for flooding.
  • Your home has a 26% chance of being damaged by a flood during the course of a 30-year mortgage, compared to a 9% chance of fire.
  • A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
  • From 2010 to 2014, the average flood claim amounted to nearly $42,000.

Learn more about your flood risk and get an estimated coverage cost. If you don’t have flood coverage, it’s time to talk things over with your independent insurance agent.

Here are some other flood tools: