The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Ready Campaign" has dedicated September as National Preparedness Month. There is a wealth of information about preparing for emergencies on their www.ready.gov website, but it can be overwhelming. If you don't know where to begin, here are a few ideas.
Compile an Emergency Numbers List
Gather a list of phone numbers of family, friends, doctors, insurance companies, lawyers, banks, credit cards, etc. If you choose to, include the last four digits of your account numbers next to financial phone numbers. This list will go into your safe, your emergency bag, and possibly with a trusted family member or friend.
Secure Your Original Documents
It will give you peace of mind if the original copies of your important documents are safe if there is a disaster at your house or even if you are in an accident away from home. Two good options to safeguard documents are 1) a waterproof, fireproof home safe, or 2) a safe deposit box. Safe deposit boxes may be more secure, but you are limited because you can only access them during certain hours. Visit http://www.personal-finance-hq.com/managing/safe-deposit-boxes.html to help decide which is best for you. Whichever one you choose, here are the items that you can store there: passport, birth certificate, Social Security card, deed, will, insurance policy with list/photos, computer back ups, a family portrait or important photos that you don't have digitally, and your emergency numbers list. Also store photocopies of your drivers license, medical card, and other IDs you carry in your wallet.
Make an Emergency Bag
The Ready Campaign website suggests creating a emergency kit that you can use if you are stuck in your house, or you can grab if you have to evacuate quickly. If you don't have the space to store big plastic tubs of supplies, at least start by creating a bag of that you can grab quickly. Your kit should at least include: water, food and can-opener, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit, whistle, dust mask, wet-wipes, garbage bags, wrench, local maps, and your emergency numbers list. To see the full list of items, go to www.ready.gov and click on "Get a Kit."
Clean Up Your Files
It is important to have organized files, both for your own use in an emergency and for use by family members in case something happens to you. It's uncomfortable to think about, but just imagine how stressful it would be if your family had to sort through your papers while they're taking care of you or grieving. Invest in a decent filing cabinet, filing box, or accordion file-case. Label file tabs clearly, and type an "index" that lists all of the file names for easy access. Keep up with your filing, assigning at least one hour a week to file. Go through all of your files once a year, and purge what you don't need to keep in paper form anymore. For help on how long to keep certain paperwork, see this website: www.bankrate.com/brm/news/mtg/20000518h.asp.