Three Strategies to Make It Easier to Pick Up the Pieces after a Natural Disaster

This spring/summer season has been a volatile one.  First there was the devastation in Alabama and other southern states during the tornado outbreaks in April, and then there was the recent devastation in Joplin, Missouri. 

The loss of life, the worst in 60 years, is heartbreaking.  But so too is the plight of the survivors.  Everything they own is gone; all of their valuables, precious pictures, financial information.  While no one can control a tornado or where it will strike, you can help offset the damage a bit.

Make sure you have home insurance.  Most homeowners do have insurance, but often renters think they have nothing of value, so they don’t have renter’s insurance.  Please don’t make this mistake.  Renter’s insurance is very affordable; we have had a policy for 10 years now, and it costs us no more than $100 a year.  That is less than $10 a month.  We have paid $1,000 for it over the course of our time renting—an amount that is just a small fraction of what it would cost us to replace everything should we suffer some calamity.

Put your valuable financial documents in a safe.  It seems extreme, but if you lost everything, would you remember all of your account numbers, passwords, etc?  I couldn’t remember even half of them.  Write them all down (and also include the phone numbers to contact creditors, banks, etc.) and store the paper or a flash drive containing the information in a safe at a bank.  Update this once a year.  While you are at it, you may also want to put in cherished family photos—wedding pictures, baby pictures, etc.  It can’t hurt to also include birth certificates, duplicate social security cards, marriage licenses, a copy of your will and life insurance policy, etc.

Store your photos online.  Cherished photos can never be replaced.  Store them online for free at a site such as Snapfish.  All it costs is your time.  If something catastrophic were to happen, you would still have years’ worth of family photos.

While no one wants to imagine being in the path of Mother Nature’s wrath, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself if you are.  Making it through a tornado or other natural disaster with your life and the lives of your loved ones is most important.  Everything else is extra.  But following these steps can help make picking up the pieces a bit easier.


  1. Melissa, these are excellent suggestions. My husband is an insurance agent and can attest to the importance of renter’s insurance. And you’re right: it’s very affordable!

  2. You can also make copies of your important documents to store online. There are several services that specialize in secure back up and can even make it automatic. We do a DIY version with gmail and google docs. The trade off is that though it’s free, you have to trust Google.

    Any digital copies of passwords and such should also be encrypted and at least password protected.

  3. Good article, MP –
    You’re right that natural disasters often catch people unprepared for the aftermath. We saw stories like this after the tornadoes in Joplin. For important documents, it’s helpful to check if your bank offers safety deposit boxes. Sometimes they come free with an account, as ours does. We keep a file of documents there, as well as copies in the safe. And, I’m thinking of also scanning them and putting them on an encrypted flash drive and storing them at some other place.

    • Melissa says:

      Good advice to add. I just get nervous storing financial data online, though I guess it is already there through the different companies I have a relationship with.

  4. Melissa, photos were the only thing i took when we were evacuated a few years ago (besides my family and pets).

    I can’t replace those pictures of my son as little children. I guess I should get them digitized.

  5. We need to take care of the financial documents suggestion. I think it’s a great idea mentioned above to store them online as well.

  6. One thing that worries me is flooding in our basement. We have a lot of stuff in our basement. Getting rid of a bit of our stuff would mean that we’d have less to replace should something bad happen.

  7. great suggestions, especially for snapfish. my uploaded pictures to snapfish saved me through 2 computer crashes.

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