Protect Financial Security When Fleeing Disaster

Tips to Help Victims Prepare, Recover from Financial Loss

Date: June 18, 2012

Contact: Paul Golden 303-224-3514, [email protected]

DENVER—Residents from Colorado to California are packing their important belongings and escaping the path of destruction. In the western U.S. there are 22 active wildfires1 and each one serves as a jarring reminder that disasters—whether natural or man-made—can strike intensely and with little warning. While protecting your home and your assets, it’s important to remember to protect your financial security.

“Disasters obviously take an emotional toll, causing alarm, grief and confusion. And the sudden shock to your financial system can be severe,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education. “Your safety and the safety of your family is the top priority. But it’s also important to protect your home, your assets and your financial security.”

The Denver-based NEFE offers these tips to financial issues that disaster victims must address immediately.

Protect Your Health and Life

Above all, the most important thing to consider in preparing for a disaster is to protect your loved ones. Be sure to have a disaster plan in place for your family. Discuss with your family what each person’s responsibility should be in an extreme circumstance. As part of your family’s disaster plan be sure that:

  • You have an evacuation drill in place, and that your family practices it.
  • If separated, you have identified a meeting location outside the home.
  • You have assembled a kit to care for your pets, including food, water and medication needs.

If you or a loved one is injured in a disaster, your medical and disability insurance can quickly become your most important assets. Be sure that you know your coverage and have all insurance paperwork available. Also, take the time to understand what procedures the insurance company requires you to follow in the event of an emergency.

Housing and Property

Finding Help

The following are a few of the agencies and organizations that provide assistance to people affected by a disaster:

FEMA If you live in a county declared a major disaster area by the president, you might qualify for additional assistance and tax relief. Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 800-621-3362 or go to

Red Cross Call your local Red Cross chapter or go to

Salvation Army Call your local Salvation Army or go to

Volunteers of America To find a local office, call 800-899-0089, or go to

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters This website lists other national and state organizations that can help. Go to

State and county offices of emergency preparedness Look in the blue pages (government section) of your local telephone book.

If you are being asked to evacuate the area and authorities allow you to enter your home, be sure to collect your important financial documents along with your valuables. You will need them to file insurance claims, pay bills and take care of family members. Important documents include, but are not limited to: legal certificates, wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, Social Security cards, your checkbook and bank account information, among others.

“During the Oakland (Calif.) fire in 1991, my family was in this very situation,” recalls Beck. “It was one of the worst fires in California’s history and we were forced to evacuate as the fire closed in on our home. My wife and I and our four children had only enough time to collect our paperwork, valuables and a change of clothes. It is impossible to escape the feeling that you are leaving something important behind.”

Once away from the area, contact your insurance company to notify it of your situation. Ask if your provider will pay for temporary living expenses if you are forced away from your home. If this provision is not included with your insurance policy, contact the Red Cross for crisis shelter locations and information.

Money and Cash Flow

Do you have enough cash on hand for emergency needs should banks and ATMs also be affected by the disaster? If not, contact the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). One of these organizations might be able to guide you to sources of emergency cash assistance. You also might contact your employer and request an advance on your next paycheck.

This is a good time to contact your creditors to explain your situation. As always, paying your bills on time protects your credit rating. But, considering the circumstance, your creditors might be willing to work with you on a delayed payment schedule if necessary. Be sure to prioritize your bills, keeping in mind that insurance policies and mortgage or rent payments are the top priority. You also might consider stopping some bills immediately. For example, you can contact your utility, telephone and cable providers to halt services on the property you have vacated. Before cancelling the service though, make sure you ask about termination and reconnection charges.


If you foresee missing time away from work, be sure to contact your employer immediately. If you or a family member is injured, you need to begin the process of applying for any available employee-sponsored disability benefits. You also may be able to take advantage of the Family Medical and Leave Act if you are unable to return to work in the near future because you are caring for an injured family member. Learn more by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at

“Once you know your family is safe, action in these areas is critical to shorten the duration of the financial disruption,” says Beck.

For more tips on financially preparing for and recovering from a disaster, visit

1USDA Forest Service Active Fire Mapping Program


  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    [email protected]