September Is National Preparedness Month—Are You Ready?

Andrew J. VanSingel
September is National Preparedness Month, and there is no time like now to make sure that you are ready for any type of disaster.

September is National Preparedness Month, and there is no time like now to make sure that you are ready for any type of disaster.

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I thought hurricane season was over.

I will never understand Saul Silver’s infatuation with the 80's sitcom 227 in the movie Pineapple Express. Silver, played by James Franco, recites this line from the show, and it makes me wishful for a time when hurricane season was “over.”

Wishful because it supposes that there is an ending to hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cites that the Atlantic hurricane season officially began on June 1, 2018, and ends on November 30, 2018; however, millions of people are still reeling from the 2017 hurricane season. In 2016, the first system was reported on January 12, and the last system dissipated on November 25. Indeed, I thought hurricane season was over.

September is National Preparedness Month, and although we are a few months into the “official” hurricane season, there is no time like now to make sure that you are ready for any type of disaster, not just hurricanes.

There are several things that you can do immediately to make yourself ready for any disaster, starting by visiting Ready.gov, which provides information on disasters, such as volcano eruptions, active shooters, and cybersecurity. Think about the disasters you may encounter and learn what you can do to plan accordingly. Ready.gov covers each category in simple and easy-to-understand sections of “Before, During, and After,” followed by links to useful resources. Be sure to take the critical last step after creating a plan, which is to communicate the plan to others (your rally point is not helpful if you are the only one aware of where it is). Although we spend most of our waking hours at the office, readiness is not just a workplace exercise—champion readiness at home and in your community.

It is also worthwhile to educate yourself on insurance basics. United Policyholders (UP) is a nonprofit organization and partner of the Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program (YLD DLS). UP’s mission is to be a trustworthy and useful information resource and an effective voice for consumers of all types of insurance and does not take money from insurance companies. The only thing not difficult about insurance is finding a way to put off learning about it. For example, what if your home is flooded by rain after your roof is destroyed during a storm? Will this be covered under your homeowner's policy, or through a flood policy? Do you need both policies? Thankfully there are resources such as UP available to help you make informed decisions.

Legal issues undoubtedly arise after a disaster. Survivors may have consumer claims, issues with an insurance company, or appealing denied Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) claims. Many times, especially after floods or hurricanes, survivors need to replace legal documents, such as titles to property and social security cards, which may be needed to make an insurance claim or apply for disaster benefits. You can circumvent the need to replace these legal documents by keeping separate copies in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box or electronically on the cloud. National Disaster Legal Aid is also a partner of the YLD DLS program, and its website has a wealth of resources for disaster survivors, from replacing legal documents to how to talk to children about disasters.

Hopefully, this information gives you a nudge in the right direction. Just remember—when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

The Disaster Legal Services program of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD) exists to respond to the unmet legal needs that arise after natural disasters. Through a partnership with FEMA, the YLD provides disaster legal services to low-income disaster survivors following a presidentially declared “major disaster” as defined in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

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Andrew J. VanSingel

Andrew VanSingel is the chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness.