Last year, our office and our entire geographic region were shut down for days because of Hurricane Irma. Our staff had to deal with life without power, and some without water. There were fallen trees and roads under water. Roofers were the most popular tradesmen in the state.
The Miami Herald projected total losses for homes and businesses for Hurricane Irma range between $42.5 billion to $65 billion—most of it due to flood damage.
On the west side of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated damage from Hurricane Harvey at $150 billion to $180 billion. He described it as more costly than epic Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which devastated New Orleans in 2005 and New York metropolitan area in 2012.
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and states bordering the Atlantic Ocean also suffered brutal hurricane storm damage. Virtually nobody in the bottom eastern quarter of the country was spared from the devastating winds, storm surge, and flooding.
Out in the western United States, wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in their path.
Recently in “paradise,” on Hawaii’s “Big Island,” the Kilauea volcano erupted, forcing officials to issue widespread evacuation orders.
Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards . . . no matter where you are, you’re susceptible to losing everything in the proverbial blink of an eye.
In short, we’ve been reminded countless times just in the past few months that no matter how great things are going today, disaster can strike tomorrow. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
But you can prepare for it.
Disaster proofing your personal and business financial and tax records is as important as stocking up on batteries and bottled water.
First, take advantage of paperless record keeping.
Your bank likely offers a service to email your bank statements and other documents. If you don’t already take advantage of the service, sign up for it. As an alternative, many banks let you view your statements online.
Also, many employers offer to email your W-2’s or give you access to your personal HR forms online . . . each are essential to access if your paper files start floating away after a storm.
For paper records you can’t review online, you can scan each vital document and email it to yourself.
You can also back-up your electronic files either in the cloud or on a redundant, geographically distant server.
If you don’t want to store your files online for any reason, consider scanning and copying them to a CD, DVD, or thumb drive. Duplicates can be mailed to family or friends in other parts of the country for safekeeping.
Next, document valuables and business equipment.
The IRS can actually assist you in this step. They offer disaster loss workbooks online: Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook for individuals; and, another for businesses—Publication 584-B, Business, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook.
You can use these tools to compile a room-by-room list of your belongings at home and your equipment at your business. It’s also recommended that you photograph or video each item—especially those of significant monetary value.
This visual record will help you recall the items and their market value, as well as provide evidence for insurance and casualty loss claims.
Again, store the workbook contents and the photos/video on the cloud, a remote server, or a CD, DVD, or thumb drive with a copy that is kept away from the geographic area at risk.
Business owners, here’s a tip from the IRS: If you use a payroll service provider, check to make sure they have a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect you if a disaster event causes them to default.
There are real benefits to being prepared for disasters. How quickly your company can get back to business after a disaster often depends on emergency planning done today. Start planning now to improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover.