Information, it is everywhere, growing, essential and out of control. Do you ever feel lost in a paper jungle? Have you ever considered what would happen if you could not get back into your house due to a fire, chemical spill or other disaster or if you had to get your family out immediately? The last thing on your mind would be your information, no matter how vital that information was.
There is one solution for both of these problems and that is to have a home continuity plan. A home continuity plan contains the information needed to respond to an emergency and the information needed to recover after the initial crisis has been handled. As you identify and document the information for your home continuity plan, you will be organizing your most critical information, making it easily accessible and making sure that other family members know where the information is and when and how to use it.
So what is a home continuity plan, do you really need one, how do you get started, and how will it also save you time day-to-day and clear up your information clutter?
What is a home continuity plan? Continuity planning is preparing for a possible emergency so that you can not only respond to the crisis, but have what you need to recover. In the 50’s there were the fallout shelters of the cold war. Storm shelters are common in the Midwest. Schools practice file drills. Local communities are rehearsing their response to storms and terrorist attacks and business have a plan so they can survive a disruption. When time is critical, people are stressed, and confusion abounds, you need a plan. There are five categories of information in a plan: contacts (names and phone numbers), emergency procedures, personal identification/significant events, medical information, and financial and assets information. Once identified and documented, that information has to be stored some place other than in your home.
Do you really need a home continuity plan? Ask yourself… Can adult family members, responsible teenagers, babysitters or house guests find emergency phone numbers for physicians, plumbers, security services, people who could help?
Who knows how to shut off the water, electricity, gas? You may not be the one at home during a crisis.
Are you confident that you can easily list the contents of your wallet and be able to react quickly if your wallet is stolen?
If you cannot get back into your house for a few days to a few weeks, could you easily continue paying bills, contact insurance companies, collect social security, collect dividends?
If something happens to the person in your family who manages the finances, who knows how to take over?
Who knows where the emergency supplies are? Who knows what to take if there is an evacuation?
How to Get Started
Most people do not have a plan either because they do not believe they will need it or they don’t know where to start. This is YOUR vital information. You will be able to use the information in your plan day-to-day. How and where do you begin?
1. Decide how you will document the plan. Remember that you want to have a copy of it stored somewhere other than your house. Suggestions are a word processing or excel spreadsheet, or software specifically created for this type of project. You can then put a password on the file that contains your information and save it on a CD, DVD or flash drive. Ask yourself who will read the plan.
2. Decide where to store the original documents that you list in your plan. Part of the vital information in the home continuity plan is the location of your family documents. What documents should be copied and stored in alternative locations? Can you scan and save a copy of the documents with your plan?
3. Talk to the members of your household about this project. Include those who may not live with you full time. See what ideas they have. Who can be involved in this project?
4. Start by completing the first category listed above, Emergency Contacts, and then move on to Emergency Procedures and then to the last three categories. You will be motivated by being able to use the information immediately as you collect it.
So how will this project clear my information clutter and save me time day-to-day? You now have a specific purpose to go through your papers. You will create one notebook or file that includes contacts, procedures, locations of documents including user manuals, personal and medical information, financial accounts, inventories, insurance information. You will be finding, organizing, copying and moving original documents such as birth and marriage certificates, wills, living wills, power of attorney and insurance policies.
Use the information in the plan for:
Medical histories and preferences, school records, resumes, loan and insurance applications, user ids and passwords, baby sitter instructions, important phone numbers, information on how to secure your house for a storm or react to an emergency such as burst pipe…
Just begin. Your plan does not have to be finished to be useful. Every family is unique and changing. The plan will always be reviewed and updated. There is no such thing as perfect and completed. Even getting started, you will have more peace of mind that you are doing the best that you can do for your family and will immediately have something useful that you can use.