Watching the weather headlines out of Florida this week and hearing about friends there planning for and dealing with Hurricane Ian reminded me of a time in the 1980s when I lived in the Gulf Coast area and got the word that I was in a mandatory-evacuation zone.
As longtime friends in the not-so-sunshiny Sunshine State were preparing for the worst, I flashed back to that long ago time and realized that I’d handle the situation very differently today.
The basic preparation itself would be largely the same; the big difference is the benefit of age and wisdom providing an understanding of what truly is important both in life and in times of crisis.
It’s the blessing and curse of filling our lives with “stuff” that we consider valuable.
It’s also a lesson that applies to the metaphorical storm of inflation and higher prices that all of us are facing right now.
As an analogy, Hurricane Ian – and seeing cars filled to the roof with belongings as their owners were on television during their flight to higher ground – is a good reminder that money maturity and financial freedom starts with owning your possessions, and not the other way around.
Everyone should put themselves to the emergency/catastrophe test; we live in a perpetual state of being just a few minutes from trouble, even if we’re not in a hurricane, earthquake or brushfire zone.
Since your emergency may not come with a forecast and time to prepare, better safe than sorry.
The one thing that really hasn’t changed since I faced evacuation in the 1980s is that if you can envision leaving your home and not coming back, you want identification and documents, plus a big slug of cash in case banking machines and credit card terminals aren’t functioning due to power outages.
Beyond your driver’s license, passport and health insurance cards — which you want to keep with you — you want to ensure access to legal documents like birth certificates, social security cards, wills and health care proxies, vehicle registration and ownership papers, deeds, marriage/divorce papers, etc.
While you might keep those papers in a bank safe-deposit box, consider having copies available on a thumb drive to protect against the potential that your local financial institutions become inaccessible while dealing with the same catastrophe that you’re running from.
Some financial details too routine for the safe-deposit box shouldn’t be forgotten in the rush to depart. Keep bank account and credit/debt card details, retirement/investment account statements, government benefits information and copies of insurance policies handy, along with contact details for the companies involved.
For me, this involves a file/envelope that’s updated annually; it’s a list that will help your loved ones deal with the finances you leave behind someday, but also something to pull and take along if ever uprooted by an emergency.
One big benefit of modern technology — compared to when I was evacuating my Florida home in the 1980s — is that far fewer personal items are irreplaceable; family photos and many memories can be backed up and copies can be sent to the cloud or kept on a portable drive, ensuring that the memories will live on and can be part of any reconstruction if disaster strikes.
That makes decisions about what must be taken along faster and easier.
Anyone living in a storm belt should know how and where to grab their documents plus devices and chargers, flashlights, a first-aid kit and some clothes so that they can blow town in a matter of minutes and before trouble.
The harder thing is deciding which “irreplaceable” items go with you or get left behind.
These are the decisions about the real valuables, the priceless and irreplaceable, the proverbial “can’t live without it” items and the things that might give you comfort while you are in evacuation mode.
I remember back in the 1980s — when I was in my 20s and had a small apartment — going over every valuable in relation to what could fit in my tiny car, deciding whether to take that cutting-edge new computer I had worked hard to pay for and that felt like it cost me a fortune, or a special heirloom painting, or the expensive stuff like televisions and stereos.
In making those decision at the time, it seemed like “normal life” couldn’t return if those things were gone.
The benefit of four more decades of living is that today in an emergency I could walk away from nearly everything with barely a concern.
I would do everything possible to protect my home and the items it holds, mind you, and would trust my insurance coverage to help out wherever a catastrophe overwhelms those protections (acknowledging that many policies don’t protect against all acts of nature), but for all the importance we, as consumers, place on “our stuff,” it’s just stuff.
If the worst inconvenience I can experience is finding that it has been ruined or destroyed and it may take a while to replace, so be it.
That’s a small price to pay compared to the people who are going through real suffering in these kinds of events.
My friend John — still living in the Tampa Bay area after all these years — told me this last week that he remembered the 1980s storm, and packing up everything he thought might be valuable.
This time, he and his wife buttoned up their home, gathered their papers and their dogs, and went to a shelter.
“I’m not worried about what I will be coming back to,” he said in a text message, “so long as I come back.”
In times when everyone is dealing with a storm of high prices, inflation and economic uncertainty and wondering what they can do without and how they will get by, we can all learn a lesson from people facing real tempests.
In a storm, you cut back to the basics, play it safe, protect your long-term future as best you can and count your blessings.
It’s what we all should be doing now.