Plan before you tan: Home safety and document recovery preparation for natural disasters
It’s officially summer. But before anyone gets too excited about dusting off their barbecue grills, people should remember that with summer also comes the start of hurricane season. Yes, that may sound a little bit like a Debbie Downer thought, but there’s more to think about than just planning family vacations, laying by the water and catching some rays.
Scott Finazzo, captain of the Overland Park Fire Department in Kansas and author of several emergency preparedness books, says there are steps people can take now to be ready throughout the year, as natural disasters can strike any time.
“Disasters often occur with little or no warning and when they do, the damage can be catastrophic,” Finazzo said.
There were 137 federal disaster declarations last year. While hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey as well as the California wildfires were widespread and devastating, dozens more federal disasters hit 36 states from Alabama to Wyoming. That doesn’t include the countless disasters that hit at a more individual level, like house fires or theft.
So, before breaking out that suntan lotion, Finazzo recommends taking a few minutes to plan a personal disaster prevention and recovery situation. Then, it will finally be possible to take that long-anticipated mental vacation.
“There are a few small steps that every person can take that could have a large impact. Your best opportunity for safety lies in preparation,” Finazzo said. “To protect against a house fire, have working smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher and escape plans known by everyone in the home. For weather-related events, have an app or weather radio that will offer you as much advance notice as possible and have a safety kit and/or an evacuation plan.”
Additionally, “smart phones contain amazing technology that can be invaluable in a disaster, even with no cellular signal,” Finazzo said. “Use them to download safety apps and to upload personal, important pictures and documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and tax documents.”
Speaking of tax documents, they can be uploaded to the MyBlock app for free, including tax returns, receipts, information documents and more. Should tax returns be lost or damaged in a natural disaster, H&R Block can help recover them.
According to Andrew Wagner, tax analyst at H&R Block, “H&R Block clients can visit a retail tax office to get copies of their tax returns or access their MyBlock account, even if they prepared their taxes on their own using H&R Block software.”
Taxpayers affected by a federal disaster may need to reconstruct tax records lost in the disaster to apply for a disaster loan or grant. The IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for a copy of a tax return (Form 4506) or for a transcript of a tax return (Form 4506-T).
For further assistance, taxpayers can visit any year-round H&R Block offices or call 1-800-HRBLOCK.
Learn about the new 1040 tax form the IRS is preparing for next tax season and what the changes mean for you and how you file.