How to prepare for the worst (e.g loss of everything)….

It’s a strange world we live in. So many thousands if not Millions of people get displaced or lose everything in natural and man-made catastrophes each year, but how we try to prepare for such an event very much depends on where we live and how we live.

Here in New Zealand, we are all too familiar with natural events, such as earthquakes, floods or even Tsunami but less so with bush fires or until 5 weeks ago terrorist attacks. We are on the other hand equipped with access to technology that should help us get back onto our feet, should such an event occur. However – as my personal case shows – it is up to the individual user/person to actually use all that technology…. or as with us – not.

We get bombarded with messages from Civil Defense and the Fire Service with ads on TV, on the Radio and other publications on how to prepare for an earthquake or bad storm. Along the lines of ‘have an emergency kit’, ‘ have a plan with your family’ or ‘in a fire, stay low, get out and stay out’.

We have had all that – and I headed that advise – I did get out and stayed out – which is why I did not grab my handbag with my wallet and car keys, or my computer with all personal data and photos, or my artwork or books… I just got out – and stayed out. As a consequence I had the clothes on my back, one pair of reading glasses and a car that was not driveable as the smart keys burned with the house…my husband who was not home had luckily at least his wallet on him so we had one drivers licence and one EFTPOS/bank card between us.

The below photo pretty much sums up what ID loss means…. these are the things I usually take with me when I travel.. Passports, German Drivers Licence, key to my parents house, sim cards for German and UK phone (and the little metal pin to swap them), Cash I brought back from my last trip… its all gone – the lot… In addition of course to my NZ Drivers Licence, all bank cards, birth and marriage certificates etc. For a week I did not exist – quite literally in terms of having something to identify myself with. It is frightening and disturbing!

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So how does one prepare for something that nobody (including myself) thinks will happen to them? Its been 5 weeks and now I can look back already and give advise on that topic.

1. have every important document (e.g. Drivers Licence, Passport, Birth/Marriage certificate etc) copied and deposit OUTSIDE your house…. also have a digital copy of all of the above in a cloud storage system – or two.
2. Cloud Storage – make sure you ACTUALLY saving copies of your personal and possibly business data and photos in there… no use if you have the folder with nothing in it…
3. Insurance – make sure you have adequate Contents (and/or home) insurance – at least $10K more than you think you need….. all those calculators only let you put in the big stuff but its the little things that add up… (more on that later)
4. DO NOT keep all your super important heirlooms or in my case weaving and books in the house.. not your stock, your personal favourites your first ever of this and that…
5. Have 10 Fire Extinguishers (joking..) – at least 2 big ones… and KNOW HOW TO USE THEM!
6. Remember when you dial 111 in NZ – 2 is Ambulance… they told me to hang up and dial again and choose the right extension – WTF has time for that when the house is on fire?
7. Have an Emergency kit of valuables at the neighbours – such as Underwear…. lol
8. park your car closer to the house if it is fully insured – if the house goes up in flames at least you are covered for the loss of the car..in my case only the keys where inside.. making the car useless…. lol – sorry disregard the last 3…..

On the Insurance front…. that is a minefield in itself. They are happy to take your money when everything is ok but when it comes to a large claim…. well I am sure you all had your experiences or heard of someone who did.

The main thing for that is – again take a photo or scan of  the receipts of ALL your household goods – e.g. down to the toaster and crockery, cutlery and especially all the more expensive stuff like Camera gear or books… and save it in TWO CLOUDS – not just one as that one can fail but TWO… they really will ask you after a fire that logically destroys especially any papers if you have receipts… that you really owned the things you did. I know why but come on!

Frankly, I do know many people who do not own the expensive camera gear I did but I do not know anybody without a bed or a table or a couch or a knife and fork… but that is what it boils down to now.

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Luckily – I did still have receipts for most of my photo gear – sadly not any photos…

That is the hardest about all this I must confess. Yes, material things can be replaced somehow but it is the memories, the only one of a kind, the photos and handwritten cards that cant be replaced. It hurts, every day I remember the things we and in particular I lost. I think my next post might mention some of those and why they are so hard to lose.

In any case – back to my original question – How do you prepare for this? You don’t – nothing really prepares you for something like this. You think you are prepared but you are not.  I have heard many people saying ‘oh, I best put all the important documents into a box, ready to grab them’ – Trust me – at that moment you DO NOT GRAB ANYTHING, you just get out. Not in a million years did I think the whole house would get destroyed… I had this European sense of fire awareness – there will be damage but the fire-brigade will bring it under control and the rest will be fine – after all, it started on the outside… I did not take into account that NZ houses are more or less wooden tinder boxes…10 minutes is all it took…

The what if’s will haunt me for the rest of my life but then again I am alive – that is the important bit. Just how to deal with something like this, nobody can prepare you for. We have been lucky with the support here in the community and from afar but as one friend the other day put it “the flowers are now all dead”  – we have been inundated with messages and help offers right after the fire but now – 5 weeks after is the time when we finally can take stock and would need some of those offers – or indeed now the money is starting to run out too… if only the Insurance would move a bit faster…. Nothing prepares you for all of this but take my advise – save your personal things OUTSIDE your house!

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