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OPINION: Better Business Bureau recommends important steps to be ready when, not if, disaster strikes.

COURTESY PHOTO - Danielle KaneSeptember is National Preparedness Month, and it could not be more timely given what we are seeing take place all over the West Coast and Northwest.

As of this writing, there are forest fires blazing in California, Oregon, Washington and even Idaho, Arizona, and Montana. It seems this entire part of the country is in flames.

Now more than ever, it is critical families put a plan in place to prepare for disasters like this. If you see it happening in your neighboring state already, why not prepare for yourself?

National Preparedness Month is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The goal of National Preparedness Month is to make everyone in the United States prepared for any type of disaster. In Oregon, this often comes in the form of unpredictable forest fires at summer's end. We're already seeing it.

Better Business Bureau is all about consumer protection — and it's not always about protecting your wallet. We've combined our best practices with tips from FEMA (check out ready.gov for more), to offer you the following advice.

Plan for your household

Disasters don't plan ahead, but you can. Start by making an emergency plan with everyone in the home.

Put together an emergency plan by discussing important topics with members of your household. First, discuss how you will receive emergency alerts and warnings. Next, nail down your shelter plan, your evacuation route, and household communication plan.

It's best to practice your escape plan with your family or roommates. Don't forget to include a plan for your animals. Practice this plan at least twice a year so you are fully prepared when disaster strikes.

Fill out an emergency plan, and share with everyone in your family, or household.

Get your documents in a row

Once a disaster strikes, the last thing you want to do is stress out because you can't locate all of your personal information. Having access to personal, financial, medical, insurance and other records is crucial for starting the recovery process.

By making a financial emergency preparedness plan, you won't have to wait until after a disaster strikes to start locating these items.

Gather all of your financial and critical personal, household, and medical information. Start putting money away into an emergency savings account and keep a small amount of cash on you just in case ATMs and credit cards stop working during a disaster.

Review your existing homeowner's or renter's insurance policy for the amount, and extent of coverage, to ensure you have the required amount of coverage for hazard situations. According to FEMA, more than half of all homeowners in the United States do not carry adequate homeowner's insurance to replace their home and its contents should a catastrophic loss occur.

If you still aren't sure where to begin, download the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit through FEMA.gov, and start today.

If you want to learn more about the type of insurance policies that offer the protection you're looking for, start by searching for credible insurers and checking complaints on bbb.org.

Learn lifesaving skills

Learning basic home maintenance skills can protect your home and your family.

Learn how to turn off utilities like natural gas and electricity, and how to test and replace smoke alarms. It's recommended to test smoke alarms every month, and to replace them every 10 years.

You should also know the ways to keep your home safe from cooking, heating, and electrical fires.

Need some help? Check out ready.gov for tips on preventing these fires. And of course, check with your local Better Business Bureau to talk to licensed and trustworthy electricians, HVAC providers and other specialty servicers to ensure your home is up to code.

Save for an emergency

Did you know according to the Federal Reserve, over 40% of Americans don't have $400 in savings?

As 2020 has taught many of us, it's important to be financially prepared for any type of catastrophe.

Start saving for a rainy (or sick) day by opening an emergency savings account. As we mentioned earlier, leaving a small amount of cash at home in a safe place is also smart.

No matter how much you prepare financially, you still may have some damage to deal with after a natural disaster. "Storm chasers" are contractors who stop by unannounced, door-to-door after a disaster takes plan, seeking to take advantage. These con artists try to get consumers to make quick and potentially uninformed decisions about "repair work" they claim needs to be done on the property. Don't believe everything you hear if you get a knock like this at your door. Check out BBB's tips on protecting yourself from storm chasers.

Stay safe, Oregonians.

Danielle Kane is Oregon state director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.


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