Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tips From a Tornado Survivor


Wednesday, June 26, 2013 
Angel Brame’s family lost their home and her ceramics studio in the Joplin EF-5 tornado in May 2011. She offers her hard-learned tips here. Just take it one step at a time and you’ll be as prepared as Angel now is!

Angel says:
I am 100% sure that my studio and ceramics career would not be what it is today without the wonderful assistance of CERF+’s program. I was asked to put down some notes on the whole tornado hell we went through. We’re under a tornado watch right now, probably the first of many this season…
I know my list won’t work for every tragedy. I had 20 minutes of warning. Fires aren’t that courteous and neither are many other tragedies. But, if I help one person avoid some stress by being prepared for something hellish, then it’s worth it. I can put all of my advice into two words: “Be prepared.” Wait until you see how many times I use it before I am done!

Angel Brame’s Ultra-Preparedness List:
Be prepared for emergencies well in advance (duh!) It sounds easy enough, but it’s actually a pretty long to-do list.
·   Photocopy everything in your wallet – front and back. You will have to call and cancel a credit card at some point in your life. Try finding the account and 800 numbers when you’re wracked with stress. Make two copies. One for safekeeping and one in a secure location somewhere else [CERF+ calls this an SOL or Safe Off-Site Location]. If your wallet is on the kitchen counter and it blows away, you will need to provide ID at some point. Be prepared with at least a copy of your picture ID.
·   Videotape your belongings every time you change the clocks and smoke detector batteries. Put that videotape/DVD in a safe deposit box. While we didn’t have to itemize our losses, we know others who did. And I mean itemize EVERYTHING. Every sock and spoon, every spice and towel, every piece of furniture and picture frame. It will be a nightmare. Be prepared with visuals. It will help. [See the Studio Protector Blog on doing a studio Inventory. If your bank is close to your home, it could be affected by the same emergency, so back up your inventory in the cloud or other SOL.]
·   Make a list of every bill you pay, including account numbers and phone numbers. I sat at McD’s to use their Wi-Fi and had to THINK about who I paid every month while small children ran around. Be prepared to cancel all accounts. With all the capabilities our cell phones have these days, phones can be a good storage location. [CERF+ editor’s note: Don’t store any private account information or passwords there. And remember, it’s possible you won’t have cell service immediately either. Alternately, consider a secure cloud-based storage and an online password management site where you can securely store passwords and account information.]
·   Make a list of who pays you. Do you have a rolled-over 401(k) from six jobs ago? Do you have additional life insurance policies or educational funds for the kids? Make a list. If your tragedy involves a major injury or death, you will need these numbers. In addition, we no longer keep statements from the accounts in the house. They blew away. I get them, I read them, and I shred them. All I need is my list. [CERF+ editor’s note: Check with your financial institutions to be sure they keep a permanent record. Ask your accountant and/or attorney what documents you need to keep. It’s great to purge paper but DO keep what is necessary. And, don't forget about your business records!] Be prepared to collect money from those accounts. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know who to contact in the event the worst happens to their spouse or partner.

The aftermath
  


Angel's Home afterwards

  Put your extra bank books somewhere other than the second floor desk. It was no match for an EF-5. We had to cancel ALL of our bank accounts and debit cards. The extra books of checks you get when you order are now secure in the gun safe. While our bank was easy to deal with, imagine having NO access to money while dealing with your demolished house. Being prepared will save you that hassle. [Here are some Studio Protector tips on preparing for the power outages that follow disasters.]

Make another list: insurance companies. Here’s an opportunity to use the fax number spot in your phone. Create a contact for every policy: life, health, dental, home, automobile, etc. If there is a disaster, you will have to call your insurance company immediately. Our policy paperwork was also in that second floor desk. Fortunately, I bothered our home/auto policy person frequently enough that I had her number on speed-dial. If your actual policy booklet is gone, your agent should have a copy. But, make sure you know what it says. Rely on your broker or agent, or whoever. They are the experts, not you (in most cases, anyway). Be prepared to ask for their help and guidance. That’s why they are there!

Which leads me to my next point – make sure you have all of the insurance you really need.

§  Is your policy 15 years old but you’ve remodeled the entire house three times? Go over it. Now. After a tragedy is not the time to realize you are under-insured.
§  And, don’t go to liability-only once your cars are paid off. It will be very tough when you have to replace a vehicle or two with no insurance money to help. Typically, the difference between full and liability-only is minimal. We had full coverage and are so extremely grateful we had made the decision to keep it; both vehicles were totaled.
§  Be aware that if you have a mortgage and your house is a total loss, you will pay off the bank first. They will not let you keep the insurance check to rebuild while you continue to make your monthly mortgage payments as though nothing happened.
§  Be prepared to FIGHT the bank for the proceeds. If your insurance check is more than your payoff, your bank may drag their feet in sending you the difference. Find out what their policy is on sending the proceeds and follow up daily. In our case, the bank had different departments for payoff and check writing and in no way did the left hand EVER know what the right hand was doing. You will have to do due diligence to make sure you get YOUR money.
  •   [Know if you have the correct coverage for your business BEFORE you have a loss. Remember, homeowners insurance does not cover business losses unless you have a special rider. [See this information on the Studio Protector on business insurance.]
  •    Have an emergency kit ready for every member of the house, including pets. Our kits now iclude items we used in the days after our tornado. Each person has a backpack containing:
  •   Warm clothes
  •   Bottles of water
  •   Flashlights
  •   Socks, work gloves and work boots (seriously)
  •   Medications (must be checked when you change your clocks)
  •   3 days of dog food for each dog
  •   Leashes and extra water for each dog
  •   Rain gear
  •   This is a good place for your copy of ID’s and lists of essential numbers
  •   Phone chargers
  •   [The Studio Protector Disaster Warning booklet has a list of career-related items to supplement Angel's excellent list.] 


Pets don’t do well in stressful situations. Go figure. Humans don’t either. We had to lock our large dog in a bathroom while we assessed the damage and helped neighbors. He was not thrilled. This time around, his kennel and his pillow are in the basement. He will have a safe place to be kept if hell happens again. On that same note, we have a spare “home” for the frog. The original glass aquarium did not fare well when the bedroom walls blew in (but the frog was safe in my purse.) My point is that you need to consider the little guys in your home too. Be prepared to grab critters, large and small. You would be amazed at how comforting it was afterward to see the friendly, loving faces of our dog and frog at the end of every day. [Make a Disaster Plan for Your Pets web page from the Humane Society of the United States has more good tips on preparing your pets for disasters.]
·   Have a plan. Don’t wait until you hear sirens to consider what to grab first. KNOW. Our plan: Grab the kid, the pets, the car keys, the purses/wallets, sturdy shoes, the cell phones, laptop, and any other electronics. Go to your safe place. Stay there. Every time. Without fail. I was getting dinner ready. I would have been killed. Have your plan and stick to it. Make sure your kids know the plan. At some point, they will be home alone. We had just grilled our kid on what he would have done had he been home alone. He recited the exact plan. Three minutes later, we were in the basement bathroom with hell breaking loose over our heads. If you go to bed at night with possible nasty weather on the way, get those things ready before bed. Then, if something happens, you’re not trying to think in the haze of sleep. [The Disaster Planning section of the Studio Protector haswww.studioprotector.org/OnlineGuide/DisasterPlanning.aspx information on preparing your business for disasters, and additional resources.]
·   Be prepared for the worst. Don’t think it won’t happen in your town just because it never has before. But as much as I say to be prepared for the worst, I can say with 100% certainty that if it happens, you can get through it. The worst won’t break you. The better prepared you are, the easier the recovery.
·   Be prepared to ask for and accept help. People came out of the woodwork to help. At first, we thought we could handle it ourselves. We couldn’t and you can’t either. When someone offers help, take it. When someone asks how they can help, give them a task. If they can’t help you, direct them to the right place so they can help someone else. We heard from so many loved ones that they felt so helpless because they couldn’t get to us. The outpouring of love and help was overwhelming and it saved us. Pride doesn’t have a place when disaster strikes and no one is so strong that they can handle every decision and every task alone. [In this Artist-to-Artist Video another artist talks about his experience with volunteers after a flood.]
·   Be prepared to lose your mind. I don’t say that in a joking way, but in an honest one. My Mother bought small notebooks for my husband and me. We used them! Every time someone called, we took notes. FEMA, insurance companies, banks, etc. called and called. Things got confusing very quickly. Who did we talk to? What was the name of the person I need to call? Did I cancel the mail or did you? Trauma has a lovely way of scrambling your thinking and memory. I have entire chunks of time missing. It’s normal. It will fade over time. But, in the thick of things, be prepared to not be your normal, well-organized self. Get a notebook.
·  

I said this one before, but I mean it differently this time… Be prepared to get help. Go see a shrink. Go get family counseling. Talk to a professional. We got very caught up in the trauma of the situation and then in the making of a lot of decisions quickly and then in the quiet of putting a home back together. There will come a time when you realize your life will never be the same and you just might need some help coping with that. Get it. [See this Studio Protector section on Emotional Recovery.]
·  

Stash some money. In our town, electricity was down, banks were blown away, wallets were missing, etc. Cash was helpful. More than I ever expected. I had just stashed a minor amount in my nightstand. It came in handy. As I said earlier, we had to cancel bank accounts. Even though our debit cards were in our possession, those accounts had to be closed. They were worthless.
·  

Be prepared to thank people. This is a great one! I went through multiple packages of thank you cards. Previously, this was a chore we’d never looked forward to after a birthday or wedding, etc. This time was different because, after you’ve opened your fourth or fifth package, it hits you that so many people care so much about you that they reached out in some way. Every thank you card written represented an act of kindness that made that whole experience a little less painful.

Though I would love it if no one needs any of this advice, we learned so much from that lovely day in May, 2011. Normal life does not prepare you for that. Nothing does. So, have your plan. Be prepared. (That’s the last one, I swear! ;) )

- Angel Brame

[Editor's note: Angel's work can be seen on her Etsy site: Dragonflies and Mud Pottery.]

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