A cartoon image of people paddling a boat in water away from a submerged house. One person is out of the boat, in the water, and another is holding out a hand for the person to grab.
A cartoon image of people paddling a boat in water away from a submerged house. One person is out of the boat, in the water, and another is holding out a hand for the person to grab.
Financial Health
November 12, 2021

Don’t leave your disaster readiness to chance

Wells Fargo Home Lending survey finds that while 70% of Americans have been affected by natural disasters during their lifetime, only 29% have a detailed emergency plan.

On Aug. 26, 2020, Tonya and Courtney Griffith braced for a strong Category 4 hurricane headed straight for Louisiana. When Hurricane Laura struck, much of Lake Charles — including their home — sustained extensive damage. Fourteen months later, they are still living in temporary housing while repairs are being completed.

What kind of planner are you? 40%: Barely covered; 39%: Good enough; 16%: Avoider; 5%: Super Planner.

“A lot of people are still out of their homes. With the city damaged as much as Lake Charles was, contractors were not easy to come by,” said Tonya Griffith, who with Courtney Griffith comprise a mother/daughter financial advisor duo with Wells Fargo Advisors. “We also have a supply chain shortage because of COVID. I ordered my windows in October. I didn’t get my windows until May.”

Most Americans are leaving disaster readiness to chance

Despite the damage, discomfort, and inconvenience they’re facing, the Griffiths are more prepared than most Americans who face a natural disaster, according to a new Wells Fargo Home Lending study.

The survey found only 29% of Americans have a detailed emergency plan in place for natural disasters.

Rullah Price, head of Wells Fargo Public Affairs Resiliency & Enterprise Incident Communications, was surprised by this finding. “I expected more individuals to understand the reality that you have to be prepared for natural disasters these days. Because it’s not just a Florida thing. It’s not just a Louisiana thing. It’s not just a West Coast thing. This is happening all over the country.”

The study also discovered that 70% of Americans have been directly affected by natural disasters at some point in their lifetime — which makes their lack of preparation all the more puzzling.

Reflecting on that enigma, Price said, “I think the [survey] numbers were a stark reality that we go about our day to day thinking: ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’ Unfortunately, that’s just not our reality anymore.”

Planning can save ‘heartache and frustration’

Of those who do have a plan in place, it’s often incomplete. Only 5% of respondents said they are ready for any potential disaster or emergency. Yet it’s critical to think through all aspects of preparation.

“If you plan well and prepare your go bag once, you don’t have to do it again,” said Courtney Griffith. “But it absolutely has to happen because there’s no guarantee you’ll have access to your normal comforts. And there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being without power, without gas, and without water. The tradeoff of not preparing can be so much worse for you.”

Her mother couldn’t agree more. “Try to save yourself from the heartache and the frustration by just doing a little preparation,” said Tonya Griffith.

An essential part of planning is determining when you’ll leave and where you’ll go. The study found that only 32% of Americans have discussed with their family how they’ll locate one another if separated in a disaster.

That’s not the case in the Griffith household. “If the storm is coming and it looks like it’s trending toward New Orleans, then everyone in our family already knows the location we’re going to,” Tonya Griffith said. “I have a 90-year-old mom, so there’s no question as to whether or not we’re going to leave. If we know the storm is out there in the Gulf, it’s not worth the challenges that come with waiting. That just adds another level of stress we don’t need.”

A complete plan also accounts for finances

Unprepared for the unexpected: 68% do not have a go-bag packed in case of natural disaster; 69% have not documented possessions by taking photos and videos; 43% of those with cars don't keep the tank at least half full for emergency evacuation

Wells Fargo recognizes the disruption natural disasters can have not only on people’s lives, but also on their finances. “Especially as a financial institution, we must help give our customers tools, resources, and education for how they can best prepare for these situations,” Price said.

Tonya Griffith takes that lesson to heart. Since Hurricane Laura, she has encouraged all of her clients to complete Electronic Funds Transfer forms, which allows her to transfer money directly into clients’ checking accounts versus mailing a check or requiring them to find a Wells Fargo Advisors branch in their shelter city.

Although considering finances is a vital part of disaster planning, the study found that only 44% of Americans have started an emergency savings account.

That’s why Tonya Griffith advises her clients to check their deductibles — and to set those funds aside. “One of the main problems here in Lake Charles was that people weren’t aware what their deductible was for hurricane damage. Deductibles may have been 1-10%, with an average of 2-5%, and that’s of the home value — not of the damage amount. You need to have that money in reserve somewhere to carry you through while waiting for insurance to come in.”

Another consideration is cash. “We are evolving to a cashless society — but during an emergency, cash is what’s needed,” said Price. “In times of natural disaster, you may not have easy access to an ATM, and credit cards may not work if electricity is out. It’s important to be prepared for all possible events.”

No one looks forward to disaster or its aftermath. But having a complete plan can make all the difference in recovery.

Tonya Griffith is hopeful she’ll finally be able to move back into her home before year’s end. “I’m ready for this nightmare to be over. I pray we don’t get hit again. But if we are, we’ll be OK.”

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