In 2017, Americans witnessed the most destructive hurricane season in U.S. history. The economic toll from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria is more than $267 billion so far, but the human toll is even greater. In the wake of such storms, the loss of homes, livelihoods and lives causes irreversible damage to people and communities.

SBP, a nonprofit disaster recovery organization founded by volunteers aiding in post-Katrina rebuilding, sees these devastating impacts far too often. Fortunately, there are practical steps we can all take to help protect our people, property and finances against emergencies — both from major disasters such as hurricanes and everyday risks like home fires and break-ins.

Let’s talk about five key actions you can take now to make sure your household is prepared:

1. Check your contacts

If an emergency happens, how will you get in touch with the important people and organizations in your life? Make a written list of emergency contact numbers every member of your household carries with them. Cell phones not working is a real possibility, so plan for how you might use social media or coordinate through an out-of-town contact to check in.

2. Stock the necessities

Imagine you have to shelter at home for a week and are unable to leave. Do you have all the essentials you would need? What if you had to evacuate quickly and were on the road for three days? Assemble a disaster supplies kit now to ensure you have the necessities on hand, including a minimum of 72 hours’ worth of food and water for people and pets and any special medical or family need items. Also remember to stash emergency cash in small bills. 

3. Protect your papers

If you need to file an insurance claim or apply for assistance after disaster, you will have to provide certain documents. Organizing and protecting your important papers — identity, property ownership, financial, legal and medical —helps ensure you have access to what you may need. Protect physical records at home from water and fire by storing them in a waterproof fire chest or something similar. Have copies you can access if you cannot get home (secure online cloud storage or with an out-of-town relative are good options).

4. Know what you own

Having a good record of your possessions is essential not only for making sure you have sufficient insurance coverage but in case you ever need to file an insurance claim or apply for disaster assistance. A quick way to get started is to take a video or photos of every room in your home, including storage areas. Keep a list of high-value item with details and receipt copies. Update it annually and after major purchases.

5. Make Sure You’re Covered

Having proper insurance coverage provides a financial safety net for unexpected losses. Make sure you have enough coverage for your home and contents (replacement cost coverage is strongly recommended). Some items, like antiques or artwork, may require a separate endorsement to be fully covered, and some perils, like flooding and earthquakes, are not covered by your homeowner’s insurance and require separate insurance policies. Flood insurance has a 30-day waiting period after purchase before coverage goes into effect, so you cannot wait until a storm is in the forecast to get it.