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Prepared for disaster? Make your plan now!

What should you do to help prepare yourself and your family in case of disaster? If you had to flee your house in the next five minutes, would you be ready? TODAY consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman offers these tips:

1. Make copies of your documents.
Here we're talking about birth certificates, social security cards, marriage licenses, passports, bank statements, insurance policies, wills, etc. It's even a good idea, after making the copies, to give them to another family member or friend, just in case your copies are destroyed. For the copies that you keep, make sure you put them in a waterproof container. This can be something as simple as a Ziploc bag. And if people are concerned about losing paper copies, or having too many papers floating around the house, try an electronic copy. Save your documents on hard drives, disks, or even in an e-mail. Electronic backup copies will save you in the end.

2. Get your insurance information in order.
First off, if you don't have homeowner's insurance, or fire or flood insurance, get it now, especially if you live in an area that's prone to that type of damage.

If you are insured, make sure you put that policy in a safe place. This goes back to the first point. And make sure you know the terms of that insurance policy. For example, once something happens (for instance, devastating wildfires), make your claim right away. And don't forget to take pictures or video of the damage.

3. Buy a fireproof safe.
Depending on the size of the safe, it could run you anywhere from $50 to $200 ... on average. But this is certainly worth the investment.

Another important point to make: Don't think that you're safe with putting your valuables in a safe-deposit box at a bank or other institution. If a natural disaster like a fire, hurricane or earthquake hits, and destroys the bank, your valuables are no good in a safe-deposit box.

4. Prepare an emergency kit.
It's important to gather things like a battery-operated radio, a flashlight, bottled water, food, a blanket, a first-aid kit, etc. — anything that you'll need. And pack it now. You won't have time or be able to think when you're rushing you and your family to safety. Do it now to save time later.

5. Come up with a family plan.
Again, something to do right now. Let your family know where the important documents are, or, if you made copies, who has them. Come up with a meeting point in case you get separated. The same things we hear all the time, but so many people aren't doing them. Make a plan now.

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