Six ways to prepare for disaster

Stocking up on water, shuttering the windows and even evacuating when appropriate are among the priorities when it comes to preparing for a major storm or other potential disaster, but with Hurricane Florence on everyone's minds, the Internal Revenue Service reminded taxpayers and businesses of some of the other precautions they might want to take, particularly around making sure their documents and other records are secure. Here's their advice, along with some other expert tips.

Start with a plan
While the majority of any disaster preparedness plan will focus on things like communication with family members or employees, physical safety, escape routes and the like, the IRS notes that it should also include plans for key documents, data, and lists of belongings and property.
Make copies of key documents
The IRS recommends keeping original documents like bank statements, tax returns, deeds, titles and insurance policies in a safe place in waterproof containers -- and copies of them should be kept with a family member or trusted friend somewhere outside the area that may be affected by the disaster. Scanning paper documents can also make it easier to transfer and save them elsewhere -- and note that many financial institutions can provide statements and other documents electronically.
Document what you have
Photograph Camera Telephone Capture Technology Concept
The IRS recommends taking pictures of videos of the contents of a house or business, with a particular focus on high-value items. Those visual records can help support insurance claims, or claims for tax benefits in the aftermath of a disaster.

The service has workbooks for individuals (Publication 584, "Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook") and businesses (Publication 584-B, "Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook") to help them compile lists of belongings and business equipment.
Check on payroll providers
If your firm -- or your clients' businesses -- use a payroll service provider, the IRS recommends checking if they have a fiduciary bond, to protect you in case the payroll service provider defaults.
Know who to contact
Preparing a phone list of family members or critical business contacts is one of the first things to do in advance of a potential natural disaster, but the IRS also notes that there are other people you may want to contact.

For instance, in the case of a federally declared disaster, taxpayers can call (866) 562-5227 to talk to an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues, and they can get tax transcripts through the Get Transcript link on, by calling (800) 908-9946.

It will also be handy to have contact information for insurers, building managers or landlords, plumbers, electricians, and anyone else whose services or help you can imagine needing in the aftermath of a disaster.
Make sure backups are working
Business data and systems should be backed up on a daily basis to a location that's not just off-site, but in an entirely different part of the country. But just backing up isn't enough -- businesses should also test to make sure that their backups are actually working, by periodically restoring and checking the backed-up files.

More and more individuals are also taking advantage of cloud-based backup services to store family photos, records and other files outside their homes -- and they'll want to check that those are effective, too.