Before 9/11/01 CPAs and other financial planners had a tough time convincing the public of the importance of disaster--recovery planning, except perhaps in locations with a history of earthquakes, floods or tornadoes.
That's all changed as recent disaster victims comprehend the value of the help created for them by four of the country's public-spirited organizations. In keeping with increased national awareness of the need for preparedness and recovery, the AICPA, the AICPA Foundation, the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and the American Red Cross came together to help families and individuals deal with the financial repercussions that accompany a disaster. The result of their joint efforts is Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues, the first comprehensive, authoritative and easy-to-use guide for people affected by disasters. The guide's success far exceeds expectations. Provided free to the general public, more than 85,000 copies are in the hands of CPAs, local American Red Cross chapters and disaster victims. In addition, the Red Cross Web site from which the guide can be downloaded has had over 650,000 hits.
Kathryn Forbes, CPA, president of the AICPA Foundation, vice-chairman of the American Red Cross board of governors and chairman of the Red Cross audit committee, said the guide, issued in April, has already proved its value many times over. She cited a number of examples, including last spring's devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and the early summer hurricane and related floods that battered the Gulf Coast, where the Red Cross and local CPAs used the guide. "We've been able to help greatly with clothing and shelter needs and with mental health needs. Now we're also addressing the equally important financial needs. I'm proud of the Red Cross and I'm proud of our profession," said Forbes.
Randy Ryan, manager of personal financing planning for the AICPA, echoed the positive outcomes arising from the collaboration between the organizations: "The feedback we're getting about the guide has been extremely positive. With the help of the Red Cross and CPAs, it is getting into the hands of people who need it when they need it most. For example, we know there was much demand in the hard-hit Middle Atlantic states after Hurricane Isabel."
INVALUABLE ADVICE AT HAND
Pivotal in the guide's ability to help disaster victims as they rebuild their lives and their homes are its style and organization. It is divided into three parts: "First Days," "Next Weeks and Months" and "Moving On"--leading the reader from the aftermath of the disaster to long-term planning, including suggestions on how to be financially prepared for any eventuality.
The material dovetails with the practical and emotional impacts of a disaster--allowing victims to deal with financial matters in manageable chunks without being overwhelmed and without overlooking any steps needed for financial recovery. With a user-friendly format and tone, the 32-page publication helps people get back on their feet. The topics include
* Collecting and replacing vital documents.
* Contacting organizations that can provide both immediate and long-term help.
* Step-by-step procedures for collecting medical and disability benefits.
* Steps to take upon the death of a loved one.
* Determining income sources in the weeks and months following the disaster.
* Dealing with debts and expenses.
* Guidelines for determining whether to take legal action.
* What to do in the event of property loss.
* Emergency preparedness.
According to NEFE director of collaborative programs, Brent Neiser, CFP, the guide helps "disaster victims move from financial bewilderment and paralysis to financial action and recovery."
HARDSHIPS HAPPEN EVERY DAY
Disasters are not always catastrophic events involving hundreds or thousands of people. …