Even if you don't live paycheck to paycheck, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says you may be one disaster away from financial ruin.
There is no such thing as earthquake season in Southern California, but mid-January is a time that may still rattle those who experienced the 1994 Northridge temblor. The rocking and rolling started before dawn on Jan. 17. That early-morning shocker struck as all quakes do -- without warning. Preparation time? Zero.
In anticipation of the next shaker, mudslide, fire or other major disaster, FEMA recommends the perfect time to get ready is today.
To protect "a lifetime of savings," FEMA encourages taking several precautions:
* Update insurance policies. Make sure you have adequate coverage to rebuild your home, including that recent addition, and to cover everything that is in it. Consider earthquake insurance. In a flood zone, check out flood insurance.
* Maintain a written inventory, complete with video or photos, serial numbers when applicable and receipts for major appliances, electronics and luxury items. Include written appraisals for jewelry and artwork. Some items such as cameras and coin collections may require a rider on your homeowner's policy. Store that inventory and other important documents such as insurance policies, birth and marriage certificates, passports, deeds, wills and stock certificates in a safe-deposit box or other disaster-proof place.
* Keep emergency cash on hand -- in small bills -- because during a power failure neither debit cards nor credit cards will work.
* Do a safety check of your home. Make sure smoke detectors are working. Anchor bookcases, television sets, refrigerators, china cabinets, hot-water heaters and other larger objects that can tumble during an earthquake, causing injury. Cut back shrubbery and remove dry brush to prevent wildfires, especially when Santa Ana winds are blowing.
For more information, go to www.FEMA.gov, www.iii.org or www.knowyourstuff.org.