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Legal Services Of North Florida Offers Advice Ahead Of The Storm

Tom Flanigan
These houses in Mexico Beach were among the thousands damaged or destroyed by 2018's Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane readiness should include ready access to important legal documents.

Legal Services of North Florida is urging residents to keep their important papers safe - and readily accessible - in the event of a hurricane or other disaster.
The organization even has a special lawyer devoted to the preparedness issue. She is Kathy Grunewald, the organization's disaster coordinator attorney.

"What we say is, consider the 'three-p's: paper is one, property is another and pictures or photographs is the last one," she advised.

Among the most critical documents to have with you during a catastrophe, said Grunewald, is proof of identity.

"A Florida ID if you don't have a driver license, immigration or visa documents, Social Security cards, your passport even if you have that."

One reason for that is you might need that ID just to go home if you were in an evacuation zone.

"So if you live in an area that had substantial damage, often times the local authorities won't let just anyone go back in there. You've got to have some kind of identification to show you lived there."

In some instances, residents may not even be able to prove that the home they've been living in is legally theirs.

"A mom or a grandparent may have died in the past and then they just moved in and lived there for years and thought of themselves as the owner. But they didn't have any legal documents to prove that. And so what we encourage people is, if your name is not on the property, gather up your papers and seek the advice of an attorney to get that cleared up."

And that's just the beginning.

"You might want to have copies of important court papers or court orders. For example, if you have a child custody order or an order of protection, you may want to get those together and take them with you in the event you have to evacuate. Also, all of your proof of insurance, whether it's on your home, automobile or health insurance information."

Of course, nowadays you can keep electronic images of those documents on your phone, instead of having to lug around bankers' boxes full of paper copies. Legal Services of North Florida also sets up shop at post-storm recovery centers alongside FEMA and similar agencies to help people navigate the paperwork there. All of these tips and much more can be found online or by phone.

"They can always go to our website at: www.lsnf.org. We have disaster information there. And people can apply for assistance online on our website or on: floridaonlineintake, or by calling us at: 850-385-9007."

It's just one more important element of disaster preparation that needs to be done well before the first storm warning.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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