More Than a Go-Bag: Legal Emergency Preparedness

Legal Emergency Preparedness: Important Legal Documents in case of an emergency

Wyckoff Living – November 2016
By Gina L. Campanella, JD, MHA, CHA

 More Than a Go-Bag: Legal Emergency Preparedness

Superstorm Sandy, already four years ago last month, was a significant wake-up call for the tri-state area with regard to emergency planning. However, many families either did not realize the extent of planning that is required or, once the long cleanup had ended, put emergency planning on the “back burner” and it is still, unfortunately, sitting there. Although a comprehensive family emergency  plan can be time consuming, once the plan is made, occasional updates are far less demanding and the security an appropriate plan can provide ins invaluable.

There are several government resources to assist individuals and families formulating and integrating a comprehensive disaster plan; FEMA’s, New Jersey’sNew Jersey’s, and New York City’s All of these are excellent resources for putting together a plan, articulating that plan for the entire family and gathering the necessary documents and resources for a comprehensive “go bag” – a common term used to describe a sturdy, easy to transport, backpack or other type of bag which contains all of one’s short-term necessities in the event of a mandatory evacuation due to an emergency.

Each of these government organizations recommends collating copies and/or originals of one’s important documents in the event of an evacuation. While documents such as licenses, photo identification, birth certificates, marriage certificates and copies of insurance and credit cards are widely recognized as essential documents, many emergency preparedness directives fail to include two critical documents that everyone should have accessible in the event the emergency results in personal injury and hospitalization. It is not uncommon for an unexpected emergency to result in casualty and hospitalization of individuals who may not have ID or medical records with them. It is also not uncommon for such individuals to be unable to communicate on their own. HIPAA and other privacy laws prohibit hospitals, physicians, and medical facilities from communicating with an adult patient’s family and friends without either a waiver of HIPAA due to the emergency or appropriate authorization documents. It can take too long for the government to decide to waive HIPAA and retrieval of such documents can be impossible if homes or safe deposit boxes cannot be accessed.

In an emergency, every minute counts. An essential but often overlooked element of emergency preparedness is advanced health care planning and planning in the event of temporary incapacitation due to an emergency. Advance Directives, Living Wills and Powers of Attorney are all necessary elements of disaster planning. An Advance Directive and/or Living Will spells out who hospitals can speak to about a patient’s condition and give clear guidance on how to proceed with that patient’s care. All families should have such a document in their “go bag” for adult members of the household and those who live alone should provide a copy to whomever they designate as their health care proxy. Families also often fail to appreciate prior to an emergency that a Power of Attorney may also become necessary. Such a document will allow a spouse, parents or children to access accounts to pay expenses or bills they ordinarily would be unable to access or pay in the event the account holder is unable to do so him or herself.

Emergency preparedness is more than just a bag of credit cards and medications. It must also include planning for temporary injury or incapacitation as a result of the immediate emergency.

For more information, Ms. Campanella may be contacted at (201) 891-3726 or at

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