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Weathering the storm: Or, are my coins safe?
By By Dr. R.S. “Bart” Bartanowicz
December 12, 2017

Hurricane Irma has come and passed. I’m one of the lucky Floridians who came through unscathed. I thought my personal experience with Irma might be of interest to other collectors as to what I did to safeguard my coins and valuables.

My planning, preparations, experience and advice can probably be applied to any evacuation scenario. Of course, with hurricanes there are lots of warnings as compared to other natural disasters where there might not be any, or little, warning.

The hurricane season in Florida runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The local media spends a considerable amount of time reminding Floridians’ that it's hurricane season.

Our local TV weather folks are usually all over the place, including seminars and personal appearances. To some residents this seems like a bit too much information but on the other hand it is estimated that around 1,000 people a day move to Florida and many are older retirees who haven’t given much thought to hurricanes. For old Florida hands such as my spouse and I, we know this is serious business.

In the case of Irma the forecasters accurately predicted that it would be a fierce Category 5 storm with winds around 150 mph and that it would most likely strike the Florida peninsula. The only question was where the eye of the storm would make landfall. The storm was powerful and wide enough to simultaneously cover both coasts of Florida. Authorities began the call for evacuation particularly in communities such as Key West, which is a series of islands connected by bridges to the Florida mainland.

With all this information I decided to put up my hurricane shutters. In my case I board up the windows, which is a day-long job. The next thing was to bring all loose items into the garage or house itself. This included patio furniture as well as potted plants and anything else that could become an airborne object with the storm’s 150 mph winds.

Once I had taken care of the physical protection of the house I pulled out my hurricane plan. The plan was a checklist of the items that we needed to take if we evacuated.

The first thing was to make sure that I had all my legal, financial documents, insurance policies, etc., together. As someone who had a career in the air traffic control field, I crave organization and attention to detail. All the above documents were in three-ring binders and I placed them in two of the three aluminum briefcases that I specifically purchased for my valuables and such in the event we had to evacuate. Also included with these documents were our genealogical records, which represented over 20 years of dedicated work.

The third briefcase was for my coin inventory, important documents, and coins and other valuables. My valuable coins were in a safe deposit box at my local bank. Being wary of floods and such, I asked the bank for the highest box they had when I opened my account. I didn’t get in a discussion with the bank employees as to why I wanted a box so high. I’m sure they would have given me assurances that all would be well even in the case of flooding from the rains and storm surge.

The bank-stored coins were also covered by my insurance policy and the company had a complete inventory of what was in the bank. All this information was in my “Coin Inventory” binder. Another binder had research and other information regarding specific coins that I had collected. This also included images of all my coins that were in the bank. Also included in this binder were images of all the rooms in my house and the contents. If my house and the contents were damaged or destroyed I would have a pictorial record of our belongings to present the insurance company.

The final preparation package would be individual valuable items. I had coins in the house but these were interesting vs. valuable coins. I went through what I had in the house and filled up a 2-by-2 storage box. I had some mementos from my Air Force and FAA careers and these also went in the briefcase. My wife and I are not jewelry or watch people so there wasn’t much there. There were a lot of items that I would have liked to take but I was working on an evacuation plan not a moving plan.

With all the above things accomplished, I settled in and watched the weather reports and updates. Landfall for the center of the storm was firstly predicted for the east coast of Florida with Miami being the most likely spot. Over the days the storm’s path slowly shifted to the west and Key West appeared to be the storm’s target.

The forecasts continued to show the storm moving further west where Naples/Marco Island became the main area followed to the north to Fort Myers. With the storm a day or so out forecasts were made that it would strike the Tampa area. I made the decision to evacuate when my hometown of Venice, Fla. was identified as a possible landfall for the center of the storm.

At that pronouncement the phone was ringing off the hook with concerned family members and friends wanting to know when we were going to evacuate. I was prepared to stay in place but I finally gave in with the storm being about 36 hours from landfall in Venice. We all loaded up in my wife’s car, which was our most fuel efficient car as fuel was almost impossible to get. We made our way eastward cross state to Fort Lauderdale to hunker down with my brother Stephens and his wife Cheryl. The roads were pretty much empty.

We knew that Fort Lauderdale would be receiving winds and rain from the storm as it passed to their south. The storm was supposed to turn northward once it reached the west coast. The storm hit Key West around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning and continued over the keys to make landfall at Marco Island and Naples around 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Instead of continuing along the coast line toward Venice, the storm continued up the center of the state and it quickly dropped down to a Category 1 hurricane. Venice would receive tropical storm winds and rain but nothing like hurricane strength.

When I returned home Monday evening, some 24 hours after the storm had passed Venice, I was surprised to find that the power was still on and the house was cool. The shutters had held up and there was only minor debris in the yard as I had secured everything in the house and garage.

What surprised me was what I had left behind. I had packed most of my papers but my coin inventory binder was still on my desk. I had failed to place it in the briefcases. I had also left my laptop computer, which had phone numbers and such and lots of information. I had convinced myself that I had plenty of time and that everything was in order, which was not the case. In my rush I had forgotten to take my list of phone numbers and email addresses. So I didn’t have the phone numbers or email addresses of my neighbors who had stayed to see how the house fared.

Both of my sons chastised me for not having all my documents scanned in to a flash drive or such vs. packing notebooks into briefcases. They were right. But perhaps what bothered me was that with all my valuables coins in the bank vault was that I had left a lot of coins that were interesting to me laying about. True most of the coins were circulated foreign issues of little value but they were interesting and none of them had been placed in any inventory of sorts simply because I didn’t think that they would be of any interest to anyone but me.

So what does this all come down to? My planning was good in that I knew what I needed to do and had meticulously listed everything in a sequential checklist. If a disaster had taken place I would have had most of the documents that I needed to start my recovery. It was the execution of my plan that had not been so good. Some would say that I waited too long before I decided to evacuate. Looking back I knew I was confident that the house would hold up but when faced with the possibility of 150 mph winds with the center of the storm making landfall in my hometown I decided to evacuate and rushed my plan.

In my rush I had everything out and ready to go but I didn’t pack it all. The really bad thing was not having all my phone numbers and such with me. We have a cellphone but it is only used for travel and only has a few numbers in its directory. As to having so much baggage to carry I should have made sure that everything I needed documents, etc., were on a flash drive vs. hard copies.

With all said and done, I’ll be scanning documents and such and copying them to a flash drive. My valuable coins will remain in a safe deposit box, my interesting “house coins” will be inventoried on a computer spread sheet—not because they are valuable but because they need to be organized. It’s always good to have a disaster plan and we should all review them periodically to make sure that we don’t leave something out. For even the occasional coin collector there should be an inventory.

As the inevitable comes for all of us, an inventory will help your heirs make decisions as to what do with your collection be it a $100 collection or one that is worth thousands. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I have known who thought that the deceased had a valuable collection to only find out that it was worth face value. An inventory would have helped offset unrealistic expectations.

For those of you with safe deposit boxes, talk to your bank about protecting your coins from fire, flood or other hazards. You should also ask about what the bank’s liability is if your coins are damaged while in the safe deposit box. You can also ask for a box that is higher up if flooding is a concern. So there you are. Planning is a good thing but execution of the plan and adjusting as necessary is the key.

In summary, here are my basic suggestions:

1. Place all your raw (non-certified) coins in non-PVC 2-by-2 holders. I still prefer the cardboard ones. Place the essential information on the coin using a fine point permanent ink marker. List the denomination, year, mint, mintage and if it is a foreign coin list the country of origin and the Krause reference number from the Krause catalog of world coins.

2. Once you have accomplished the above you can inventory your coins in alphabetical order starting from the lowest denomination to the highest. With your inventory you can add information that you couldn’t fit on the 2 by 2 such as purchase date and price and where you purchased or found the coin. You can use a computer spread sheet or on a writing tablet like we used in olden times.

3. Once you’ve done this you should place the coins in a suitable 2-by-2 box in the same order as your inventory. All of this will make it easier for yourself or your heirs.

4. Next step to this would be storage and protection. Bank safe deposit boxes are one option for valuable coins. Home storage is another option but one should seriously consider a commercial alarm service if you’re going to do this. Remember we are looking at home disasters such as fires or natural disasters as well as theft prevention.

5. If you decide to have a safe deposit box have a serious discussion with the bank as to your concerns. Along the same lines see what your insurance options are. Your best thing here is to start with the agent for your homeowner’s insurance.

6. With all the above accomplished, determine what important information you need to take with you if you had to evacuate your home. A large briefcase just for important papers and valuable should be at the ready. Just be sure that everything will fit in the briefcase.

7. Above all have a plan and a checklist so if the dreaded day comes you will be ready.

Finally, the above recommendations are just the basics. I know that you the reader will make your own personal plans, which may be far more elaborate and innovative than anything I’ve written here. I wish you all good luck and hope that none of you are ever in the position of having to evacuate your homes.

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