Support for CPAs in Post-Disaster Work

Whether helping a single client or a whole community return to normal, CPAs will find a new guide to be a vital tool.

B efore 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.”

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.”

Resource Information
Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues was jointly written and produced by NEFE (National Endowment for Financial Education) and the AICPA with funding for ongoing printing provided by the AICPA Foundation. It is being distributed primarily through local chapters of the American Red Cross. For more information on NEFE, visit .

You can view and download a free copy of Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues from . You also can purchase a hard copy (product no. 017231JA) by calling the AICPA at 888-777-7077 or by fax at 1-800-362-5066, or you can order it online at .

CPAs interested in volunteering their services in the event of a disaster should contact their local Red Cross chapter or visit the Red Cross Web site at and click on Volunteer Services.

Practitioners also can earn CPE credit by taking the “Emergency Business Planning: Are You Prepared for Disaster?” course (product no. 731163JA). For more information or to register, call the Institute at 888-777-7077 or go to .

Disasters are not always catastrophic events involving hundreds or thousands of people. According to the Red Cross, fire is the most common disaster individuals face, with more than 150 families across the country forced from their homes every day. In 2002 alone, local Red Cross chapters provided relief to victims of more than 60,000 single-family home fires. In total, for fiscal year 2003 the Red Cross responded to 71,647 disaster incidents or one every 73 minutes; 80,276 individuals were given a safe place to stay in Red Cross shelters and 138,036 families received financial assistance from the Red Cross to meet their emergency needs.

For this reason CPAs should look at Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues as a vital tool to help individuals whose lives are in turmoil after a catastrophe. Meloni Hallock, CPA/PFS of Ernst and Young LLP, Los Angeles, and a long-time volunteer at the Red Cross, sees an essential and ongoing role in financial disaster recovery for CPAs and the guide. “A destroyed home may not be a large-scale disaster, but for the family it is a major one. The guide aids CPAs in providing the help that makes the transition back to normal life a reality.”

Anthony Pugliese, CPA, is vice-president of member innovation at the AICPA. He can be reached at . Anat Kendal, CPA, is director of financial planning for the AICPA. She can be reached at .

In Good Hands

CPAs, long known for their community involvement and volunteerism, are using the guide to establish even stronger ties to individuals and to help local organizations.

Last October thousands of homes were lost when fires ravaged Southern California, and Clar Rosso, director of communications at the California Society of CPAs, received numerous member requests for disaster-assistance materials, including Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues. She cites the following examples of how California CPAs are helping victims reclaim their lives.

Lynette Atchley, CPA, CFP, from San Bernadino, has been working extensively with the family of James McDermith, a CPA who died of an allergic reaction to smoke inhalation; the smoke was so bad he died in the driveway of his home in San Bernardino. She has also stepped in to offer post-disaster financial advice to several of McDermith’s clients who suffered losses from the fires.

Daniel D. Morris, a San Jose-based CPA, was more than glad to offer advice and assistance to a bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who needed practical ways to help his church members. Using the materials provided by the state society, Morris offered insurance and tax information as well as the phone numbers of agencies and other sources of assistance.

The Texas Society of CPAs embarked on a pilot program with the Dallas chapter of the Red Cross to train CPA volunteers to use the guide in working with disaster victims, said Christi Stinson, CPA and COO of the Texas society. The program will subsequently roll out to CPA volunteers across the state.

The guide is proving to be an especially valuable community outreach vehicle for CPAs in smaller firms. Ken Dodson, CPA, PFS, of King/Dodson Financial Advisors Inc., recently appeared on NBC in Ohio to publicize it. He suggested a CPA’s house of worship would be an outstanding place to distribute it—the guide would be on hand, with CPA-backed assistance, in the event of any disaster.

CPAs who wish to establish stronger immediate and long-term ties to their communities can share the guide with their neighbors, clients and colleagues in a variety of ways including

Making the guide available as an office “take one.”

Using it as part of ongoing financial planning and contingency-management advice to clients.

Partnering with the Red Cross and other disaster-relief organizations in presenting a community-wide financial disaster-preparedness program, using the guide as a handout.

Putting post-disaster financial planning on the agenda and making the guide available at state and local CPA chapter meetings.

Sponsoring presentations of the guide at local community service organizations such as the Kiwanis, Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce.

“With this guide, it is hoped the public will see more and more that CPAs are the people to turn to to recover from the financial consequences of a disaster. It’s another way we can be their trusted advisers,” said Susan Waters, CEO of the California Society of CPAs.


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