Important Papers

You should have all your important papers somewhere safe and easy to find. They should be packaged so they are easy to carry and stored someplace fireproof. Office supply stores will be happy to sell you a lock-box that is fire proof and has a handle. Another option is to put the papers in a food storage bag and put them in the freezer. This makes them easy to carry and the freezer is relatively fire proof. If you have an actual safe in your house, great, but you still need to package things so you can grab everything you need quickly. You don't want to be thinking about gathering up papers when you are getting ready to evacuate.

There are several different kinds of papers you may need after a disaster. Obviously, you want to have the information on your homeowners insurance, so you can collect if your house blows away. But, you also need the information and paperwork to restart your household elsewhere if the house you were living in is gone.

Start with the basics. Keep a certified copy of everyone's birth certificate. This is what you need to re-establish everything else if your records are destroyed. Fifty years ago it was common for the original records to be lost when a county courthouse burned down. That is rare today, but everyone needs a birth certificate and it can take awhile to get a new one if there has been a disaster. The same bag or envelope should also have your social security cards. If you have passports or a marriage license, put those in too.

Your insurance file should include your life insurance and other personal policies as well as your homeowners or renters insurance. You are not likely to need the life insurance policy during the disaster, but you will want it eventually and it can be hard to reconstruct all your insurance if the paperwork is lost. Put the policies themselves in the safe place. You don't need these records very often.

If your house is damaged or destroyed, you are also going to need proof that it was yours and that you lived there.  Make copies of the deeds to any property you own and add these copies to your important papers. If you don't have the deed, make copies of the face sheet on your mortgage. Include a copy of a utility bill that shows that you actually lived there. If you rent your home, a copy of the lease will be proof of residence. If you don't have that, then the utility bill will help.  There is the same problem with cars that are flooded, burned or otherwise damaged. You should have a copy of the title or the registration. These papers are necessary if you are going to collect insurance or qualify for some of the relief programs.

Banking information also needs to be safe and portable. You want the names, addresses and account numbers for all bank accounts, loans and credit cards. You will need to know where your money is and what you have available. You will need to have access to credit as well. Your credit cards are likely to be shut off by the bank if the only address they have for you is no longer valid. These records don't have to be elaborate. Get a deposit slip or void a check from each bank account. Copy a payment coupon from your mortgage, car loans, student loans, etc. Take an index card and write down your credit card numbers. Put it all in an envelope and store it away with the insurance policies.

Medical records are the next thing to have in the box. Everyone should have an immunization card with all their shots recorded on it. Don't think that you can get it from the doctor's office. The doctor's office may not be there. Children have to have proof of immunization to get in school and adults may need it for work. If you have immunization cards on everyone, put them in your safe place. If you don't have them, call your doctor and get them now. While you are at it, make sure everyone is up to date on their immunizations. If you don't have a regular doctor, you may be able to get the children’s records from their school.

Most immunization cards have a place to list allergies to medications. This is about all you need in the way of medical records for your disaster planning. If you have a lot of medical problems or take a lot of medicines, you need to deal with this differently. There is more information about prescriptions later in the book.

School records should also be kept in the safe place if the children are still in school. These will be needed if they have to enroll in another school temporarily or if the records at their school are lost. When you get the end-of-year report card, put it in the file. That way you will have records on hand and will be able to reconstruct their transcript if necessary.

If you have room in your safe storage, you want to put the papers that have sentimental value in it too. Diplomas, baptismal certificates, awards, favorite photos all are important to us personally and are usually impossible to replace. Put them in the bag or box that will get grabbed and taken, so you don't have to try to replace them.


Birth Certificates

Social Security Cards


Insurance: Homeowners, Renters, Flood, Earthquake

DVD Documenting What You Own

Insurance: Life, Disability, AD&D, etc.

Bank Account names and numbers

Credit Card names and numbers

Loan names and numbers:
mortgages, car loans, student loans, etc.

Immunization Records

Report Cards

Diplomas and Certificates

Religious Records

Anything of great sentimental value