A natural disaster, such as a wildfire, hurricane, tornado or earthquake, can occur at any time. You may have to quickly evacuate to get out of harm’s way or your home may be destroyed in an instant.
You may need to prove your identity, address, income and relationships with family members to file an insurance claim, get medical care, find a new place to live or seek government assistance. Gathering copies of important documents before a disaster strikes can help to ensure that you will have them when you need them.
Documents to Collect
There are many documents that may be important to members of your family. Gather any of the following that apply.
Family/Identity Documents: Marriage certificate; birth or adoption certificates; divorce and child custody agreements; driver’s licenses; passports; citizenship documents; Social Security cards; records related to military service.
Financial Documents: Deed to your house; vehicle titles; mortgage and loan documents; home, auto, life, and medical insurance policies; savings, checking, retirement, and credit card statements; tax returns for the previous year; pay stubs.
Medical Documents: Information on allergies, medical diagnoses, medications family members take, the pharmacy where prescriptions are filled; immunization records; records related to any surgeries or other serious procedures family members have had. Include medical records for pets, too.
Legal Documents: Wills; living wills; trust and power of attorney documents.
You should also have recent photos of family members and pets. They can help you locate each other if you get separated.
Where to Store Documents
It’s important to make multiple copies of these documents and to store them in different locations so that you will be able to access them, no matter what happens. Keep physical copies in a plastic bag or a safe in your home so they will be protected from water and so you will be able to grab them quickly if you need to evacuate. If you have been warned that a disaster, such as a hurricane, is approaching and you think you may need to leave your home, you can put essential documents with your clothing, medication and other supplies that you have gathered for a possible evacuation.
Keep physical copies in another secure location, such as a safety deposit box. The second set of documents should be in a place that is some distance from your house. If a storm destroys your home and you have important documents in a safety deposit box at your bank in the same city, the bank may also be destroyed by the storm.
Store copies of documents online. You can store them in the cloud or scan documents and email them to yourself so you will be able to access them quickly, no matter where you wind up after the disaster.