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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Identity Survival: The Importance of Emergency Documents

One often overlooked area of preparedness is having copies of important documents which would prove your identity and possessions to the authorities should your originals get destroyed due to disaster.
Katrina is a perfect example. Many families who were otherwise prepared failed to follow this advice and ran into a host of issues.
When the waters receded, some residents tried to return to their homes. The national guard and police, who were guarding against looting, prevented people from entering their homes unless they could provide proper identification and proof of ownership.
There were also difficulties in getting families back together after becoming separated following the disaster. Children were often put in a secure location and would only be released to parents/guardians if they could prove their identities.
Even trying to file insurance claims were frustrating since most did not have their policy numbers available.
Having access to your important documents is absolutely essential if you were required to rebuild your life following a disaster.

What Documents Should You Have Backups Of?

Here’s a list of documents that you should have a copy of for each family member (where applicable):
  • drivers license (front and back)
  • passports
  • insurance cards
  • social security cards
  • credit cards (front and back)
  • proof of ownership or lease of your residence
  • vehicle, boats etc. proof of ownership (copy of title, bill of sale etc)
  • bank account numbers and other financial information
  • legal documents and wills
  • a recent family photo with names
  • phone and address information for in and out-of-state emergency contacts
  • birth, death, marriage, divorce certificates
  • important business documents
  • photos of valuables for documentation of insurance claims
  • medical records (immunization etc.)

Where You Should Store These Backups?

Having more than one backup for these important documents is essential. For example, if you choose to put your emergency docs only in your bug-out bag, it may be that a disaster prevents you from getting to that bag.
Here are some options for you:

In Your Bug-Out Bag

Besides food, water and gear, your bug-out bags (72 hour kits) should also contain these important documents. I prefer to put them in Ziplock brand (they’re more durable) freezer bags. This keeps them completely waterproof and prevents damage.

With Trusted Friends/Family

Another option where you can store your emergency documents is with a trusted friend or relative who lives outside of your area. This provides another failsafe in case your area is completely destroyed. You obviously don’t want these documents to fall in the wrong hands so it’s of primary importance that you can trust that individual and that they take the necessary precautions.

Safe-Deposit Box

For around $15-$20 a year you can store copies of your important documents in a safe deposit box. Again, I would recommend keeping them in a bank outside your immediate area. If your a customer of a national bank this gives you many options.

Keeping Electronic Copies

This is one of my favorite methods. Basically you create digital copies of your important documents and then upload them to a remote server (like Gmail, Google Docs, or Hotmail). By keeping a copy on various remote servers you benefit from the fact that your document is safe from disaster. Many large companies like Google and Microsoft have disaster-recovery servers that if one server location were to be completely destroyed another would take its place without any data loss.
As a graduate of computer science I am well aware of the importance and vulnerabilities of digital security. But transferring digital files across the net and keeping digital copies need not be risky. In my next article, I’ll be sharing with you how you can securely keep copies of these documents on the web. Read it here.

Related posts:

  1. How to Create Secure Digital Copies of Your Emergency Documents
  2. The Importance of Self-Reliance

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