Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, floods, blizzards, and manmade disasters are all things that we need to be concerned about as consumers. Most people take out insurance policies to help protect themselves and their loved ones from personal injury or the loss of property. Other people put together emergency kits that contain rations of food and water. But besides these necessary items, every consumer should consider securing important documents in emergency packets as well. Photocopies of personal documentation should be sealed in large water-proof envelopes or locked boxes so that in an emergency you will have these documents to help regain some of the things you have lost. This includes photocopies of:
• Birth certificates for each family member
• A current photograph of each family member
• Driver’s licenses
• Social Security cards for each family member
• Death certificates
• Insurance papers, wills, deeds, property records, and photos or video of personal belongings
• Other vital papers for each family member, such as immigration papers, marriage licenses
• Financial account information that might be needed in an emergency
• Brief medical histories including medical equipment/supply need including style/serial numbers, all prescriptions and dosages for each family member. Also, have a copy of medical insurance cards.
In an emergency, these documents will help you to replace all photo IDs, get emergency credit, rent temporary housing, or relocate to a new area.
To prepare your evacuation kit, keep your box or envelope in a safe place near an exit so that you can grab it easily, but that a burglar might not readily find it. Put it in your car or take it out of the house only when you are ready to leave. (Be aware that thieves sometimes loot cars parked in driveways of those who are evacuating.) You will need those papers to identify yourself with various assistance groups and with insurance companies.
Keep the locked box (or envelope) in sight at all times, especially in a shelter. If necessary, remove the documents and put them in a plastic bag inside your clothing. Don’t trust anyone, other than family members, to watch these documents.
If you must leave a computer behind, remove the hard-drive and take that with you. It can always be put in a new computer. Many people are using “USB backup drives” for regular backups of critical information. These can be removed in a few seconds during an emergency.
Be on the lookout for scams. Scam artists prey on people’s desperation and fear in times of crisis. Many times they will pretend to contact you from companies that data was lost from and attempt to gain your banking information or social security number. Other scammers have been known to pose as disaster relief groups in an attempt to gain personal information or collect money that the victims believe will go to those affected by the current tragedy.
If you know how to protect yourself, you can better avoid a bad situation turning worse.