SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Fumbling through files for important papers can be frustrating. But when an emergency strikes, trying to gather up all those documents can be downright frightening.
There is a way around all the late-minute hassle, but it will take some time and a way to organize and contain them so that you can grab and go when a disaster strikes. And, with predictions of more severe weather and flooding this winter due to El Nino, now is a good time to organize your papers.
Container options can range from a fireproof lock box or safe, a safety deposit box or something as simple as a three-ring binder with plastic sleeves into which you can insert the documents.
The list of documents and records you will want to have is long, but will be invaluable after you have evacuated your home. You will need access to some of these items sooner than others, but all are important enough to include in your "must have" list:
- Vital Records: Driver's licenses, birth certificates, adoption papers, Social Security cards, passports, citizenship papers (such as a "green card" or naturalization documents), marriage license, divorce decrees, child custody papers, current military ID, military discharge (DD Form 214), medical and vaccination records for pets along with current photos and ID chip numbers in case you are separated.
- Insurance Policies: Homeowners, renters, flood, earthquake, auto, life, health, disability, long-term care; have at least the policy number and insurance company contact information for each type of coverage.
Keep Your Important Documents Safe from a Disaster
- Property Records: Real estate deeds of trust and mortgage documents (at least the two-page settlement statement provided by the title company showing the actual cost of the house and purchase expenses); rental agreement or lease; auto/boat/RV registration and titles; video, photos or a list of household inventory.
- Medical Information: Immunization and other medical records, prescription information (drug name and dosage), health insurance identification cards, physician names and phone numbers, powers-of-attorney for health care, and living wills.
- Estate planning documents: Wills, trusts, funeral instructions, powers-of-attorney, attorney names and phone numbers.
- Financial records: First two pages of your previous year's federal and state tax returns, stock and bond certificates, investment records, brokerage and retirement account information, credit card, checking and savings account numbers, contact information for credit unions, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies and financial advisers.
- Other: Personal address book, a letter with instructions for family or friends (for use in a situation where you're not present), backups of important computer files, a list of usernames and passwords for online accounts, a key to your safe deposit box, a recent photograph, fingerprints and dental records for each member of the household (some police stations and nonprofits fingerprint children free);, account and contact information for utilities and other services (you may have to provide a new billing address or cancel certain services), a list of important documents and where originals and copies are located.
Those who don’t have the time or ability to gather all of these documents should focus on the most important and most difficult to replace.
In addition, take time now to think about the priceless personal items you would want to protect from danger or take with you if you had to suddenly evacuate your home.
The first step is to take an inventory of your household valuables. Those who wish more complete checklists or guidance on collecting and safeguarding this important information, go to www.ready.gov/financialpreparedness.
If you have lost documents in the Butte or Valley fires, go to www.fema.gov/disaster/4240 to learn how to replace them.
Survivors can register for FEMA assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362; TTY 800-462-7585; 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362. Registration ends Nov. 23.
Keep Your Important Documents Safe from a Disaster
For more information on California’s wildfire recovery, visit: caloes.ca.gov or fema.gov/disaster/4240 and follow us on Twitter @Cal_OES and @femaregion9 and at Facebook.com/California OES and Facebook.com/FEMA.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585 directly; if you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.
FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who are referred to SBA for a disaster loan must apply to be eligible for additional FEMA assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.