Prepare in a Year Month 5: Gather Important Documents

Important documents stored in a safe

The Washington State Military Department (WSMD) has created a simple one-year guide—Prepare in a Year—to help people tackle one task per month. We will follow it here to help you prepare in one category every thirty days so that you will make progress monthly and feel ready by the end of the year. If you are preparing your family, make sure your family members know what to do as well. If you are preparing your business, make sure your colleagues or employees are up to date.

Our task for May is to Gather Important Documents.

We tend to forget before a disaster about the financial considerations that follow. Will you need to file an insurance claim? Will you need to apply for financial assistance? Will you need to find new housing? Will you need to get advanced medical care? All of these considerations will require quick and easy access to documents that could be inaccessible after a disaster or destroyed by it.

The goal for this month is to gather copies of crucial documents and keep photos of them on your phone too.

What Documents Do You Need?

We’re going to identify the necessary documents by thinking about them in terms of five categories:

  • Identification:
    • marriage/birth/death certificates
    • passports
    • Social Security cards
    • driver’s licenses
    • green cards
    • pet microchip information
  • Financial:
    • lease/home ownership
    • vehicle registration and title
    • loan information
    • utility bills
    • proof of address
    • banking account numbers
    • retirement/investment account numbers
    • insurance policies (home, auto, renter’s, life, flood)
    • sources of income (paystubs)
    • proof of employer
  • Medical:
    • health/dental insurance
    • Medicare or Medicaid info.
    • veteran’s benefits
    • lists of medications
    • doctor office phone numbers
    • medical power of attorney
    • disabilities documentation
  • Emergency contacts:
    • doctor office
    • dental office
    • pet vets
    • out of state family and friends
    • employer
    • supervisor
    • schools
    • neighbors
  • Valuables:
    • photos of valuables
    • copies of family photos
    • photos of home
    • wills

One of the ways you will access information and accounts after a disaster is via the Internet. So be sure to have access to your online passwords as well. Write them down and keep the list in your safe, take photos and keep them on your password-protected phone, and/or use an online password manager and just memorize the one password to access it.

After you’ve gathered the documents, (a) take photos of them all and keep them on your password-protected phone and (b) store the physical copies in a safe place like in a zippered plastic bag in an easy-to-access fireproof safe. When disaster strikes, grab your plastic bag with documents and your phone and throw them in your go bag. The two-step process ensures that if your phone is damaged, you lose it, or it runs out of battery power, you’ll still have the hard copies OR if your physical copies are damaged or inaccessible, you’ll still have the photos on your phone.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to the Bainbridge Prepares RSS feed!