Perhaps more than any other point in history, paperwork rules our lives. Sure, we’ve made some strides in saving trees by using electronic media rather than actual paper in many cases, but the fact is, red tape often seems to conspire against us. This is readily apparent in the aftermath of disasters.
You have insurance, you’re up to date on your premiums, yet no one can seem to figure out how to locate your policy because you don’t know the policy number.
Since your copies of the policy are now drowning underneath several feet of water from the flood, you’re at a standstill. You know who you are, everyone around you knows who you are, except for this bean counter who won’t do a darn thing for you unless you can produce a photo ID. Unfortunately, your wallet went up in flames along with everything else you own.
Storing Your Important Documents
Do yourself a favor and take steps now to preserve these documents and other critical information in such a way that you can easily retrieve them should the worst happen.
Here’s a list of the documents and other information you’ll want readily available.
Copies of all insurance policies (home, auto, health, life).
Copies of photo ID cards (driver license, student ID, etc.) for each family member.
Lists of all prescription medications you and other family members take regularly.
Names, addresses, and phone numbers for your primary physician, dentist, attorney, and insurance agent(s).
Information relating to bank accounts (name of bank, account numbers).
Photocopies of all credit cards (front and back).
Copies of vehicle titles.
Copies of property ownership records (deed, land contract, mortgage paperwork, etc.)
If you have pets, snap a photo of you and Fluffy together. Should you become separated, this is a great way to prove ownership of the animal.
Electronic Storage of Documents
Start by purchasing a thumb or flash drive. These small USB sticks store a ton of information. You’ll want to password protect the contents of the flash drive, of course, given the sensitive nature of the contents. You can buy flash drives with this feature built in, but they tend to cost considerably more than the average USB sticks. There are programs available, some are even free, that allow you to install password protection on any flash drive. Here’s just one article with more information about those options.
Once the USB stick is ready, either download or use a scanner to make electronic copies of all of these documents, as well as any other information you feel may be necessary to have. Be sure the file types being saved are common ones that can probably be opened on any computer, such as DOC, PDF, or JPG files.
You might also consider scanning in copies of treasured family photos, though I’ll admit that project can be a massive time suck. But, should there be a fire, a flood, or any other disaster that destroys the originals, you’ll appreciate having had the forethought to make copies.
As you go along downloading these documents and such to the flash drive, print out hard copies if you don’t have them on paper already. By having two sets of the information, you’re in a better position to ensure at least one set will be available to you.
Okay, so now you have two complete sets of all this critically important data. Where do you store it? Depending on where you work, one set could be kept at your office. Stick it in the back of a drawer and just bring it home once every six months or so to update the information. Another option is to make an arrangement with a trusted family member or close friend. They’ll keep your stuff and you’ll do the same for them. A fire safe isn’t a bad option, either, though they aren’t infallible.
What I do myself is keep a password protected USB stick in my EDC bag that goes everywhere I do. I have a set of hard copies stashed with someone I trust as a backup to the USB data.
Having copies of this information outside the home but readily accessible can be crucial in expediting insurance claims and cutting through the inevitable red tape that comes along with disaster recovery.