Palm trees blow in the wind of an intense storm.

Have you prepared your personal documents for an emergency?

Proactive organization can make insurance claims and other recovery activities easier.

Preparing for an unexpected storm or fire can help protect both your personal and financial well-being. Consider these recommendations for protecting important documents and making a swift, safe evacuation.

Saving your documents

If a fire, hurricane or other natural disaster occurs, the documents needed to rebuild your life should either be with you or stored somewhere safely out of harm’s way. Waterproof, fireproof safes offer protection for your most important items, offering a level of security in the event of a last-minute evacuation. For disasters that can be forecasted further in advance – think weather-related events like hurricanes – it may be beneficial to take important papers with you.

While many of the documents below can be replaced, keeping them safe will make insurance claims and other recovery activities easier. Consider bringing:

  • Identification: passports, immigration papers, military discharge papers, immunization records, Social Security cards
  • Family records and certificates: birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, death
  • Home and vehicle: deeds, titles, registration, loan papers
  • Planning documents: wills, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare directives
  • Insurance information: health, life, home, vehicle

Consider placing them in a three-ring binder with pockets for easy portability, and store within a water resistant bag. Waterproof and fireproof boxes are usually quite heavy, but a heavy-duty waterproof bag from a sporting goods store or large, resealable plastic bag can serve as a lighter alternative.

Preparing your emergency bag

Proponents of preparedness recommend keeping a small bag packed with essentials for a quick escape. Your emergency bag should remain ready to go at all times, ideal for an unanticipated evacuation. Your water resistant duffel bag or knapsack can include items such as:

  • Your documents binder
  • Photos or video of your property for later insurance claims Safe deposit box key, if applicable
  • Notepad and pen flashlight
  • Small first-aid kit
  • Bottled water and nonperishable snacks
  • Extra resealable bags

An additional “quick grab” list will ensure you won’t forget items that would be inconvenient to keep in your emergency bag at all times. Examples include:

  • Backup of your computer, especially if it stores personal information
  • Cash for food and gas, as ATMs may not be in service
  • Required medications
  • Phone or tablet and chargers

Planning for pets

If conditions are unsafe for you, they’re unsafe for your pets as well. Research in advance which public shelters, lodging facilities or kennels can take care of your pets if you’re unable to bring them with you during an evacuation. If you have an exotic pet, try contacting local pet stores or zoological gardens located in a safe area. Your local SPCA or other pet-oriented organization can also likely provide information.

Additional steps to prepare your pets include:

  • Making copies of your pets’ updated immunization records
  • Filling out a pet ID card with a recent picture, description, contact information, medical details and care instructions
  • Compiling a kit with items like collars, leashes, medications, food, water, treats, toys, litter/pans, first aid supplies, and carriers

Depending on the type of natural hazards your area is prone to, additional provisions might be needed. But regardless of the particular peril, these precautions can provide a greater sense of security in the face of an unexpected disaster.