Did you know that in 2021, the United States was hit by a record-breaking 20 weather/climate disasters, each totaling over $1 billion in damages?
Earthquakes, floods, and fires are all natural calamities that can be catastrophic to households and businesses. Thus, it's critical to organize secure storage for important belongings to be ready for potential emergencies. One category of such critical items includes documentation. Read on to find out how to keep documents safe in areas prone to natural disasters.
6 Tips on How to Keep Your Documents Safe in Emergencies
Here are some suggestions for keeping important documents safe at home and at your workplace even if the area where you reside is affected by a natural disaster:
1. Assess the Risks
When creating a disaster preparedness plan, it’s important to consider what risks can possibly affect your printed and electronic documents at the office or at home. For instance, a flood can damage the documents left on tables or in open drawers, while a fire has a high chance of destroying the records stored in boxes and cupboards.
You can identify the risks of natural disasters by contacting the local authorities or by simply researching the information online.
2. Sort the Documents
Keeping your papers organized is extremely helpful when it comes to disaster preparedness. Thus, it’s essential to know where exactly all your documents are and to have them sorted into clear categories.
Some of the most important documents to keep safe are:
- Birth certificate or adoption certificate
- Citizenship papers
- Social Security card
- Driver’s license
- Medical records
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce papers
- Child custody/guardianship papers
- Military discharge/military ID
- Pet records
- Insurance contracts
- Loan documents
- Real estate deeds
- Rental/lease agreements
- Titles to property
- Financial statements (savings, retirement, investments)
- Living will
- Name change
- Power of attorney
- HIPAA documents
- Letter of instruction
You can see the full list inside the Terra Frma Guidebook.
3. Prepare Your Property
Protecting your property from natural disasters minimizes your documents’ exposure to risks. Ensure that:
- The house and the territory around it are being strengthened against potential weather damage.
- The area doesn’t have issues that can aggravate an emergency situation, like sewage problems or outdated circuitry.
- Hurricane shields and other protective measures for windows and doors are installed.
- Wall and/or floor anchors to secure racks and other heavy gear are used.
- Papers are kept above the flood line.
Investing in file cabinets that are fire, flood, and earthquake-proof is another critical action to undertake for disaster management and document protection.
4. Have an Emergency Bag
Having an emergency bag with all the essentials is an absolute must when it comes to disaster preparedness. Among other critical items, this bag should contain a tight ziplock bag or, ideally, a special water or fireproof document holder. This safe folder must be located on top of your emergency kit so that you can slip in all the valuable papers quickly when needed.
5. Make Duplicates
Making duplicates of your important files is an essential measure. While you can make hard copies of the important files and keep them off-site, it is also crucial to make digital duplicates.
Scan your important papers and store their electronic versions in an encrypted cloud storage, on a portable hard drive, or memory stick.
Also, remember to back up digital files regularly. It’s a common procedure for many people and companies, which plays a significant role in protecting documents from natural disasters.
6. Use an Off-Site Storage
If your home or office is located in an area with a history of natural disasters, it is wise to keep valuable papers at a protected location at an off-site location, such as a bank locker or a secure storage box located in a safer spot. You can always have certified copies of these files at hand if you are dealing with paper files that you need often.
How to Recover Documents Destroyed During a Natural Disaster
Natural disasters are often unpredictable, and it’s not always possible to prepare for them thoroughly. Thus, it can happen that your documents are severely damaged or destroyed during such an emergency.
Luckily, there are ways of restoring any type of document. However, keep in mind that the process can be lengthy and require a lot of effort. Here are the up-to-date contacts you can use if you need to recover some documents:
- For birth and death certificates, call 800-252-1818 or order them online.
- Visit www.uscis.gov for guidance on restoring your Green Card. Moreover, you can call 800-375-5283 to check the status of your application.
- For bank checks, ATM/debit cards, or Safe Deposit Boxes, contact your financial institution or reach FDIC by calling 877-275-3342 or at www.fdic.gov.
- You can request a copy of your Tax Return by submitting this form or by reaching the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-1040.
- For military records, reach out to the National Archives and Records Administration at 866-272-6272 or via its website.
- For social security documents, call 800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov/medicarecard/.
- For passport services, contact the U.S. Department of State, Passport Services at 877-487-2778, or visit its website.