important documents

This lesson will discuss Important Documents.


  • What are the important documents for a Disaster event.
  • How should they be copied.
  • How to store them.
  • Where to store.

What are the important documents that we should have with us during a disaster. 


The documentation that you should have with you during a disaster situation falls into one of the following 5 categories.

  1. Identification:  You may need to prove who you are.  The police may be keeping non-residents out of, or trying to control the number of people in certain dangerous areas for safety reason and to protect property.
  2. Licenses, Permits, Education and Certifications: To prove that you are qualified to do certain things.  You may want to help out in the relief effort, people like: doctors, nurses, fire fighter, police officer, EMT, CERT, National Guard, architects, engineers, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, etc.
  3. Medical:  To advise medical personnel of vaccinations, allergies, medications, and specific medical conditions.
  4. Contacts:  Emergency and personal contact information, along with all necessary passwords.
  5. Legal/Financial/Insurance:  Be able to prove that your assets and belongings actually belong to you.  These documents will be critical when you start your recovery stage.

Another very important document that you will need to put together is the: Household Inventory.


Let’s face it.  For any type of insurance claim; you are going to need to show proof of ownership and loss.

Taking an inventory and getting all of the documentation organized and copied is going to be a big project.  But having a partial list is better than having no list.

Take a video camera; if you have one and just walk through your house and record everything: Floors, Walls, Ceiling, Inside closets, drawers, cabinets, shelves, everything.  It shouldn’t take that long.  It’s actually a good idea to take 15 minutes every couple of months and update the recording.  Don’t forget to record the outside of your house and all exterior structures as well.   If you took any safety precautions like boarding up the windows before a storm – record that too.

Regarding “High Value” ticketed items like:

  • Jewelry
  • Electronics: Computers, Cameras, TVs,
  • Art work
  • Furnishings
  • Appliances
  • Cars, boats, trailers, etc.
  • Anything of any value.

You should have the following information on your high ticketed items:

  • Where and when you bought it.
  • The price (sales receipt).
  • Description of the item: Make, Model, and serial number.
  • Appraisals.
  • Videos and photos of your belongings will be a big help.

Don’t forget to include documentation for any major home improvements:  New Furnace, hot water heater, roof, siding, windows, etc.

For some of you: Putting together a household inventory might be a royal pain in the butt to do – but this step will be critical during the recovery stage. You worked very hard to acquire and accumulate your belongings; you need to take appropriate steps to protect them. That involves documentation so that you can prove what you have, (or had).
FEMA has put together a good brochure that details taking an inventory [document your property]  if you are a homeowner, renter, or business.  Also discusses “Understanding what a policy covers”, “Knowing your settlement options” and what you can do to “Qualify for Discounts”.  Click on the button below to get your FREE copy.

Regarding exactly which documents  you need  …

We’re going to let the experts tell you that themselves.


The following 3 links will take you to government sites that will detail exactly what types of documents you should be protecting and which documents you should have on you during a disaster.

1)  FEMA:  Be Smart. Protect your critical documents and valuables.

FEMA-Critical-Documents-OptimizedThis site offers a good checklist for each category of documentation.   FEMA: Protect Your Critical Documents.

2)    Managing Household Records.  


This site goes a little deeper into an overall program of managing your documents.  Suggestions made how to organize and where to keep your important documents.  One of the important things I got out of this site was answers to the question:  How long do I need to keep certain records?

  • How long do I need to keep bank statements?
  • How long do I need to keep my tax records?
  • How long do I need to keep my credit card statements?
  • Plus many more of these types of questions answered for you.

Prepare your documentation and get rid of old unnecessary records at the same time.  Win-Win. Manage Household Records

3)  FEMA:  Emergency Financial First Aid Kit. 



This site gets even deeper into documentation for an emergency.  Offers a very detailed, step-by-step checklist, for almost any type of record you could think of.   Going through this program will take a lot of work and time – the document is 23 pages long – but when you get through, the program, you will have your documents VERY well organized.  For both a disaster, and going to the bank for your next loan.  FEMA: Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.

Where to store your documents.


There are many ways you can store and protect your documents.  The method that you choose will be somewhat driven by where you should be storing the records or where you will have copies of the documents.  Review the 3 government sites listed above for their recommendations of  which document should be stored in which location.

There are 4 places that that your documents can be stored:

1)  On-Site: In Your Home.  If you don’t have one, consider getting a safe or a secure storage box which is both fireproof and waterproof.  For added protection, put your documentation into plastic waterproof bags before storing them in the safe or storage box.

2) On Your Person.  In your wallet, purse, backpack, pocket, etc.  You will need to consider the format that you choose to store the documents.  The format must be light and small so that they don’t hinder your movements.  Money belts are a good storage place for your paper documents.  Just make sure that they are copied on waterproof paper using a laser printer or waterproof ink.

3)  Off-Site. Outside of Your Home.     This option protects your documents from potential disasters that can either completely destroyed your home or prevent you from getting back into your home.  Store your important documents at a relative or friends place, or in a safety deposit box.  If you store at a friends or family members location – make sure that they can store the documents in a safe manner to protect from fire, water and theft.

4)  In the Cloud.  This is a relatively new way to store and protect your important documents.  The “Cloud” is basically the electronic wonder world of the internet.  The advantage that the Cloud brings is; it offers both Off-Site protection plus it is much easier and faster to access your documents, versus a safety deposit box or getting over to your friend’s house.  There are specific services that offer Cloud storage with high end security features.  A cheap method is to just email a friend(s)  and attach your document files to the email.  Have your friend put it into a special folder in his email program and when you need the information they can just email you back your documents. However, you need to make sure that your friend is practicing good security with his computer so that he is not hacked.   The down side to Cloud storage is – it assumes that there will be power and an internet connection available after the disaster.


What format (How) should they be stored.


There are several formats that can be used to store your documents.  They all have good points and they all have bad points.

Hard Paper Copies:  The good old copying machine.  Just make sure that you are using waterproof paper and inks.

•  Advantages:  Cheap and easy.  Don’t need any special equipment to access your information.  Not impacted by EMPs.

•  Disadvantages:  Can be destroyed by both fire and water.  Bulky. Security issues if the information falls into the wrong hands.

Electronic Storage Devices:  Cell Phones, IPad, USB Devices, Hard Drives on a Laptop, etc.

•  Advantages:  You can store huge amounts of information and documents on these devices.  They are light weight and take up little room.  Offers better security than paper copies, but you will need to make sure that the security software is installed and operating correctly.

•  Disadvantages:  You will need special equipment to read the devices.  This equipment will also need power.   The reading devices, power and the internet may not be available during a disaster.  A big threat to electronic storage devices is an EMP “ElectroMagnetic Pulse”.  EMP’s can come from:  lightning strikes, a discharge of static electricity, a nuclear detonation, and even solar storms from our sun.

CD/DVD:  Burn copies of your documents to a CD or DVD.

•  Advantages:  Like Electronic Storage Devices that were just discussed, CD/DVD offer the same advantages.  Light wight, take up little room, better security than paper.  But the CD/DVD storage method offers protection from an EMP.   Also, depending upon your situation, a CD/DVD can make a good signaling device due to its very reflective surface.

•  Disadvantages:  Similar to Electronic Storage Devices. Will need special equipment to read the CD/DVD.  Assumes power will be available.  The surface of the CD/DVD can be damaged and it can break or crack.

The Cloud:  On-Line Services and emails.

•  Advantages:  You can store huge amounts of information and it will take up no space and weighs nothing.  Waterproof, Fireproof, and unbreakable.  You can access the information almost from anywhere in the world.  Today’s technology make it On-Line services  safe and secure – but make sure you read and understand their policies.  Regarding security.  Emails will be as secure as the server provider and the person’s device where the email is being sent to.

•  Disadvantages:  You will need to have power and a device with an intent connection available to access the information.  The equipment and files can be negatively impacted by an EMP.

So, which format should you use?  The 3 websites from FEMA and offer several recommendations depending upon the type of document and where it will be stored.

Overall, each one of these methods has advantages and disadvantages associated with them.  The best method is to use a mix and have your documents stored in several different formats.  This will maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages.


What you should be taking away from this lesson:


  1. What are the important documents for a Disaster event.
  2. The 5 categories of important documents.
  3. The 3 Sources from the US Government detailing which documents
  4. Documents you should have with you,
  5. Stored on-site,
  6. Stored off-site.
  7. The importance of the Household Inventory.
  8. The different formats that can be used to copy and store your documents.
  9. Where to store the documents.


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