Replacing Documents After a Disaster

by Daisy Luther, The Organic Prepper

We often talk about having a bugout bag that includes a folder with important documents, but despite your preparations and efforts to protect them, sometimes disaster strikes quickly and unexpectedly, and those documents are lost.

For example, the fires last week in Northern California moved so rapidly that some people fled from their homes without even a moment to put on their shoes. (See these videos for an idea of how dramatic the escapes were for many families.)

Although it’s not always the first thing people think of, in the event of a fire, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster, important documents can be lost or damaged beyond recognition.

The loss of vital documents can make it difficult to function in today’s society. Replacing documents is one of the first steps you’ll need to take. After a disaster, you’ll need identification, proof of citizenship, and proof of ownership before you can begin to rebuild your life.

Be Proactive Before a Disaster

Many of the major stressors after a disaster can be lessened by taking these vital steps before anything bad actually occurs.

1.) Photograph all important documents and store them securely in the cloud. (This report from Boston University provides tips on how to do so.)

2.) Keep photocopies of documents in a secure location away from your property. Consider procuring a safety deposit box for this purpose. (I have copies of all of our information at the home of a family member in another state.)

3.) Scan documents and save them on a password protected USB drive that you keep in a different location. This one is particularly secure and has an automatic cloud back-up.

Protect Important Documents

There are some steps you can take to protect documents from fire and flood damage, but these are not foolproof.

Invest in a good quality fire-proof safe. However, keep in mind that fire-proof isn’t going to necessarily hold up to an inferno like the ones we’ve seen in California recently. The safe I recommend here has excellent reviews, but note the manufacturer’s classifications:

Advance fire-protection- UL Classified for fire endurance ( 1 hour at 1700 f/927 C )

ETL verified for 1 hour fire protection of CD’s, DVD’s, memory sticks and USB drives

ETL verified water resistance up to 8 inches for 24 hours

You can add an extra layer of protection by placing papers in fire-resistant document bags or case.

What to do if your documents are damaged or destroyed

Vital documents must be replaced quickly and efficiently. Keep track of any fees you incur to replace these documents. Your homeowners or renters policy will most likely cover the cost. Below you’ll find the steps you need to take to replace a variety of documents. Links to helpful websites and documents are underlined and bolded.

Birth Certificate

The first thing you’ll want to replace is your birth certificate. You will need this to get your other documentation.  Visit your county records office and explain the situation for an expedited copy of a notarized birth certificate.

Driver License and Auto Registration

Contact your local DMV to talk with them about your situation. They’ll let you know what their requirements are for getting your documents replaced. You may have to wait until you have your birth certificate in hand to get a new license. Some DMVs will issue a temporary license while you’re waiting.

Social Security Card

You’ll have to apply for this in person at your nearest Social Security Administration office. This web page will tell you what documents you need for both children and adults before your appointment.

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