When the worst is happening around you, you might not have the time or the wherewithal to run down an itemized list of the important things you’ll need to get you through. Preparing for an emergency situation – such as having to evacuate due to a natural disaster – will take some time on the front end, but it will absolutely save you stress in the long run.
While many of us work hard to plan ahead for big life events, statistics show that most of us are not prepared for an unexpected evacuation. According to a June 2020 study by Allstate, 85% of Americans have not mapped out an evacuation plan.
READ MORE: 9 Things To Pack For An Emergency Getaway
“In the aftermath of a disaster, there are things you are thinking about that you never thought you would be dealing with,” says Wendy Burpee, owner of a State Farm agency in Huntsville, Alabama. “Anything you can nail down ahead of time so you can focus on the things you couldn’t anticipate, the better off you are going to be.”
Greg McBride, CFA and chief financial analyst with Bankrate.com, agrees: “When you’re faced with sudden evacuation, time is of the essence and there are bound to be things that slip the mind. Advance preparation means one less stressor at an otherwise extremely stressful time.”
For everything on the below list, McBride suggests keeping either originals or copies, in a sealable plastic bag to protect against the elements. Please note that copies of most of these documents are fine, as long as the originals are in a secure location, like a safety deposit box at a bank. (In other words, never leave originals at home, especially when your home is in the path of a hurricane, or fire!)
- A certified copy of your birth certificate
- Your driver’s license, social security card, passport, or ID card
- Health insurance ID cards/policies and medical records
- Auto insurance ID cards/policy details
- Homeowners insurance policy declaration pages
- Home deeds
- Car titles
- Legal paperwork such as wills, support orders, powers of attorney, and health care directives — these documents are important if you have dependents, whether they are children or aging parents.
- Marriage certificate or divorce decree
- Bank and financial statements
- A video or pictures showing the contents of your house
Deciding What To Gather
When packing your bag, Burpee says it’s important to consider what would be the hardest item to replace if it was destroyed. The items on the above list can all be replaced, but that can take time and effort that you may not have after a disaster. In particular, your birth certificate and social security card are the two most important items on the list, since you may need those to help you replace some of the other identification documents, including a passport or car title.
Also, keep in mind that digital backups of many of the above items are fine. For example, the video or pictures showing the contents of your house could be stored in your Google Drive, which you can access from any location. And a digital backup for something like your tax records is also just fine, since you likely won’t need that urgently, but you might eventually, McBride explains. “Having scanned copies saved to a portable hard drive, thumb drive, or the cloud is a nice backup – but one you may be unable to access in the immediate aftermath,” he says.
Keep your ‘grab and go’ file updated with the most recent documents so regardless of what time of year it is you’ll have what you need, McBride says. As for where to keep the file before you flee, Burpee recommends a waterproof, fireproof vault or safe in your house. “Planning ahead will help reduce the chaos at the time,” Burpee says.
When The Worst Happens
In the event that you do have to evacuate, eventually you’ll need to try to get back home. Oftentimes you’ll need to prove that you live in that area to get in, so having your driver’s license and homeowner’s insurance policy on hand will help get you back into the area quickly. Also, having your insurance policy number handy will allow you to get in touch with your agent and file a claim quickly.
If you find damage to your home or possessions, Burpee recommends callingl your insurance agent as soon as you can. She says State Farm plans ahead when they see potential emergency situations. They staff up people on their claims channels and get more boots on the ground. Their agents also have draft authority so they can get a check out to you immediately to help you purchase clothes, toiletries, and a hotel in case of emergency.
“The sooner you contact us the sooner we can help you with whatever our needs are,” she says.
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