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Get ready to go before disasters
By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A “to-go” box usually lets diners save restaurant food, but in disaster's wake, a different kind of to-go box can do the same for insurance, certificates and other documentation.
As hurricane season begins, it is important to keep copies of irreplaceable documents packed and ready for evacuation at a moment's notice.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said evacuees from across the country called her office after Hurricane Katrina struck asking for help replacing important papers.
“People in California who were from Louisiana were not able to replace birth certificates because the place that created them had been destroyed,” Shaffett said. “You need to have all your important financial papers in one place. If your home is destroyed and you to contact your insurance companies, you cannot do that unless you have the numbers and papers.”
Susan Cosgrove, Extension family resource management area agent, said the box should contain copies of insurance policies and cards; prescriptions; deeds; power of attorney; birth, death and marriage certificates; and wills. Keep original documents in safe deposit boxes. Include emergency phone numbers and enough cash for several days' living expenses.
“The specific contents of your to-go box depend on your situation,” Cosgrove said. “Have a list of whatever pertinent information or contact information you would need.”
Cosgrove also said documentation can be made more portable by scanning it electronically and storing it on a compact disc or jump drive. A copy of that digital documentation should then go to a trusted friend or attorney 300 miles away.
“You might want to put it in a sealed envelope to be opened only with your permission,” Cosgrove said. “Many businesses and institutions are probably storing things digitally in other locations now.”
Update the documentation in the box at least annually, and keep the box out of sight when carrying it in a vehicle during evacuation. Not every disaster allows time for evacuation, so keep the contents protected from as many different situations as possible.
A fireproof box, if locked, not only can save the contents in a house fire but also keeps them from scattering in a tornado. The contents should have two more layers of protection inside the box: a paper folder sealed airtight in a waterproof plastic bag.
“The heat from fires can melt gold rings in the fireproof box, so plastic things could definitely melt on your papers,” Shaffett said. “It's hard to think of everything that could happen, but if your house burned down, the first thing you would need is your insurance policy number.”
Since fireproof boxes are heavy, Shaffett suggested emptying the contents into a waterproof backpack when evacuating and leaving the contents in the fireproof box when they are not being transported. This plan should allow documents to remain safe in a fire or tornado even if there is no time to take them to-go.