Prepare a disaster go-box for important documents
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Movies depict many scenarios where a person has to leave home quickly, and those scenes show how important it is to grab the right items.
Susan Cosgrove, family resource management Extension associate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said cash and financial records should be high on the list of items to take in an emergency.
“Collecting, copying, organizing and storing financial records now could help you avoid problems and recover faster after a disaster,” Cosgrove said. “The originals and other valuables should be kept in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box at a bank.”
Cosgrove urged all families and individuals to have an emergency go-box for the unexpected.
“This box is used as a portable file of your important documents, plus cash that you can grab to go if a disaster strikes with no warning,” she said. “This is not to be used as a lockbox for valuables.”
Among the items in this box should be cash for several days’ living expenses, including quarters; emergency contact information; labeled photos of all household members; a list of all prescription medicines; a list of user names, passwords and personal identification numbers, including those for bank accounts, Social Security, driver’s licenses, credit cards and more.
Papers in the go-box should include copies -- not originals -- of documents such as insurance policies, deeds and titles, wills, vital records, passports, immunization records, military discharge papers and school records.
“Mark your calendar and review and update this box and these documents at least annually,” Cosgrove said. “Tax time can serve as a good reminder to do this again.”
Store the box in a secure place that is also easily accessible in an emergency. Cosgrove said a locked box, even with the key attached, is more secure in severe weather than one with just a latch.
“The importance of an emergency grab-and-go box became evident after Hurricane Katrina when many families lost everything and did not have access to any pieces of their vital records, financial information, contact information or even cash,” Cosgrove said.
“This preparation can avoid that type of personal financial disaster in the future,” she said.
Tawnya Holliman, Extension agent in Forrest County, compared a go-box to free insurance.
“Most families don’t think a fire or a natural disaster will strike their home, but we all know it can happen,” Holliman said. “Taking a little time during the year to prepare your family for a potential threat will save you a lot of time, energy and even money.”
Holliman has seen firsthand the long-term hassle of dealing with the loss of important documents in addition to the loss of a house.
“Missing documents can prolong the home rebuilding or repairing process,” she said.
Find the Extension Service publication IS1801, “Disaster Relief: Preparing Your Evacuation ‘To Go’ Box,” and a variety of other preparedness information and publications at http://extension.msstate.edu/.