"Victims often lose many valuable documents and personal papers during disasters," says Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Gather all of your important documents ahead of time, make copies, and place copies in separate locations to give them a greater chance of surviving a disaster."
Bernas explained that while few people like to think of problems such as tornados, flooding, gas explosions or evacuations; all these have been in the news in the past year. He noted that while memories of problems are still fresh is the time to make plans to safeguard important documents.
Here are some tips to keep your personal information safe during severe weather season:
- Be prepared before disaster strikes. Organize your important papers and prepare backup copies.
- Have a portable file system or small safe in your home. If possible, you can grab it when you evacuate.
- Have backup copiesor copies on electronic media of the following documents in a safe deposit box, at a trusted friend's house or relative's home. Documents should include social security cards, birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, medical and prescription records along with physician contact information, banking, stock, bond and other financial information, insurance policies and agent contact information. Also important is to have a home inventory, plus pictures or video of your possessions for insurance purposes.
- Build a disaster kit. Include one gallon of water per person per day for three days along with a three-day supply of nonperishable food for each family member. Have ready a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, a whistle to signal for help, dust masks, a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, and power inverter or solar charger for your cellphone. You might want to include prescriptions (at the very least a list of prescriptions), infant formula and diapers, pet food and cash.
- Know in advance where you and your pets can go and who to contact in the case of an emergency. An out-of-town friend or relative is ideal as an emergency contact person, especially in instances when family members are at several locations - school, work, traveling - and normal communication channels are down.