How to: Prepare a ‘to go box’ for a disaster

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today continues a summer series by Daily Journal reporters called “Teach Me Something” where we show how to do a variety of things and how things work.

By Errol Castens
Daily Journal
Most homeowners have insurance, but probably rarely consider what else they could do to mitigate the impact of a fire, severe storm or other disaster.
Mississippi State University Extension Agent Susan Cosgrove says having a readily available box with personal and financial records, important phone numbers, digitized photos and some cash can make a big difference in reassembling one’s life after a disaster.
“Organization and documentation are the keys to recovery after a storm, fire or theft,” Cosgrove said. “When something is stolen or destroyed, it’s too late to have it insured or to record the identification number.”
The most useful “your-life-to-go” boxes also include keys to safe deposit boxes, copies of both sides of credit and debit cards and copies of important paperwork, such as insurance policies and numbers, children’s immunization records, health care directives and prescriptions for medications and eyeglasses.
A thumb drive is an easy way to store important documents and photos and takes up very little room in the box.
“One thing we all have to be mindful of is to update all of this information as it changes,” Cosgrove said. “We developed this information after Hurricane Katrina because of the stories we heard.”
Mariah Smith of the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach said another way to save vital records is simply to email them to yourself, which saves them on your email provider’s servers.
If circumstances allow, she added, taking computers and other digital equipment on an evacuation can prevent a world of problems later.
“If there is time to evacuate personal belongings during an emergency, take backup devices, laptops or desktop computers,” she said. “Take digital cameras as well as chargers for cameras and phones.”
Make photos
Portable media or off-site electronic storage also should be used to store a video of one’s house and its contents for either insurance or law enforcement purposes.
Retired state representative Noal Akins’ house near Oxford burned last year. No one was injured in the fire, and his insurance agent and bankers could reproduce most of his financial records, but he learned the hard way how valuable photos or video of the home and its contents could have been.
“The first thing everybody ought to do – right now – is to go in every room with a camera, and make pictures of everything you’ve got in there,” he said. “Video would be even better.”
Akins explained that while his insurance agent had him a check for the house within 10 days, reimbursement for the contents was a different matter.
“I was insured up to $94,000 for my contents, but when push came to shove, I only got half of that,” he said. “You’ve got to itemize, and they want records of how much everything cost. My deceased wife had bought almost everything in the house; I had no idea what she paid or where she got it. We went around and around about it.”
One bonus to making photo or video images of the contents of one’s home is emotional. Akins said his daughter had copies at her house of some family photos, and though he was able to salvage his Bible and a particularly meaningful photo of himself and other legislators with Gov. Haley Barbour, many other mementos were destroyed altogether.
“Even a picture of them would have meant a lot,” he said.

What You Need
• Cash or traveler’s checks for several
days’ living expenses.
• Rolls of quarters.
• Emergency phone numbers (Include
local and toll-free):
Doctors, pharmacies
Financial institutions
Insurance companies (Include your
local agent and the company headquarters.)
Credit card companies
Repair contractors

• Copies of these:
Homeowners, auto, flood or renter’s insurance
policies and policy numbers
Prescriptions for medications and eyeglasses
Health, dental, and prescription insurance
cards or numbers
Children’s immunization records
Wills and trust documents
Durable power of attorney
Health care directives (living will)
Stock and bond certificates
Recent investment statements
Home inventory (printed and digital
version if available)
Birth, death, adoption, marriage certificates
Employee benefit documents
First two pages of previous year’s federal
and state income tax returns
Military service records

• Backup of computerized financial

• Keys to safe deposit box

• Combination to safe

• Labeled photos of family members and pets

• Negatives or disks of irreplaceable photos

• User names, passwords

• List of debt obligations, due dates, and contact information

• Photocopies, front and back, of all credit cards

• List of numbers:
Social Security
Bank account
Credit card
Driver’s license
Investment account
Other account numbers – utilities and such

A safe deposit box is recommended to store your original papers and other valuables. These boxes are located at your financial institutions. Note that most original documents should be stored in your safe deposit box.

Secure in Your Safe Deposit Box:
• Deeds
• Titles
• Mortgages
• Birth, marriage, death certificates
• Adoption papers
• Child custody papers
• Copies of passports
• Military/veteran records
• Appraisals
• Leases and other contracts
• Stocks, bonds and certificates of deposit
• Trust documents
• Copies of power of attorney, will/trust
• Insurance policies
• Home improvement records and receipts
• Household inventory (list, photos, and/or digital)
• Jewelry, precious metals, other collectibles

Source: MSU Extension Service

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