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Preparing a "grab and go" kit

By Don Kuehn

Massive evacuations from coastal cities during hurricane season may have left you wondering what you’d do in that situation. The Gulf Coast isn’t the only region of the country where nature’s fury could roust residents from their homes. Not long after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, massive flooding soaked the Northeast, flash floods struck Kansas and Hurricane Wilma hit Florida. Tornadoes are a threat in the nation’s mid-section. Brush fires and mudslides seem to be annual events in California. Every part of the country has the potential for earthquakes and no one’s home is immune to fire.

If law enforcement rolled through your neighborhood and ordered you to evacuate in an hour, what would you grab on your way out the door? This is a good time to take stock and prepare.

You should have a “grab and go” kit, preferably in a lockable, fireproof box that's light enough to carry. Generally, such boxes range in size and weight but share two major characteristics: They are watertight and fireproof. Prices range from about $29 to $65. Larger boxes are available but pretty hard to transport.

What goes in the box? Let’s start with personal information you might need to rebuild your life: birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports, military records and discharge papers, copies of your health insurance cards, passports, résumés, divorce decrees and any domestic relations orders.

Copy the declarations page (usually the front page) from your homeowner’s, flood, life and auto insurance policies. These usually include the company’s name and contact information, and the amount of your deductible. Taking the declarations means you don’t need the whole policy and all the endorsements.

You’ll also need medical records, immunization histories for your school-age children and copies of your wills and medical directives, along with those of others for whom you are the executor. Don’t forget a list of medications and prescription numbers as well as your pharmacy's phone number or Web address.

It's a good idea to photograph every member of your family, your pets and possessions. If you become separated during an evacuation, they might provide the key to reuniting later. Make a phone and e-mail directory of friends and relatives, insurance companies, bank and mortgage companies, doctors and dentists.

Many people also take videos or digital photos of their possessions, going room by room and capturing everything for insurance purposes. How often have you seen people on the news sifting through the rubble of their home looking for that one special photo or memento? Put it in the box now.

If you’re like me, most of what you know has been stored on your home computer. Whether it’s financial, personal or recreational data, it is critical to create a backup copy of your hard drive.

This is also a good time to double-check the terms of your homeowner’s policy to be sure it covers the full replacement cost—not depreciated value—of your home and its contents. Renters take note: You need insurance, too. A landlord’s policy will not cover damage to your personal possessions.

Now, let’s talk about your money. There's a raft of financial information that you will want to have with you if you are forced to evacuate. Start with a copy of your credit report. It has all your account numbers and the names and addresses of all your creditors in one place.

If you have a living trust or other financial plan, put a copy in your kit. Also include account numbers for all your investments, bank and brokerage accounts. Include copies of the titles to your home and automobiles, powers of attorney, a recent property tax bill to prove ownership when you file insurance claims and a few preaddressed envelopes to mail your mortgage, car and other payments. Remember, even if there is a disaster, you are not exonerated from making your regular monthly payments, no matter the condition of your home or car.

Consider the possibility of keeping a spare book of checks and a credit card in your box to be used specifically for an emergency.

While you’re getting your documents together would be a good time to review them and be sure they’re current. Check to see if beneficiary designations need to be updated. If you have moved since wills or trusts were executed, your new state of residence may have special legal requirements that must be met. An evacuation that leads to a permanent relocation will trigger the need to review most of your financial documents.

A thorough review of everything you might need in case of emergency can be found at under “Disaster Preparedness Guide and Checklist.” It contains information on communication plans, what to do if you stay in your home during a crisis, what to do at work or school, and more.

Pulling all of this information together may take several hours of dedicated effort, but it will be the most important time you spend should you ever need to "get out of Dodge” in a hurry. Just ask our brothers and sisters in the Gulf states.

The originals of most documents should be kept in a bank safe-deposit box, along with passwords, access codes, PIN numbers and combinations for lockable storage facilities. However, be sure to keep the key (and proof of ownership) in your grab and go box so that when things return to normal, you can access your bank box without hassles.

Of course, there is always the chance that your bank will be affected by the same conditions that sent you packing, but odds are good that between your box and the bank’s, you will have at least one surviving copy of everything you need to get back on your feet … then hope you never need to.

Don Kuehn is a retired AFT senior national representative. This column is intended to increase knowledge and awareness of issues of importance to members and retirees. For specific advice relative to your personal situation, consult competent legal, tax or financial counsel. Comments and questions can be sent to