Aug 23

The Important Documents, Ignore Them At Your Peril.

By The Maj

Ever thought about having to evacuate for an event (hurricane, wildfire, etc) where your home may or may not be there when you get a chance to return?  With the wildfires raging our west and hurricane season coming into the busy time of year in the Atlantic, it is something that many are facing or will have to face in the near future.  Sure, you are a prepper.  You have that bugout bag sitting by the door, stocked full of everything that you need to get out of Dodge, and even an evacuation route planned with all the vehicles topped off with fuel.  What many do not consider in bugging out for the non-TEOTWAWKI event are the very important documents that mean little to your survival on the road, but everything for your return home or establishment of a new (albeit temporary) life in a new location.

Several years ago a hurricane struck the area that I happen to have a fishing cabin.  The reports from the news for the area were not good and most along the beach evacuated as they had been instructed.  Two days after the hurricane had passed, I decided to go to my cabin to see if there had been any significant damage.  Before I left home, I packed like I would be gone for a week but the most important thing(s) that I had in my truck were my deed, insurance paperwork for the cabin, and a copy of my most recent telephone and power bills.  As I traveled down the two lane state highway to the turn off to my cabin, I began to notice that every vacant spot was a literal campground about ten miles before the turn off.  I began to get a bad feeling that the trip had been a bad idea, but traffic was flowing south at about 15 miles per hour and there was a steady line of vehicles headed north.  As the checkpoint came into sight, my fear began to grow because maybe one out of ten vehicles were allowed through.  When I rolled to a stop at the checkpoint, a National Guard NCO asked for my identification and “two forms of proof” that I owned property in the affected area.  I gave him my driver’s license and military ID (hoping this might score some points to speed some things up) and all four of the documents that I had proving that I owned property in the affected area.  He examined the IDs and the documents and then directed me to the next checkpoint (which wasn’t in my LOS), where I had to park my vehicle and provide the same documentation to an EMA official under a tent.  The EMA official examined my documents again, asked my purpose for needing access to the area, and then after that explained the “rules” for the area that I was entering (curfew, travel restrictions, etc).  At that point, I was given a pass and placard to place on the dash of my vehicle (both included my name, the address of my property, a tracking number of some type, and the EMA official’s signature).  Before I left, I asked the EMA official why so many were being turned away and she said “they do not have proof of ownership and no one will be allowed into the area without proof of ownership until the power is restored and the curfew is lifted”.

In other words, all of those people camping out along the highway had done the right thing by evacuating, but they had left some pretty important paperwork behind in their haste to get out of Dodge.  Now, they found themselves stuck on the side of the road waiting for the power to be restored and the curfew to be lifted.  Thinking back, if I had to guess, many did not have the gas or other resources to travel back to another unaffected area to wait things out.  With a little prior planning, these people would not have been stuck on the side of the road in a miserable existence for two more days before the curfew was lifted.

So, which documents do you have ready to go in your bugout bag?  At a minimum, you should have copies of the following items ready to go at a moment’s notice:

  • Two forms of ID for every of age family member.
  • Social Security Cards for every family member.
  • Birth Certificates for every family member (preferably certified copies).
  • Copies of Deeds (preferably certified copies)
  • Insurance Policies (life, home, auto, etc)
  • Vehicle Registration Documents for all vehicles.
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Copies of Household Bills (power, phone, cable/satellite, internet, etc)
  • Banking Documents (accounts, mortgages, etc)
  • Wills and Power of Attorney
  • Photos and/or Videos of your property (home, barn, shed, contents, etc)
  • Immunization Records
  • Previous Year’s Income Tax Return
  • Other (various documents that are unique to you – DD214, Diplomas, etc)

Evacuating without these documents can and will cause you problems down the road.  Keeping copies ready to go either in or with your bugout bag will save you time searching for what you need when time is of the essence AND will help to prevent leaving that one all important document behind.  I know most people keep copies of these things in fire safes in their homes, but if you cannot get to these documents for days or even weeks, they will do you absolutely no good.

Another step that I would recommend is keeping copies of these same documents in a safety deposit box at the bank because the odds of both your house and the bank being destroyed are pretty remote.  If you really want to get redundant in your preparations in this respect, you can utilize a bank at or near your expected bugout location.  Either way, redundancy pays big dividends when you truly need it.


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    • Autumn on August 23, 2013 at 1:28 AM
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    Great reminder. I see people recommending carrying a flash drive with copies of all this stuff on it. Maybe that would be good to have but if the power’s off what are you going to do, hand it to the cop and say “I swear, it’s all on there”?
    You left us hanging Maj. Was your fishing cabin okay?

      • PJ on August 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM
      • Reply

      Unfortunately I’m one of those people who advocate for the memory card route. I still think it’s a great idea as you can store a filing cabinet’s worth of information on there. Yet after reading this article I think I’m going to print off some of the most essential items and keep hard copies of them in my bag.

    • The Maj on August 23, 2013 at 9:50 AM
    • Reply

    Sorry about that. Yes, the cabin was fine. I had limbs in the yard and one piece of tin folded up on the boat house. It took me about two hours to check everything out and square it all away. Lost about a season’s worth of fish in the freezer but managed to clear the freezer out before it was ruined. I fared much better than most, so I spent the next three days cutting trees out of my “neighbor’s” yards and helping them make repairs.

    • Autumn on August 23, 2013 at 2:50 PM
    • Reply

    Maj ~ Glad to hear your place was pretty okay. Too bad about the fish! I wonder if you could have dug it into the garden (if you have one) as fertilizer. I’ve never tried that. I’m not surprised to hear you were helping the neighbors. That’s the way I was raised, too, with everyone pitching in. You and PJ seem like the kind of people I’d really like as neighbors — especially when SHTF.
    PJ ~ I have nothing against the flash drive. It can certainly hold a lot more paper than you’d want to carry with you. I just think I’d want a paper copy of the most essential documents, as you said you plan to do. I haven’t done either yet, so who am I to talk?
    I’ve only been prepping since the beginning of the year. Prior to that I was working toward self-sufficiency at my property, but I’ve only been working on that about a year and a half longer. Some good progress in some areas, but woefully lacking in a lot of others.
    Good article on the dog for a prepper. The pic you chose certainly got my attention! Thanks.

      • PJ on August 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM
      • Reply

      Glad you liked the dog article! Congrats on the prepping journey too, you are now further along that probably 95% of the population.

    • Bill on August 25, 2013 at 5:01 AM
    • Reply

    I carry reduced size copies, getting 4 to a page, and a light weight fresnel lens. Takes up less room. Be safe out there!

      • PJ on August 25, 2013 at 10:33 AM
      • Reply

      Great idea Bill, I plan on printing some items off utilizing that technique later on today.

    • PJ on September 13, 2013 at 9:26 PM
    • Reply

    Just wanted to let everyone know that I requested (and just received) a copy of my Mortgage Note from the bank, I now have hard copies in my safe and BO bag (as opposed to digital only). Thanks Maj for this article, and it shows why this community is so great…we can all learn from each other.


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