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Emergency preparation: 3 tips to recover important documents after a natural disaster


Learn how to secure your most important documents.

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The worst has happened. An accident or disaster has destroyed your most important personal identification documents, leaving you looking for ways to verify your identity, recover your accounts and get your life back on track. The good news is that there are several preventive measures you can take to avoid the worst effects of this type of crisis.

Here are three ways to prepare and secure your pre- and post-disaster identification documents.

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Email yourself all your crucial documents

In the event of a fire, flood, or other natural disaster, there is no guarantee that, even if it is sensibly packed in your bug out bag, your standalone data storage devices (like your external hard drives or thumb drives) will survive. The safest bet to avoid total data loss after your physical property has been destroyed is to have your documents and information digitally stored externally.

To be safe, you should routinely digitize important physical business, identification, and tax documents as they are created. Simply scan your important data, such as your driver’s license and passport, or take clear pictures of it. Attach those scans to an email and send it to yourself. Also consider sending them to one trusted person in case you lose access to your own email account after a disaster.

If you are sending the scans or images to yourself, make sure to include key phrases and words in the email that you are likely to remember. In the post-disaster stress, you may not be able to remember the date you uploaded the images, but you should be able to retrieve the email quickly by searching your inbox for phrases like “passport and social security.” You can also create an emergency folder in your inbox to store them in.

Keep in mind that your personal information is only as safe as your email provider. For example, if you’re a Gmail user, make sure you’ve taken a few minutes to check your security settings. If you’re not happy with Gmail’s overall security, check out its acclaimed privacy-focused competitor Protonmail.

Federal Phone Lines Can Help

If disaster strikes before you can email yourself copies of all your important documents, the U.S. government can help you replace them. The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a handy website where you can find phone numbers and websites for a range of federal and locally issued public and private account documents – from your Social Security card, passport, your Medicare and SNAP cards to your green cards, birth and death certificates and state IDs and licenses.

Save this link to your browser or email it to yourself in a message with all the relevant keywords so it can be easily searched while trying to pick up the pieces in a state of need.

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Get a password manager

If you’re still keeping a paper record of passwords for your online accounts, you could be engulfed in an endless cycle of frustrating account lockouts and password resets. To save yourself this modern nightmare, choose a solid password manager: an encrypted digital vault that stores the credentials you use to access apps on mobile devices, websites, and other services.

By choosing a good password manager, you not only have to remember dozens of passwords in case of calamities, but you can also use the manager to generate strong, unique passwords. Well-known managers such as LastPass and 1Password, for example, contain this feature and both come with free or trial versions.

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Avoid these three things

By following the steps above, you can keep your documents safe. But you should also avoid doing any of the examples below to avoid potential security vulnerabilities:

  • Don’t write all your usernames and passwords in one Google doc. By gathering all your information in one document, someone just needs to hack into your Gmail account to access each individual account.
  • Do not add important numbers such as your passwords or your passport numbers to your email provider’s address book. Just as you don’t want to create a single entry point to all your accounts through a Google Doc, you also don’t want one hack in your email account to cause a massive breach of all your accounts and personal identification.
  • Don’t wait too long when your password manager has an update available. The sooner you install a software update, the less likely you are to be exposed to a security risk.

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