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How to Pack an Emergency Go-Bag for Any Disaster

Oct 18, 2018 3 min read Susan Johnston Taylor

Key takeaways

  • Store key documents in a waterproof bag or safe deposit box.
  • Make a list of important phone numbers.
  • Upload family photos and financial documents to the cloud.


Picture this: You're sitting down to dinner when your phone alerts you that a hurricane or wildfire is headed straight for your town and you have one hour to evacuate. Do you have an emergency kit by the door with an important document organizer so you can easily grab what you need and get to safety? Or would you spend the next 60 minutes searching for birth certificates, passports and other documents?


Ideally, you'd be in the former camp to ensure that you safely evacuate with all of the key financial documents you need to rebuild after an emergency. If you have a little more time, you could try to save valuable or sentimental items such as jewelry, so it pays to think ahead about what key items you'll want before you're in panic mode.

As millions of Americans have experienced firsthand with recent wildfires and hurricanes, you never know when disaster might strike. Don't wait until a new year, spring cleaning or tax season to get your affairs in order.

Here's how to stay organized in case an emergency forces you to flee your home.

This list includes personal, financial, and legal documents you'll want to have on hand in case of an emergency. Not all of these documents pertain to everyone but this will give you a good idea of the documents you may want to keep in your emergency kit.


  • Social Security cards
  • Birth, adoption, or naturalization certificates
  • Passports/green cards
  • Marriage certificates/divorce papers
  • Wills and living wills
  • Powers of attorney
  • School transcripts and diplomas
  • Pet licenses and microchip records
  • List of account logins/PIN numbers




  • Medical insurance information and ID cards
  • Medical and immunization records
  • List of medications for you, your family, and pets



Home and auto:

  • Property deeds and titles
  • Mortgage or lease agreements
  • Auto lease agreements
  • Auto titles and registrations
  • Homeowners, renters, and/or auto insurance policies
  • Service contracts
  • Utility bills
  • Warranties and important receipts



Banking and finance:

  • Bank and credit card information/statements
  • Investment documents – retirement accounts, mutual funds, etc.
  • Life insurance policy information
  • Loan documents – student loans, home equity loans, etc.
  • Tax returns (last 7 years)


How to store important documents

Store your documents in a waterproof bag and keep your bag in a designated place in your home so that you can quickly grab it and go. An accordion folder or file box placed inside a waterproof bag works well. Alternatively, you can store important documents in a safe deposit box at a local bank. Just be sure to keep the key handy.


Create an emergency kit

In addition to important documents, you'll also want an emergency kit stored next to your document organizer. This should include cash — credit or debit cards may not work following a power outage — as well as nonperishable food, bottled water, a flashlight with extra batteries and any necessary medications. If you have all these items stored where you can find them, it'll make things easier during an evacuation.

Store additional documents digitally

For key documents such as passports, auto titles, birth certificates, or college diplomas, you'll need to keep hard copies in your document organizer. Other documents, such as utility bills, lists of medication or credit card statements, can be stored digitally in the cloud. Don't rely on your personal hard drive because hardware can fail or be damaged by fire, water or other forces. Consider uploading sentimental items such as family photos to the cloud so that you don't have to carry hard copies or worry about losing the originals in a natural disaster. Plus, you can store photos and videos showing the contents of your home in case you need to file a home insurance claim.

Your cloud storage should also include an updated list of phone numbers for people who are important to your financial life: your lawyer, accountant, financial professional, insurance company, and others. That way if you need to make an insurance claim or call your accountant with a tax question, you'll have their information easily accessible.

Emergencies are stressful enough without having to search for an important document or phone number; a few hours of organization now can save you lots of headaches in the future.


What you can do next

Be sure to share your plan with loved ones too. In case something happens to you, tell them where to locate your important documents or the key to your safe deposit box. Also share contact details for the important people in your financial life such as your estate lawyer and your financial professional.



Susan Johnston Taylor has written about personal finance and business for The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, and U.S. News & World Report.


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