Our lives are increasingly dependent upon data and records. Most of the time, these records are used for some sort of identification or authentication, or as proof of ownership/past payment. It is incredible how much “permission” we are required to get to live our lives.
This can be even more important for Baby Boomers, as have entered – or about to enter – the massive Social Security and Medicare systems.
No ID, no services.
As you look through this list of items you need for many business and government services, it will dawn on you that most people have an incredible amount of very sensitive information in their possession.
Despite the massive shift from paper-based records to electronic media, good old printed copies of records are still an effective back-up.
Will you have easy access to your records during an emergency? Here’s a partial list:
Identification: Drivers license
Identification: Marriage license
Identification: Birth certificates
Identification: Death certificates
Identification: Military ID
Identification: Military Discharge
Identification: Specialized licenses – pilot, SCUBA, EMT, Paramedic, POST
Identification: Certifications – computer skills, training (firearms, first aid, etc.)
Insurance: Other (liability, umbrella policy, etc.)
Legal: Wills and trusts
Legal: Power of Attorney
Legal: Medical Directives
Legal: Business and personal contracts
Medical: Drug Prescriptions
Medical: Eyeglass Prescriptions
Medical: Personal Health Record (PHR)
Automobile: License and registration
Firearms: Sales receipt/registration information with serial number
Firearms: Concealed Carry permit
Membership Number: Civic organizations and clubs (i.e., Moose Lodge, Elk, NRA, Optimist, Rotary, etc.)
Data List: Bank account numbers and contact information.
Data List: Retirement account numbers and contact information.
Data List: User names and passwords to email accounts, blogs, business websites, bank accounts
Data List: Phone numbers and addresses of friends, family and other individuals you may need to contact
Looking at the contents of the list, you should realize that this package of information contains the keys to your financial, medical and personal life. If it were to fall into the wrong hands – either by theft, breach of trust, or by accident – your life would be an open book to the possessor of that information.
At a minimum, it would take a great deal of time to cancel and re-issue the compromised documents. Depending upon who had access to the information, it could cost you a great deal of time, inconvenience and money.
Generally speaking, the best place for the originals of these documents is at home, locked in a fireproof safe.
But what if the safe is stolen or destroyed? During the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, it got so hot that concrete burned (let THAT image sink in). My grandfather lost his home in that fire, and the only thing left on his lot was the fireplace. Even his metal stair banister had melted.
So, you want to have at least one copy of your records off-site in a safe location (bank safe deposit box, trusted relative, trusted friend or cache).
About those trusted sources – be careful. If you’re going to use them, I strongly recommend that your copied records be placed in a tamper-evident bag so you know if the records have been viewed by others.
Another alternative is using something like a FoodSaver sealer for the records. Obviously, a nosy relative/friend could just open the bag and re-seal it (or make another one). One way to thwart this would be to write your name and the date across one of the seals, and a note such as, “Private Documents” over the other seal. Be sure to do this in your own handwriting, with an indelible pen (such as a Sharpie).
Since each of these precautions use bags that are see-thru, be sure to have a blank sheet of paper (or two, depending on how opaque the paper might be) on the top and bottom of your documents to obscure any information.
On the flip-side, if you use a public repository – such as a bank safe deposit box – your records are subject to access by government officials via a subpoena. Your lifestyle, and the trustworthiness of your family and friends will dictate the most secure off-site location for your copied records.
We keep a third copy in our version of the Bug Out Bag. We actually use 60 quart lidded tubs which are numbered in the order of how they should be grabbed in the event of an evacuation. Box number 1 has a FoodSaver sealed pack of our documents.
If we have to evacuate, we’ll have our records in an easily accessible form, and won’t have to go fumbling to open up the safe.
Another option – which is also something we use – is to scan your documents, and retain an image on a small thumb-drive data storage device. If you do this technique, you MUST be sure you encrypt the information. Otherwise, your records – in electronic form – are readily available to be distributed around the world.
I used to recommend a program called TrueCrypt. Although it is still free and available, they disclosed that their program was hacked, and there are ways to access the information you’re trying to protect. It will work well against regular people, but a determined hacker or the government will have your records in a matter of minutes. Go here for some suggested alternatives
Yes, a number of these solutions are a bit technical in nature. But, it is well worth the effort to learn about this. Once you understand the concept, setting up an encrypted drive is very easy.
If need be, you can carry all of your personal information an a thumb-drive that’s on a lanyard around your neck. Or perhaps you can give the thumb drive to your friend or relative. Unless they know your STRONG password, they can’t access the documents.
Regardless of the route you take – either paper-based or electronic – it is crucially important for you to have back-up copies of your important documents. Be sure you tread very carefully, though.
As noted, this information is important to you, and can be valuable to a criminal. Don’t make your emergency preps be the cause of an emergency in your life!