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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Preps: Lost Records

As we've stated before, in our view, Emergency Preparedness needs to focus more on limiting negative impacts to disasters than on preparing for specific events (earthquake, hurricane, etc.).  We discussed that philosophy and those Twelve Impacts in an earlier post.  You can see all of the items in the series to this point by clicking the 12 Impacts label category.

We're going to drill down into one of the twelve impacts:  Lost Records.
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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.

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:  Passport
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:  Automobile
Insurance:  Homeowners
Insurance:  Flood
Insurance:  Earthquake
Insurance:  Renters
Insurance:  Life
Insurance:  Medical
Insurance:  Boat
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
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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.

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 (such as these) 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.
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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 strongly recommend a FREE program called TrueCrypt.  It is a encryption program that allows you to actually set up an encrypted drive on your zip drive.  My thumb drive holds my records and the program, with TONS of space left over.

Yes, it's a bit technical in nature.  But, it is well worth the effort to learn about this.  Once you understand the concept, setting up the 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.

I use TrueCrypt for this purpose, as well as encrypting a drive on my work computer.  This is where I keep all of the personal sensitive information on my customers.  When they provide me with their credit card information, for instance, I scan the paper where I wrote down the information, save it on my encrypted drive, then shred the paper document.

Accept The Challenge

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!

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4 comments:

Andrea said...

Great post, Chief.

I've been working on our records this week, in fact. Birth certificates, SS cards, mortgage information, etc are all safe in a lockbox, ready to go in a moment's notice. You posted a number of items that I hadn't thought of; insurance paperwork for instance. THanks for the list.

Chief Instructor said...

When my grandfather's home burned down, he had two things with him: The first was four tool chests full of gold and silver coins (he was a young man during the Great Depression and understood the value of tangibles).

The other thing was a folder with all of his insurance information. Because he had his paperwork with him - nothing had to be verified - he moved to "the front of the line" and was in an apartment within a week.

theotherryan said...

Great post, Got to get this stuff in order. Maybe next weekends project.

Once through absence of mind I moved across the country without my birth certificate and SS card. They were sent to me via registered mail where they were promptly stolen (some thieving government employee looking for cash) and I had to replace them. The birth certificate took forever. It I needed to get a passport. Still don't have my SS card but it isn't a huge deal for me right now. That whole thing was a huge mess. Though it did turn me on to life lock.

Chief Instructor said...

Both you and Andrea mentioned SS cards. I haven't had my card for probably 30+ years. It probably should be added to the list. And I probably should get another one issued, I guess.

LifeLock has been a great service for me as well.