The Disaster Binder

Posted on: May 10, 2016

Stress can do some funny things to people. When they get frazzled, even tasks that have been very routine can suddenly be confusing. Want to see it in action? Try to put on and tie a pair of shoes while someone is screaming at you and banging pots and pans together a few feet away from your head. You’ll probably be able to pull it off but it’ll take you longer and your hands may be shaking when you’re done. And that’s when you know there’s no danger and it is just a bunch of loud noises.

The disaster binder, like a bug out bag, should be unique to the person or family. No two binders will be identical. It all depends on what you feel you need.

Start with determining what exactly you want to keep in your binder. I’ll go over several possible sections for your binder. Decide which one(s) are right for you and your family.

Important documents

This section should include copies of documents and print outs from online accounts that will allow you to recover from the disaster as quickly as possible. As more than one homeowner has discovered in the wake of a disaster, the insurance wheels turn a lot faster when you can provide a policy number and identification.

The documentation should include:

Copies of all insurance policies, including policy numbers and the name of your insurance agent. These policies would include homeowner or renter insurance as well as vehicle insurance.

Health insurance cards or policy information.

Copies (front and back) of identification cards (driver license, state ID, school ID).

Proof of ownership for vehicles. For vehicles, your license registration should suffice. You want to make sure, though, that the full Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) appears on the document.

Bank statements (one per account), including retirement, investment, and other related financial accounts. The statements need not be as recent as the previous month but rotate them out at least a couple of times a year. The idea behind having them is you’ll have your account numbers as well as the contact info for each bank.

A photocopy, front and bank, of every credit card in your wallet. In case the cards are lost or stolen, you’ll have all you need right there to report the missing cards, get them canceled, and get new ones in your hand.

A complete list of any life-preserving medications family members take regularly.

A full and complete copy of each pet’s vaccination record.

These documents obviously contain sensitive and private information. The disaster binder isn’t something you’ll want to just leave laying around somewhere.

Now, I know someone is going to bring up the idea of keeping all of this information on a password protected thumb drive. That is truly an excellent idea and one I support 100%. However, I believe in redundancy and suggest that having a hard copy might be beneficial if the thumb drive is lost or damaged.

Many people keep a set of these documents in their bug out bag, which is not a bad idea at all. Again, though, redundancy is a key element of disaster planning. The idea behind including these documents in your disaster binder is to have one set of hard copies all in one place, ready to reference as needed or to grab on your way out the door.

Contact Lists

Today, it seems like fewer and fewer people actually know phone numbers by heart. Instead, they rely upon the contact list in their cell phone. That’s all well and good but what if that phone dies or is lost/stolen/damaged? Take the time now to put together a comprehensive contact list. Include:

Family members you may need to contact after a disaster.

Close friends who you may be able to rely upon for assistance.

The name, number, and address for several motels in the area, including ones along the way to your intended bug out destination. If you’ll have pets with you, check with those motels now to make sure they’ll not give you grief about them. I realize that rules might be bent, or even broken, in extreme situations. However, you’ll be far better off if you know ahead of time that the Super 8 a few towns over will let you keep Fido in the room with you, rather than finding out when you arrive that not only are pets verboten, the managers will kick you to the curb in a heartbeat if they so much as catch a whiff of dog food.

Name, number, and address for family physician as well as the pharmacy you normally use (they’ll have records of your meds in case you need them).

Name and number of your family attorney (if you have one).

Name and number of your insurance agent(s).

Evacuation Lists

Here’s a somewhat novel idea. And admittedly this isn’t workable in every disaster but bear with me a moment. Let’s say an officer or deputy knocked on your door and told you there was a mandatory evacuation order. You have 30 minutes to be out of your home and on the road. That’s pretty much what happened to about 80,000 people in Canada recently, when the wildfires in Alberta really ramped up.

Now, being prudent preppers and survivalists, you already have your bug out bags in your vehicle or at least in the front closet ready to go, right? In addition to those bags, though, what would you grab? Would you remember everything you want when push comes to shove? Why not make a list now so you have it when the time comes?

What I suggest is you go room by room and make a list of what you would grab if you had time before evacuating. For example, we have a portable hard drive that stores copies of all family photos. We use this drive for other things as well so we can’t just store it in a bug out bag. Given the opportunity, I would want to grab it before leaving the house in an evacuation.

Other possibilities would include extra clothes for each family member, heirloom jewelry, extra firearms/ammunition, prescription medications, and maybe even cremated remains of family members if they’re in your possession. Obviously, none of this stuff is life-sustaining. Nothing here is going to keep you alive in a disaster. But, if there’s a good chance you’re going to lose everything and you have time to salvage a bit of it, wouldn’t you want to do so?

You might go so far as to print each room’s list on a different sheet of paper. Then, you can assign family members to each room and give them each a list to help save time. Consider including information as to what the stuff should be packed in, such as grabbing duffel bags from the garage or something.

Instruction Manuals

Does every family member know how to start the generator and properly hook it up to the transfer switch? Are you confident they’ll be able to do it right under stress?

How about troubleshooting the well pump? Turning off the natural gas to the house? Turning off the water?

Each of us has certain tasks that need to be done during an emergency and all family members need to know how to do them. But, hedge your bets by laying out step by step instructions they can follow if needed. Remember, if you’re away from home when disaster hits, they won’t have you as a resource to hold their hand through the process.

Include in this section any actual instruction manuals for major equipment, such as generators. If you don’t have the original manual, you can likely find it online and print it out. Exploded view diagrams are especially useful in the event a repair needs to be made to the equipment.

Assembling the disaster binder

Once you’ve decided what you want to include in the disaster binder, start getting everything together. For most families, a 2” binder will probably suffice. I suggest using page protectors rather than just punching holes in your sheets of paper. Page dividers will help with organizing the binder, too. If you figure you’ll need to print or photocopy a lot of the pages for the binder, you might want to pick up an extra ink cartridge for your printer. Trust me, if you don’t and you end up running out of ink, you’ll never go back to finish the binder. It’ll be too easy to just keep putting it off.

I’m not gonna lie to you, it takes a while to get the binder all set up. Gathering all of the documents and such seems like a daunting task all by itself, let alone making copies and then organizing everything. But, like so many other non-sexy areas of prepping like stocking up on hygiene products and counting rolls of paper towel, it still needs to be done.

Also, don’t think of this binder as replacing drills and regular practice, either. There is no substitute for real life experience. Instead, look at the disaster binder as a tool to be used in a crisis.

3 thoughts on “The Disaster Binder

  1. A person would be an utter fool to include all that personal information in one place! A better idea might be to codify the relevant parts and keep that in as secure a spot as possible.

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