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Make a grab and go file for emergencies

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you became a victim of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, fire, or other unexpected event? Would you know what to grab if you only had minutes to escape your home? The plans you've made in advance and what you choose to take with you will influence how quickly you rebound from disaster (whether you have the information to file claims, contact information for accounts, etc.).

Grab and go file

National agencies that work with disasters recommend gathering important items in a file case or binder. Store it in a place where all family members can quickly grab it and go. Make sure that your file case or binder is small enough to easily fit in a backpack or other small travel bag and keep it in a waterproof container. The following information should be in your grab and go file.

List of vital information

  • Contact information (family members, financial advisors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, employers, doctors, etc.)
  • Insurance policy information (homeowners, renters, vehicle, health, etc.)
  • Bank, credit union, and credit card account information and phone numbers

Use the Roadmap for important papers (PDF) to help you organize this information.

Photocopies of important papers

  • Birth and marriage certificates and/or divorce decrees
  • Social Security cards of household members
  • Driver’s license and other wallet cards
  • Will and/or trust documents; Powers of Attorney
  • Recent income tax return
  • Passports and/or other identity documents
  • Military discharge papers
  • List of prescriptions (name of medication, dosage, pharmacy, etc.)

See Replacing your important papers (PDF) if any important papers are missing.

Other items

  • Safe deposit box keys and/or safe combination
  • Computer usernames and passwords
  • CD with relevant personal, financial, and legal files
  • Some emergency cash

Electronic grab and go file

If you have access to a secure server and internet connection, make an electronic grab and go file. First, scan your official documents to make electronic copies. Include an electronic copy of your completed Roadmap for important papers (PDF).

Then send these documents to yourself in an email so that you can access them from any internet-connected computer. Another option is to save copies of these documents on one or more CDs or USB drives and then store them somewhere outside your home that is secure (a locked cabinet at your work, with a trusted friend or family member, etc.). A third option is to save a folder with a cloud storage service or online file storage provider.

Remember that you will still want to store original hard copies of your documents in a safe place.

See the related video or audio

Do You Have a Grab & Go File? Video (MP4) (3:26) | Transcript (PDF)

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension educator emeritus in family resource management

Revised by Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency; reviewed by Sarah L. Butler, financial empowerment educator in family resiliency

Reviewed in 2018

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