Noe Valley Voice March 2006

Losing Your Records Can Be Taxing

By Liz Highleyman

You may not realize how important they are until they're gone, but loss of personal, medical, and financial records can be a nightmare. (Think Hurricane Katrina.)

As part of its new program to break disaster-readiness into manageable steps, in March the Noe Valley Preparedness Committee is encouraging neighbors to duplicate important data and stash the copies in a safe place.

"This month, while you are preparing your taxes, might be an ideal time to jot down your accounts, make copies of vital documents, and put them in several places where you can retrieve them in case of emergency," says preparedness committee coordinator Mindy Kershner.

What Should You Collect?

Keep copies of any information that could pose a logistical hassle if it's destroyed or inaccessible. Some examples include:

* Identification documents such as driver's licenses, passports, green cards, and social security cards

* Vital records such as birth and marriage certificates

* Medical records, including prescriptions and vaccine records

* Pet registration and vaccine records

* Property deeds

* Wills, powers of attorney, and similar contracts

* Bank account numbers

* Tax records and receipts

* Insurance policy numbers and company contact information

* Personal property inventory with photos

Next, find a safe place to store your duplicates. Keep one copy of the most important information in your emergency "go kit." Other good choices may include an offsite office, a friend or relative's home, or a bank safe-deposit box. Better yet, keep records in multiple locations--for example, with a nearby friend to facilitate quick access in case of an isolated event such as a house fire, and with a distant friend in case of a major disaster that affects the entire neighborhood or city.

Do the same with backups of your computer files on CDs or DVDs.

Know Your Stuff

If an insurance adjuster asked for a list of property lost in a disaster, would you be able to comply?

"One should have a record of major items in your home and proof of their value for insurance purposes," explains Kershner.

Several home inventory tools are available online. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends a free household and personal property inventory program from the University of Illinois ( ~vista/abstracts/ahouseinv.html). Don't forget to include serial numbers and purchase information (cost, date, receipts) for expensive items.

With the inventory as a guide, go through your home with a camera. Take pictures not only of big-ticket items, but also of things that have cumulative value (like books, CDs, and clothes) and items with sentimental or historical value.

"Think of the personal treasures that have emotional value to you and your family. The loss of the family photo albums can be devastating," Kershner says. "With a little preparation, you could preserve these irreplaceable memories by copying at least some of your most treasured images."

The next Noe Valley Preparedness Committee meeting will be March 13, at 6:30 p.m. Contact Kershner at 377-3890 or e-mail for the meeting location. To get more disaster-preparedness tips, go to