Disaster Plan Boosts Identity Protection
It’s disaster season. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or wildfires could be just around the corner. What would happen to your vital data if a tornado or hurricane tossed your laptop into another state? Maybe a building landed on it during an earthquake. It’s time to prepare, folks.
Some disasters give you a bit of time to plan, but others may touch down in your subdivision with little warning. Tornados are one of the biggest offenders. When your roof blows off, all your contents are fair game for Mother Nature. Lock down your personally identifiable information (PII) before it gets soaked or takes flight.
Pack These Documents
You should prepare as if that natural disaster is just over the horizon and heading your way. Make a list of documents and other items to store in a Go Bag. That’s the one item you grab without debating what to take if you see a twister or fire in the distance.
Protection of lives is always the top priority, but your second concern is identity protection. Your packing list should include the following:
- Recent bank statements and tax returns you might need to file for disaster relief
- Insurance policies and agent contact info for homeowner or renter claims
- A backup copy of digital address books and similar files
- Several utility bills to use as proof of address
- A list of all your credit cards and other open accounts
- Prescription drugs and pharmacy records
- Plastic bags with watertight seals
- Birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, etc.
- Ownership docs such as car titles and home titles
You’ll be shocked to learn how far documents can travel in a disaster. Documents sucked into a funnel cloud travel on some wild air currents. Examples have been located over 353km (219 miles) from their original homes.
Dedicated social media pages spring up in the wake of a national disaster; their goals include uniting people with wayward possessions, neighbors and pets. Victims can post both lost and found items.
In 2013, the University of Georgia tracked tornado damage via social media reports and recorded items discovered hundreds of miles from home. Four years later, a tornado-ravaged Petal and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, prompting one survivor to state on one disaster page, “I thought Katrina was bad. I think this is the worst. Billy Ray and I have been to see homes pushed up to the road.”
Water, Water Everywhere
Hurricanes and floods can destroy documents like birth certificates and other vital papers. Flooding is common after a hurricane, excessive rain, or a dam break, and the water’s force can carry your ID docs on a long, wet ride.
Each year during the fall hurricane season, a bogus concept makes the rounds on social media. No, your dishwasher is not a safe place to store your identity documents. Indeed, these machines won’t leak into your kitchen (hopefully), but the unit has a drain, also. Water moving under tremendous pressure can flow upward and flood that appliance.
Check out the comments on Snopes.com to get an earful about the dishwasher disaster myth. Yet such suggestions have earned millions of views on the internet. Plastic zip bags or a USB drive are the best ways to guard papers vulnerable to water damage.
Warnings are rare when it comes to ground shaking. If you live in or near an earthquake zone, print out a map of potential evacuation routes and store it with other vital papers. There’s no guarantee the shaking won’t knock down cell towers and render your smartphone’s map app useless.
Stuff copies of necessary forms, contracts and a long list of documents into that Go Bag with batteries, flashlights and other survival gear.
Massive wildfires have ravaged the U.S. recently. Mother Nature sparks some, but human negligence is a leading cause. These can hit anywhere with little notice. Save your neighbors, save your pets but don’t forget to grab that Go Bag with your essential documents.
Power failures rarely make huge disaster headlines, but Texas’s recent failed electric grid caused incredible hardships. With unseasonably low temperatures and no heat, millions of Texans suffered. Here too, a Go Bag with documents—either digital copies on a thumb drive or hard copies in water-resistant containers or bags—could prove priceless.
Top Disaster Myths
Ignore these urban legends if you want to effectively ‘disaster proof’ your identity.
- My possessions won’t travel far. FALSE
- My dishwasher or clothes washer is waterproof. Also FALSE
- Everything is safe in my safe deposit box. FALSE. Even these secure places don’t always win the fight with Mother Nature, and your items inside are not insured by the box provider.
- Oh, it’s just water; it will dry out. FALSE. Corrosive seawater can swamp and ruin your possessions in a coastal flood, and even freshwater carries mud and other debris.
- It’s a snap to restore damaged or lost papers. FALSE. There could be a lengthy wait for replacements and long lines at government agencies. You also need some identity proof to request copies of any you’ve lost.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a detailed list of essential documents you should protect against sudden loss.
Today, disaster-focused apps are available for your smartphone. Some make a game out of preparation to get the skeptics in your family involved. Others like one from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are nuts and bolts directions on risk mitigation, preparation, survival and filing claims if you carry flood insurance. The federal government provides a list of emergency disaster apps for other natural events, and the Pacific Disaster Center provides a free version of its Disaster Alert program.
The Red Cross offers several apps, and some are disaster-specific. Then there’s Zello, which turns smartphones into walkie-talkies when the power goes out or earthquake apps that glean data from users to gather instant information about a quake’s scope. First Aid and medical apps also come in handy.
Just make sure your device is fully charged and consider adding a few external batteries. Fully charged and checked frequently.
IDShield members can request monitoring of their vital data—everything from Social Security numbers to email addresses to medical insurance numbers. Alerts provide a quick heads-up regarding data compromises we uncover.
There are numerous ways to prepare, but the only wise time to gather these vital forms is long before news of a nearby calamity breaks.
IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage, and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.