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Help yourself recover missing documents after a disaster

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

  • MSN

The worst has happened. An accident or disaster has destroyed your most important personal identification documents, leaving you scrambling for ways to verify your identity, restore your accounts and get your life back on track. The good news is that there are several preventive measures you can take to head off the worst fallout from this kind of crisis.

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CNET logo Help yourself recover missing documents after a disaster

The worst has happened. An accident or disaster has destroyed your most important personal identification documents, leaving you scrambling for ways to verify your identity, restore your accounts and get your life back on track. The good news is that there are several preventive measures you can take to head off the worst fallout from this kind of crisis.

Here are three ways to prepare and secure your identifying documents before and after disaster strikes.

Email yourself all of your important docs

In the event of a fire, flood or other natural disaster, there's no guarantee that even if it's wisely packed in your bug-out bag, your self-contained data storage devices (like your external hard drives or thumb drives) will survive. The safest bet to avoid total loss of data after your physical property is destroyed is to ensure your documents and information are stored offsite digitally.

Coronavirus updates: Tennessee rejects White House advice to close bars; Fauci says Marlins outbreak endangers baseball season
Here's what to expect from McDonald's earnings
CNET logo Help yourself recover missing documents after a disaster

The worst has happened. An accident or disaster has destroyed your most important personal identification documents, leaving you scrambling for ways to verify your identity, restore your accounts and get your life back on track. The good news is that there are several preventive measures you can take to head off the worst fallout from this kind of crisis.
a close up of a piece of paper: Getty Images © Provided by CNET Getty Images

Here are three ways to prepare and secure your identifying documents before and after disaster strikes.
Email yourself all of your important docs

In the event of a fire, flood or other natural disaster, there's no guarantee that even if it's wisely packed in your bug-out bag, your self-contained data storage devices (like your external hard drives or thumb drives) will survive. The safest bet to avoid total loss of data after your physical property is destroyed is to ensure your documents and information are stored offsite digitally.

Keep in mind that your personal information is only as secure as your email provider. For example, if you're a Gmail user, make sure you've taken a few minutes to review your security settings. If you're not satisfied with Gmail's overall security, you should look into its widely hailed, privacy-minded competitor, Protonmail.
Call federal phone lines

If disaster strikes before you can email yourself copies of all of your important documents, the US government can help you replace them. The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a helpful website where you can find phone numbers and websites for a range of federally- and locally-issued public and private account documents -- from your Social Security card, passport, your Medicare and SNAP cards, to your green cards, birth and death certificates, and state IDs and licenses.

Keep this link saved in your browser or email it to yourself in a message containing all relevant keywords so that it's easily searchable as you're attempting to pick up the pieces in a state of distress.

Use a password manager

If you still keep a paper record of passwords to your online accounts, you could find yourself swamped in an endless cycle of frustrating account lock-outs and password resets. To spare yourself this modern nightmare, choose a solid password manager -- an encrypted digital vault that stores the login information you use to access apps on mobile devices, websites and other services.

By choosing a good password manager, you're not only relieved of the burden of having to memorize dozens of passwords in the event of disaster, but you'll also be able to use the manager to generate strong, unique passwords. Well-known managers like LastPass and 1Password, for instance, include this feature, and both come with either free or trial versions.

A few things to avoid

Following the steps above can keep your documents safe. But you should also avoid doing any of the examples below to avoid potential security issues:

  • Don't write all of your usernames and passwords in a single Google Doc. Collecting all of your information in a single document means that someone only has to hack into your Gmail account to have access to every single account.
  • Don't add important numbers like your passwords or your passport numbers to your email provider's address book. Just as you wouldn't want to create a single point of access to all of your accounts via a Google Doc, you don't want to turn one hack into your email account into a massive breach of all your accounts and personal identification.
  • Don't delay when your password manager has an update available. The sooner you install a software update, the less you risk a security compromise.