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Disaster Relief: Preparing Your Evacuation "To Go" Box

Publication Number: IS1801
View as PDF: IS1801.pdf

Are you prepared to evacuate quickly with important documents if disaster strikes? Natural disasters can strike suddenly. Taking time now to assemble important papers in a box that is safe and ready to go at a moment’s notice can save a lot of time and frustration in the event of a fire, storm, or flood. Prepare now by creating a portable file you can grab to go.

Steps To Create Your Evacuation “To Go” Box

Step 1

  • Place items in paper folders or envelopes.
  • Store these inside sealed, airtight and waterproof plastic bags.
  • Place in a durable, sealed box, preferably a locking one. A portable, fireproof and waterproof box/bag is recommended.

Step 2

  • Store the box/bag at home in a secure place you can get to easily.

Step 3

  • If you must evacuate, grab the box and take it with you.
  • Keep the box with you at all times.
  • Do not leave the box unattended in your vehicle.

Here’s What Your “To Go” Box Should Include:

  • Cash or traveler’s checks for several days’ living expenses.
  • Rolls of quarters.
  • Emergency phone numbers. Include local and tollfree.
    • Doctors, pharmacies
    • Financial institutions
    • Insurance companies (Include your local agent and the company headquarters.)
    • Credit card companies
    • Minister
    • Repair contractors
    • Family/friends
    • Workplace
    • Schools
  • Copies of these:
    • Homeowners, auto, flood or renter’s insurance policies and policy numbers
    • Prescriptions for medications and eyeglasses
    • Health, dental, and prescription insurance cards or numbers
    • Children’s immunization records
    • Deeds
    • Titles
    • Wills and trust documents
    • Durable power of attorney
    • Healthcare directives (living will)
    • Stock and bond certificates
    • Recent investment statements
    • Home inventory (printed and digital version if available)
    • Birth, death, adoption, marriage certificates
    • Passports
    • Employee benefit documents
    • First two pages of previous year’s federal and state income tax returns
    • Military service records
  • Back-up of computerized financial records
  • Keys to safe deposit box
  • Combination to safe
  • Labeled photos of family members and pets
  • Negatives or disks of irreplaceable photos
  • User names, passwords
  • List of debt obligations, due dates, and contact information
  • Photocopies, front and back, of all credit cards
  • List of numbers:
    • Social Security
    • Bank account
    • Loan
    • Credit card
    • Driver’s license
    • Investment account
    • Other account numbers – for utilities, and such

A safe deposit box is recommended to store your original papers and other valuables. These boxes are located at your financial institutions. Note that most original documents should be stored in your safe deposit box.

Secure in Your Safe Deposit Box

  • Deeds
  • Titles
  • Mortgages
  • Birth, marriage, death certificates
  • Adoption papers
  • Child custody papers
  • Copies of passports
  • Military/veteran records
  • Appraisals
  • Leases and other contracts
  • Stocks, bonds and certificates of deposit
  • Trust documents
  • Copies of power of attorney, will/trust
  • Insurance policies
  • Home improvement records and receipts
  • Household inventory (list, photos, and/or digital)
  • Jewelry, precious medals, other collectible

Digital Files

The most portable files for your “To Go” Box are digital files. Take the documents you have collected and scan them. Save these images to a CD. Also scan the contents of your safe deposit box and save to the same CD. Send a copy of this CD to a trusted friend or relative who lives at least 300 miles away. You may also want to provide your attorney with a copy of the CD in a sealed envelope to be opened with your permission if you become incapacitated.

Our lives are constantly changing when there are births, deaths, moves, marriages, divorces, and similar changes occurring. You may buy a new house, acquire real property, or sell some. The best Evacuation “To Go” Box will not last forever. As things change, update the “To Go” Box and your safe deposit box by adding to or deleting your documentation. Review at least annually. Planning and preparation can help the unexpected from becoming a harsh financial reality.


American Red Cross, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants & National Endowment for Financial Education. (2003). Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues.

FDIC Consumer News. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. (Spring 1997). The Key to Your Safe Deposit Box. " consumer/news/cnspr97/sfdpstbx.html"

University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. (1998). Disaster Supplies Kit.

Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. (2002). Emergencies: Are You Prepared? Your Personal Checklist of Important Documents.

By Susan Cosgrove, Area Extension Agent

Information Sheet 1801
Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director


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