Friday, August 29, 2014

Scan Your Stuff

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
Let's say that you have to bug out because of a disaster -- in my case, a hurricane -- and when you get back, your home is destroyed.

Can you prove it was insured?

Let's say that you're seeking asylum as a refugee and you need to cross a military checkpoint. They're only letting American citizens through.

Can you prove your citizenship?

You're separated from your loved ones.  Can you prove you're related?

There's a smallpox epidemic. Can you prove you've been inoculated?

In this increasingly information-based society, the paperwork necessary to prove your legal status is, more often than not, accessed electronically. Even when there isn't a disaster, this isn't always ideal:  how many of us have been thwarted by the DMV or other government office by the statement "Our internet is down" ?

If you think you'll be able to go online to access your records in an emergency, you're sadly mistaken. Fortunately, there are several easy solutions to this.

First, Scan Everything

Make electronic copies of everything you own. If you have a scanner at home, you're golden. If not, it's relatively easy to go to Kinko's (or another business that specializes in copying documents) and have them make the scans for you.  In a pinch, a suitably high-resolution digital photograph might work. 

Some suggested items:
  • Home and vehicle insurance policies
  • Deed to house
  • Title to car or other vehicles
  • Driver's License
  • Concealed Carry Permit
  • Credit Cards
  • Passport
  • Birth Certificate  (yours and those of any children you have)
  • Photos of loved ones
  • Marriage License/ Divorce Decree
  • Form DD 214, if former military
  • Vaccination Record
    • Those of your pets as well, if you have them
  • Prescription strength of your latest eye exam, if you wear glasses
  • Model and serial number of any firearms you own.  (I realize this one will cause some consternation, as many folks will not want the SN's of their guns accessible to anyone but them. That's up to you, but I'd prefer to be able to prove ownership in case they're lost or stolen.)

Don't forget to turn them over! Many ID cards and documents have important info on the back as well. For maximum efficiency, I would suggest putting multiple small items (like ID cards) onto the same scan. 

Second, Burn Them To Media

The type of media you burn them onto should be influenced by what kind of disaster you're expecting. 

Optical Discs

Pros: CD/DVD-ROM are stable forever, so long as they aren't scratched or exposed to heat strong enough to warp the surface.
Cons: Slightly bulky, fragile, requires a CD/DVD drive to access.

Thumb Drives

Pros:  Light, portable, holds more data than DVD-ROM, very affordable, can be used with anything that has a USB port.
Cons:  Easy to lose, susceptible to data damage from electromagnetic radiation, can carry viruses (admittedly, so can CD/DVD-ROMs, but you usually know when something is writing to a disc without permission; thumb drives can have malware inserted on them without your knowledge or consent). 

The Cloud

Pros: If the internet exists, you can access them.
Cons: If the internet exists. Also, some people believe that the government and/or hackers can read everything you've uploaded to cloud storage. 

Portable Computer

Pros: It's always nice to have a hard drive full of books, music, and/or movies to keep you entertained, and if you can get access to the internet, you can check your email and tell loved ones where you are.
Cons: Heavy, require electricity to operate, vulnerable to viruses and EMP, attractive target for thieves.

Paper Copies

Pros: Low-tech, works anywhere people can read, immune to EMP, usually considered more "authentic" than a digital copy.
Cons: Bulky in quantity, easy to lose or damage (fire, water, wind, animals, theft, etc). 

Please note that in the case of a national or global EMP, most of the documents will be useless anyway  (what good are insurance forms if there's no banking)?

Finally, Remember to Diversify

I've taken a multi-pronged approach to this.  My scanned documents are on thumb drives (one each per bug-out bag) as well as stored on a laptop and uploaded to the cloud. Really important paper documents are kept in safe but can be retrieved for evacuation if time isn't critical. This way, whatever the disaster, we should have at least one functioning form of documentation with us at all times. 

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