In Case of Emergency

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com September 12 2012 4:00 AM ET

In the midst of a natural disaster (or zombie apocalypse), you don’t want to be caught without the vital information needed to keep you and your family safe. In addition to a standard emergency kit (water, food, flashlights, first aid items), there are several documents that everyone should have access to at all times. These documents are crucial for same-sex couples and LGBT parents who might not have the same obvious protections that their hetero counterparts do in a time of crisis. Experts recommend you compile these documents in a binder using plastic sheet protectors and scan the documents and store them on a password-protected, encrypted USB drive.

Emergency contacts: Compile the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of each person in your immediate family and your close extended family as well as those of your close friends.

Your own version of the Yellow Pages: After family and friends, these contacts offer your second line of defense: your local hospital, physicians, pharmacy, close neighbors, babysitters, auto repair shop, electrician, plumber, veterinarian, coworkers, poison control, 24-hour medical care line, and utility companies.

Vital statistics: You can scan or copy these important life documents, or keep the originals together in the binder. Gather a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport for each family member. Add a copy of your deed or lease as well as a copy of the titles and registrations for any vehicles (that includes boats, RVs, and motorcycles) you own. Same-sex couples should also make sure they have any documents that legally outline child custody, in addition to their marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union license, hospital visitation directive, and a medical power of attorney.

Medical info: Include copies of your health insurance and prescription cards. Having a record of your medical history, immunizations, medications you take, and allergies is especially helpful for anyone with chronic conditions or health risks.  

All insurance accounts: Ideally, your home, whether you own or rent it, is insured. Make an inventory of personal items for your insurer if disaster strikes. The inventory can come in the form of a written list, video, or photos. Keep a list of accounts, terms, and customer service phone numbers or brokers to readily access all of your insurance policies: medical, auto, home, disability, and life.

All accounted for: Along with copies of any credit or debit cards, keep a dossier of bank, investment, and loan accounts, including institution names, phone numbers, and account numbers.

Keep flush in a flood: An envelope with a few dollars, blank checks, traveler’s checks, or an emergency prepaid cash card could be helpful if you can’t immediately access your regular bank accounts. If you’re going the digital route, throw some funds into your PayPal or Google Wallet account and keep passwords handy.

In case someone’s missing: Stash up-to-date individual, family, and pet photos. And it might seem a little paranoid, but a physical description accompanied by fingerprints may be quite helpful if a loved one goes missing. Pets can be easily and affordably microchipped ahead of time as well.

End-of-life care: Financial guru Suze Orman advises everyone to have a will, trust, durable power of attorney, and advance directive to make sure any life-altering medical decisions made on your behalf follow your wishes — and no well-intentioned but homophobic relative can get in the way. Funeral arrangements and organ donation preferences should also be specified here.