I found this article, titled "How to prepare for One really Quick Getaway" in today’s NY Times. It’s not the most comprehensive word on managing records, as it deals only with people’s personal situation: household finances for the most part, which is, of course, a far cry from the comparatively serious record management needs of even a small business. And, of course, nothing compares to the massive record keeping needs of even a small institution with 50+ employees. Having said that, this article hits the important points, makes mention of a variety of cheap yet high-tech solutions to record storage, and suggests what you and your family should be keeping track of on a yearly (semi-yearly?) basis. The main thrust is toward what happens if you need to bug out NOW! in the face of a Katrina-like emergency rather then just what happens if you happen to not come home today.
Worth a look; the text is below the link.
How to Prepare for One Really Quick Getaway
What is the first thing you will grab from your home if your house
floods, catches on fire or comes tumbling down in an earthquake? Family
photos? The pets? The Hummel figurines?
It probably will not be your financial and medical records, the very
things you will need to rebuild your life after a disaster. If you are
like most people, you have documents stashed in various places
throughout your home, perhaps some under lock and key. And with your
mind racing as danger hits, you are not going to have the time or
wherewithal to figure out which ones you need.
In any case, your financial and medical records would be such a
large and unwieldy pile that you would just say forget about it, grab
Fluffy and scramble out of there. Indeed, that is probably your
reaction any time someone suggests you get your records organized.
But wait. Do not run away yet. New technology is making this tedious
task less odious, and surprisingly, it is not that expensive.
All told, you can secure your records in a weekend afternoon. Even
better, doing all this has a wonderful side effect: it can put you in
better financial shape to survive a disaster because you will end up a
lot smarter about how you spend and save money. For instance, one of
the first things to do is compile a list of where everything is –
account numbers and the locations of important documents. The list will
help you or anyone in your family locate things you need for the
insurance adjuster or relief worker. (Download a template for this information that you can place right on your computer.)
This is really the "if hit by a bus" list that financial planners
have been recommending you compile for your heirs. If you think of the
list that way, you will be reminded of your mortality and you will not
want to write it. But think of the families displaced by Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita or by California wildfires, and the psychological
barrier collapses. The list becomes a much easier sell now, said Brent
Neiser, a director for the National Endowment for Financial Education.
"It forces you to think," he said.
Here is what else you have to do to protect your records and yourself:
RECORD: Once you have made your basic list, save it on a U.S.B.
flash drive. A 256-megabyte drive, which you can buy for $20 or even
less if you catch a store promotion, gives you enough space for that
file and all the other suggestions mentioned below.
Several of the big flash drive makers, like SanDisk and Lexar Media,
are now selling more advanced drives that allow you to encrypt the data
so others cannot read it without knowing the alphanumeric key that
unlocks the code. Some are even shock proofed with heavier rubber and
plastic coatings. Those will cost about $10 to $20 more, but are
certainly worth it when you consider the sensitivity of the data on
It is also a good idea to copy the contents onto additional drives for backup and for other members of the family.
BONUS: When you are listing the credit cards, also note the credit
limits so you will know how much you could spend in an emergency. If
your credit cards are at their limits now, you are not going to have
any cushion to fall back on. So start paying off balances, beginning
with the card carrying the highest interest rate.
SCAN: Some important documents are on paper and you will want copies
of them with you: tax returns for the last three years (Form 1040 is
all you will need in an emergency), a recent pay stub, birth
certificates, marriage license, the deed to your home and insurance
policy pages that list your coverage. If you do not have a scanner or a
printer with a flat scanner, take the pile of documents down to a copy
center like Kinko’s to scan. Record the image files on the U.S.B.
BONUS: Take the opportunity to check your insurance coverage for
potential disasters like flooding. With homes appreciating in value,
you may also find you need to increase coverage.
SHOOT: Some personal finance advisers suggest that you make a
spreadsheet listing everything you own and enter the date and price
paid and then file all the receipts and … yeah, yeah. You will never
do it. But creating a detailed inventory of everything you own need not
be a major chore when technology comes to the rescue. Many households
now have a camcorder or digital camera. Walk around each room and take
a picture of each item. Then, either store all the photos on a memory
card (unless you live in the Biltmore mansion, you can load all the
photos on a 256- or 512-megabyte card). Or you can transfer them to the
same U.S.B. drive with your other documents.
Describe each object on the camcorder soundtrack or in the file name
of the digital photo. Make an extra copy on another card or drive. "If
you give one to your insurance adjuster, you go to the front of the
line," Mr. Neiser said.
For additional protection, you could upload the photos – as well as
all your beloved family photos – to one of the free online photo
services like Flickr.com, Picasa.com, Snapfish.com, or Kodakgallery.com. Anybody you choose can then have access to them from any computer anywhere. (Make sure to set the privacy options, though.)
BONUS: You are going to discover a lot of stuff you no longer want
or need. Sell it or donate it and take a tax deduction. Intuit, maker
of Quicken and TurboTax, sells a $20 program called ItsDeductible that
estimates the value of donated items, but Bankrate.com and Salvationarmyusa.org have free valuation guides.
SECURE: Now it is time for your medical records. You can place your
health history as well as digitized copies of X-rays, scans and
electrocardiograms on the same encrypted flash drive.
Those with serious medical conditions may want to consider a product
sold by the nonprofit organization that developed the MedicAlert
bracelet 50 years ago. It sells a special USB flash drive on its Web site, www.medicalert.org,
called the E-HealthKey for $85. SanDisk originally developed the
product for the Army. Pop the flash drive into any computer and a
screen flashes with your medical condition to alert emergency room
personnel, for instance, to an allergy or your use of a pacemaker. But
beyond that screen, medical information you enter with the help of a
user-friendly program right on the drive is encrypted.
For an additional $20-a-year fee, MedicAlert uploads your data to its server so you have a backup.
The E-HealthKey is only available for PC’s running Windows XP or
Windows 2000. You may want to wait until November when the organization
issues an improved version.
BONUS: The E-HealthKey software, created by a division of Bio-Imaging Technologies,
also plots your weight, cholesterol or anything you regularly record,
onto a graph. "It’s a great wellness tool," said Ramesh Srinivasan,
MedicAlert’s vice president for marketing. If you are going to run for
your life, clutching your flash drive and the Hummels, you had better