It's three o'clock in the morning and you're awakened by the sound of your fire alarm. Outside you hear the sound of sirens and you notice a cloud of smoke seeping under the doorway into your room. In a situation such as this, people focus their energy on getting out alive and making sure that everyone at home gets out alive, too. You gather outside with your loved ones and are relieved and grateful that your lives have been spared. Now what? What thoughts enter your mind? Do you think about calling your employer to explain that you cannot make your Monday morning sales meeting? Do you think of calling your nearest relative for moral and perhaps financial support? Or, do you reflect upon your priceless possessions? Do you think about family mementos, birth certificates, diplomas, baby pictures, wedding pictures, passports, etc., things which you cannot possibly replace? No matter where you live or what precautions you take, nobody is exempt from the possibilities of becoming a victim of flood, fire, or earthquakes that could destroy your precious documents.
Now imagine that none of this really happened--the entire experience was simply a nightmare. You shake your head to make sure you really were dreaming and marvel at how vivid the entire dream was. Do you dismiss the experience as a psychotic dream and cross your fingers hoping it won't come to pass, or do you begin thinking of ways to protect some of these documents and special mementos?
How do you protect your documents? Is there anything that can prevent priceless things from burning or from being destroyed by water? The most reliable way to protect your documents is to purchase a fireproof/waterproof safe. These safes are also a good way to protect documents from other natural disasters, as long as you can locate the safe after the disaster is over.
Most people are disorganized with documents and will likely have them scattered throughout their home. When an emergency occurs, there is not usually enough time to find vital documents.
There are a variety of safes that are adequate to withstand the powerful blows of natural disasters. So to gather some good recommendations, Emergency Essentials consulted with Dave Senn from Bilco Safe & Lock in Orem, Utah. Dave recommended Sentry safes because they have a line of safes that are specifically manufactured to protect documents during fires. These safes are great because they provide up to five times the fire resistance of ordinary insulated metal boxes.
When deciding upon a safe, first decide what you want to protect. If you are simply safeguarding documents, practically any Sentry safe will do. They retail for about $350. However, if you are trying to protect media such as video tapes, cassette tapes, photographic negatives, computer disks, etc., you will need to choose a safe that is specifically designed to protect these types of media. The following are items that you should consider protecting in your fireproof safe:
- Wills (in most instances you will need the original for it to be legally binding. It is recommended that you make several copies since no state or city office keeps a record of wills)
- Trust documents
- Personal and family records
- Cherished photos and keepsakes
- Business files
- Collector items
- Legal and financial documents
- Family heirlooms
- Birth certificates
- Cash (checks and credit cards are typically ineffective during a major emergency)
- Account numbers
- Copies of licenses (vehicle, professional, marriage, etc.)
- Inventory of valuable household items (include pictures)
- Family videos
...and any other items that would be difficult to replace.
It is a good idea to keep the originals in a safe, but keep additional certified copies outside the home in a safety deposit box or with relatives to avoid the hassle and loss of time that it takes to obtain certified copies once lost. In some instances, insurance companies may offer discounts for owning a safe.
Dave Senn also recommends Amsec safes because, unlike Sentry safes, Amsec safes are professionally hand-crafted to better protect against burglary as well as fire and flood. He recommends choosing a safe that has a fire rating of 1100¬∞ F and can protect contents from fire for up to 30 minutes. As long as the temperature inside the safe remains under 350¬∞ F, your paper documents can be salvaged. Remember, however, you will need greater protection for media.
An Amsec safe retails for approximately $400-500, but it is best to decide what your needs are first before purchasing a family safe. Dave Senn recommends a good gun safe because it not only stores guns and large items, but also protects against fire, flood, and theft. Gun safes give you extra room and are usually the best value in safes.
According to Dave Senn, you should store the contents inside the safe in air-tight containers to protect against moisture and possible leaks. It is a good idea to open your safe occasionally to avoid excess humidity.
If you can't afford to buy an expensive safe, at least store your documents together in a waterproof bag in a specific, designated spot. Make sure you and your whole family knows exactly where the documents are stored. Perhaps in a drawer in the nightstand by your bed, or by your emergency kits, so you can get to it easily if the need arises.
We thank Dave Senn and Bilco Safe & Lock for sharing their knowledge and insights with us. Bilco Safe & Lock is located at 950 South State in Orem, Utah, (801) 225-7174.