Emergency Information: Don’t Leave Home Without It!

IronkeyOnTabletOpeningShot.ArticleWhether you are Evacuating, Bugging Out, or simply going on vacation, don’t leave home without having your Emergency Information with you.  To be honest, I never leave home without it.  You could simply be going to the mall and while you are gone, your house could burn down.

I have often been asked why we need this information.  I’ve had people indicate that they have this information secured in a safe at their home.  However, is the information actually secure?  Are you certain that your safe will survive a major fire?  What if a tornado destroys or removes you house and it just can’t be found.  A nuclear emergency, such as the one in Japan, might mandate an evacuation and you are not allowed to return.

I think you can see that having your important information with you is a good idea.  So let’s take a look at this topic and discuss what type of information you should carry, how to securely carry it, and how to read that information when you need it.

What Information To Carry

Now that we have established that carrying important emergency information is important, we need to determine what type of information to carry.

Documents & Papers

The first area of information would be important documents and papers.  This would include copies of all identification cards, such as driver’s licenses, health insurance cards, social security cards, car insurance cards, passports, etc.  Next would be important documents such as birth certificates, insurance papers, legal documents, deed to house, titles to vehicles, marriage license, financial documents, etc.

All of the above type documents can be scanned on a computer and saved as a jpeg image, a PDF file, or both.  This can be a time consuming process, but well worth the effort.  Even if these documents are secured in a fire proof safe at your home, an incident could occur that you would not have access to your home.

ScanOfSocialSecurityCard.Article

All identification cards can be scanned and saved as a jpeg image or PDF file.

Emergency Numbers

The next document I suggest you prepare is one I call “Emergency Numbers.”  It begins with a section for emergency phone numbers, which includes such numbers as your doctor, dentist, medical insurance provider, house insurance provider, car insurance provider, your bank, and your security system provider.  I then have a section with personal phone numbers.  The next section includes all of your bank account numbers. The following section lists all of your insurance policy numbers.  The last section lists all your charge cards, the holding company for that card, their phone number, and the last four digits of the account number.

The above document when completed can be saved as a word document, or scanned and saved as a jpeg image, a PDF file, or both.  I like to keep a word document so that I can change information as required, but also save it as a PDF file.

Video Inventory

Another very handy item to include with your important documents is a video inventory of your home, inside and out, as well as out buildings.  This could be very important evidence of what you had should your house be destroyed.  As we all know, insurance companies don’t like to pay unless you can prove you had what you claim.

A video inventory can be time consuming, but can be very important in an insurance claim.  I recommend that the video be shot as one continuous take.  If the video is continuous you cannot be accused of moving things from one room to another, or shooting at different times, by an insurance company.  A continuous video proves that everything shown in the video was present at the same time and you didn’t move stuff from one room to another to make it look like you have more than you do.  When I did mine, I first did a walk through and turned on the lights in every room and made a script in my mind so that I could walk through the entire house without having to open doors, etc.

A video inventory should be shot in one continuous take if possible, walking through the entire house and verbally identifying each room and discussing what is being shown.

A video inventory should be shot in one continuous take if possible, walking through the entire house and
verbally identifying each room and discussing what is being shown.

When I started the video, I presented myself in front of the camera, identified myself, the address, and the date of the video.  I then walked through every room of the house, shop, cellar, (don’t forget the attic if you have stuff stored there), etc.  As I walked, I verbally described what room I was in and pointed out anything of importance.  It was done in one take.

Photo Back-Up

I’m sure some are already thinking this might be a lot of work, and it is.  But I have one further suggestion.  I call it a photo back-up and verification that can be used to supplement the above described video.

The advantage of a photo supplement is you can show details of items as seen on the video.  I suggest that items like jewelry boxes, tool boxes, fine china cabinets, or specialty boxes like a Gerstner Knife cabinet.  I actually open each drawer and take a photo of the contents.  The reason for this additional work is twofold.  First it provides me with a record of what I had in that drawer.  Second, it proves to an insurance company what you had in that drawer.  A video or photo of your shop might show several tool boxes.  But an insurance company will say, “How do we know there were any tools in them?” This extra effort on your part might be the difference between getting what you deserve on an insurance claim, or a dispute by the insurance company.

This shows a Gerstner Knife cabinet, and each drawer was opened individually and a photo was taken of the contents as proof that the drawers actually held something.

This shows a Gerstner Knife cabinet, and each drawer was opened individually and a photo was taken of the
contents as proof that the drawers actually held something.

Although this photo shows various tool cabinets, take a photo of each individual one.

Although this photo shows various tool cabinets, take a photo of each individual one.

Show the individual tool cabinets and photograph the contents of each drawer.

Show the individual tool cabinets and photograph the contents of each drawer.

I have 128 photographs to back-up my video inventory, but I also have a lot of tool boxes.  I size and compress them for my file.  I also keep a separate file in my safe with the full size photos.  Again, this process is not a cake walk and takes some time and effort, but it will be well worth it if your home is destroyed or for some reason you are not able to return to it.

How To Carry It Securely

Now that you have done all the hard work making up lists, scanning documents, taking videos and photos, how do you carry it with you?  Well of course you could keep a file folder with all this documentation with you at all times, but that is obviously not practical, nor would it be a secure way to travel with this sensitive information.  I have never been an advocate of carry actual paper copies of my emergency information as it could easily fall into the wrong hands.  There is a better way!

USB Flash Drive

I have always found that a USB Flash Drive is the handiest way to carry my emergency information with me.  USB flash drives are small and you can get them with an incredible amount of memory.  They are easy to carry, conceal, and will certainly accommodate all of your emergency information.

There are a plethora of options when it comes to USB Flash Drives, even a Victorinox.

There are a plethora of options when it comes to USB Flash Drives, even a Victorinox.

As you can see, there is a plethora of options when it comes to USB flash drives. I will discuss two types that I have found very useful for the purpose.

The following USB flash drive I’ll discuss is rather unique.  It is called The Emergency Information Wristband and is sold by my company, Survival Resources.  It is a discreet way for you to carry your emergency information! The wristband is made from a pliable Silicone material so they are not stiff or uncomfortable to wear. They contain a 4 GB USB Flash Drive that can hold a lot of your information. They will fit any wrist up to 8-3/8 inch in circumference.

We didn’t want anything printed on the wristband that might give away its purpose of concealing your important emergency information. After some thought, we used a play on words and had “IN MEMORY” printed on them. This lets you know that your important information is in the memory of your wristband. For others who might see it and ask, you can tell them you wear the wristband “IN MEMORY” of someone you loved that passed on. This helps keep the fact you have your emergency information discreetly concealed “IN MEMORY” on your wrist. They are available in orange with black printing and black with orange printing. More information on the Emergency Information Wristband can be found HERE.

The Emergency Information Wristband provides a means to carry 4 GB of information on your wrist.

The Emergency Information Wristband provides a means to carry 4 GB of information on your wrist.

From the top, it looks like any other silicone wristband.

From the top, it looks like any other silicone wristband.

The bottom connection conceals and secures the 4 GB USB flash drive to your wrist.

The bottom connection conceals and secures the 4 GB USB flash drive to your wrist.

If you are going to use a standard USB flash drive I highly suggest that you secure your data with encryption or at least password protect access.  There are various downloadable programs that will allow you to password protect your data.  However, they are not all created equal.

Some programs that are available must be installed on the computer that you want to read the USB flash drive on.  This is not the type of program you want to use.  You will be limited to the host computer with the program in order to read the data from your flash drive.

The type of program you want is one that will actually install on the USB flash drive itself.  This will allow you to read the data from your flash drive on any PC.

Here are some programs that allow you to password protect the information on a USB flash drive and are free downloads.  1 – Rohos Mini Drive is a free software to password protect USB drives. It creates an encrypted partition for your sensitive data in the flash drive.  This is the program my family uses to password protect the Emergency Information Wristband.  2 – Comodo Disk Encryption is a wonderful free USB encryption software for windows users which comes with an easy to use user interface.  3 – USB Safeguard safeguards the sensitive data in your USB drive. It uses AES encryption algorithm and password protects the data in your USB device. Also you can make selected encryptions possible by choosing one or more folders to be encrypted.  4 – DiskCryptor is a free open source encryption software that encrypts all disk partitions, external USB storage devices or CD-ROM drives. It provides you with the choice of using multiple algorithms such as AES, Twofish or Serpent.  5 – TrueCrypt is another powerful open source freeware for protecting data on USB drive. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. It supports full encryption of system hard drives and USB devices.  Information on all five of these programs can be found HERE.

As you can see, there are many options out there, but again, make sure that the program you use works on the operating system you are using.

Extremely Secure USB Flash Drive

One of the most secure USB flash drives that I am aware of is one that I have been carrying for many years.  It is called the IronKey and is used by banks and government agencies to carry sensitive information.

The IronKey and it is an extremely secure USB flash drive and is ready to protect data everywhere it goes.  There are various model of the IronKey, but the Basic Model, the S200, is more than adequate for the purpose of carrying confidential information.  They are available in 2 GB, 8 GB, and 16 GB.  The other models provide features more for business applications, which are unnecessary for my needs.

So what is so great about a simple USB Flash Drive?  The IronKey Basic S200 series drives are the only USB flash drive validated to meet the stringent Security Level 3 requirements of the FIPS 140-2 standard. Additionally, IronKey Basic S200 protects data with strong AES 256-bit hardware encryption.  It has “Always-On” Data Encryption whereby all user data is encrypted with AES CBC-mode hardware encryption. Unlike software-based encryption, this “always-on” protection cannot be disabled. In addition, since the IronKey Cryptochip generates and stores strong, random encryption keys, encryption routines run faster and more securely than on any software-based encryption system.

The IronKey is one of the most secure USB Flash Drives available on the market.

The IronKey is one of the most secure USB Flash Drives available on the market.

This all sounds good, although a little technical, but it was some of the other security features that sold me.   This device is really physically hardened and its rugged metal casing protects it against physical damage, and the internal components are sealed to protect against tampering. Additionally, it far exceeds military waterproof requirements.   It is actually “Self-Defending” and no one can access files stored on an IronKey drive unless they authenticate with the correct password. All encryption and password verification are performed in hardware, and cannot be disabled by malware or a careless user. Self-defending IronKey drives also provide hardware-level active protections against the spread of worms, crimeware, and other malicious code.

When an IronKey drive is plugged into a laptop or desktop computer, the user must authenticate with a password before encryption keys are enabled and data and applications are accessible. Unlike software-based encryption, the IronKey Cryptochip does not export AES encryption keys to the host PC, thereby protecting against cold-boot and malware attacks.  IronKey Basic protects against brute force password guessing attacks by using non-volatile access-failure counters stored on the Cryptochip itself. If a thief tries to break into an IronKey drive and enters 10 incorrect passwords, the Cryptochip securely erases all encrypted data with patent-pending Flash Trash technology.  This ensures no data can be recovered from the device.  Also, and this is cool, if the IronKey detects a physical attack, it will initiate a self-destruct sequence (kind of reminds you of Mission Impossible).  It is nice to know that if you lose this device, the information on it will not get into the wrong hands!

This shows the Unlock Screen that comes up on screen when plugged into a computer.

This shows the Unlock Screen that comes up on screen when plugged into a computer.

There is a lot more information I could provide in regard to the IronKey USB Flash Drive, but I think you get the idea that this is a great way to securely carry personal and confidential information.  I bought several of the 2 GB Basic models for $82.95 each, which are less expensive than through the manufacture.  They are available at Amazon.com now for $114.99, as well as other models up to 64 GB.  Both my wife and I carry one on our key ring, and an extra one for the bug-out bag.

SD/SDHC Card

Although I like USB flash drives for their ease of use and portability, another option for carrying your emergency information is on a SD (Secure Digital) card which has a capacity up to 2 GB or a SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity) Card which has a capacity of 4-32 GB.  These are very small and thin memory cards that can be used for computers, digital cameras, and other devices.  Many of the newer computers have an SD/SDHC card slot built in.

An SD/SDHC card can be used as an alternative for storing your emergency information.

An SD/SDHC card can be used as an alternative for storing your emergency information.

Being very small and thin, various ways of concealing them or hiding them in an evacuation or bug out bag is only limited by your imagination.  They can provide you an additional way to carry emergency information and can offer a lot of storage space.

Portable External Hard Drives

As an additional idea, you might want to backup the hard drive on your computers.  Our computers are backed up automatically everyday onto a separate Synology DiskStation network attached storage unit.  If we had to evacuate, we could take that unit with us.  However, occasional we also backup our computer hard drives onto portable external hard drives that are kept in our safe.  They have a one terabyte capacity.  They are small and can easily be taken if an evacuation is in order.  This is just another idea for securing your information, but not as easy to access.

This shows the small size of a one terabyte portable external hard drive.

This shows the small size of a one terabyte portable external hard drive.

How Do You Read It?

Well you now have all your important emergency information with you, but how do you read it?  Of course, you might be able to access a computer, or you might even have a laptop with you.  But what if you need your information and you couldn’t fit a laptop computer in your evacuation or bug-out bag, and you can’t find access to a computer?

This was a question that bothered me for a while.  I didn’t think it would be very difficult at first, but I found that the solution was not as easy as I thought.  I wanted something very small that could easily be carried in an evacuation or bug-out bag.

First, I should state that I am not any type of computer geek or wizard, not do I play one on television.  I have limited expertise in an area where much that occurs seems like magic.

You should also keep in mind that in order to read a flash drive on a computer you should use the same operating system that you created the files on.  In other words, if you created the files on a PC, you might not be able to read them on an Apple or Linux system, or vice versa.

Even though I have an Apple iPad, I found that it is not capable of reading a USB flash drive unless it is the Apple designed flash drive (read expensive) and then the files have to be in an Apple format.  It won’t read most files in a PC format (although it will read jpegs and PDF’s), which is what I wanted.  I also felt that the Apple iPad was much too large and heavy for my purpose.

Next I thought, well we have two Kindle HD’s which are powered by a USB input, which might allow it to read a USB flash drive.  But upon further examination, I found that the Kindle does not have an operation system that would support the reading of a flash drive.  Well I had something the right size, but it wouldn’t work.

I then started thinking about all the small tablets available.  They should provide a means to read a USB flash drive, especially if they were PC based with a Windows operating system.  It sounded good in my mind, so I headed for the local Best Buy.  That is where the real problem began.

I only relate the following story as part of this article as it reveals the problem of people not willing to think outside of the box.  If you really want something that will reduce the size of the equipment you carry, it is probably available, just not in the configuration you desire.  Sometimes you have to think for yourself and pursue your needs or goals through various sources, think past intended purposes, and don’t believe everything your told.

When I arrived at Best Buy, I spoke to each and every computer specialist and tech that they had.  I explained that I wanted a tablet that was small, Windows based, and had the ability to read a USB flash drive.  They all told me that none of the tablets had a full size USB flash drive input as they were too thin.  They said I would need an eBook or laptop.

After going through this for over an hour, I explained that I figured if they were powered with a USB input, even a micro, I should be able to get a adapter that would allow me to read a USB flash drive through that input   I needed an adapter that would allow me to read a USB flash drive through the micro input.  Won’t work I was told.  Besides, if such an adapter existed it would have to be ordered from the internet, and most of the tablets were not PC based.  As an example, all the Samsung were Android based and would not be able to read a flash drive.

Needless to say I was confused, frustrated, and felt this was just crazy.  I was looking at a small eight inch HP Stream that was Windows based and was exactly what I was looking for.  I was told it wouldn’t read a flash drive, even if an adapter could be found.  While I was walking around the store, thinking, I saw a Samsung micro USB to standard USB connector, hanging on a rack.  It allowed you to insert a standard USB flash drive in one end and the other plugged into the micro USB power in connector on the Samsung Android tablet.

I took the adapter to the specialist and asked if it would work on the HP Stream.  He said, no way, at least he didn’t believe so.  I asked if I could try it and he said I couldn’t open the package for the adapter.  I handed the package to my wife and asked that she go purchase it and return.  When she returned I opened the package, took out the adapter, and asked if the specialist would plug it into the HP stream and check if it would read my IronKey.  He said he wasn’t authorized to do so, but wouldn’t stop me if I wanted to try it (I was rather perturbed at this point and I think it was showing).  Long story short, it worked, and I guess I’m the only one who wasn’t amazed.  I purchased the HP Stream 8 and another Samsung adapter and headed home.

The HP Stream is an ideal size to carry in an evacuation or bug-out bag.  It measures only 8-3/8″ x 5″ x 3/8 thick, and weighs only 14.3 ounces.  It provides me with a means to read my emergency information from a USB flash drive or a SD/SDHC card, I have a small computer, and I was also able to download an Amazon Kindle reader. The HP Stream can now be used as a Kindle which allows me to reduce another piece of gear. I also purchased a small zippered case that has an outside pocket to hold the accessories.  I first place the Stream in a waterproof OpSak by LokSak and then slide it into the case.  The entire package only weighs one pound five ounces

The HP Stream 8 tablet is small enough to fit in almost any Evacuation/Bug-Out bag.

The HP Stream 8 tablet is small enough to fit in almost any Evacuation/Bug-Out bag.

The HP Stream shown with the Samsung adapter and IronKey plugged in.

The HP Stream shown with the Samsung adapter and IronKey plugged in.

I was also able to get a mini SDHC card reader that plugs directly into the Samsung USB adapter.  This allows me to read SDHC cards on the HP Stream as well as USB flash drives.

This shows the size of the SD/SDHC card reader with USB input.

This shows the size of the SD/SDHC card reader with USB input.

The HP Stream shown with the Samsung adapter and the SD/SDHC card reader.

The HP Stream shown with the Samsung adapter and the SD/SDHC card reader.

This shows the HP Stream with the OpSak it slides into before placing it in its case.

This shows the HP Stream with the OpSak it slides into before placing it in its case.

This shows the case for the Stream 8 with accessory pocket on the outside.

This shows the case for the Stream 8 with accessory pocket on the outside.

Of course there are various configurations you could devise for reading your emergency information when you are away from home.  The HP Stream was just one that I chose and works well for my needs.

Back-Up Power

If you are going to carry something to read your emergency information, make sure that you have some back-up power to run the device being used.  There are many different devices available for this purpose and I will discuss two that I have selected.

Anker 2nd Gen Astro E4

For my ever day bug-out bag I wanted something small yet powerful.  There are always trade-offs as more power normally means larger and heavier.  I found a great device called the Anker 2nd Generation E4 External Battery that provide 13000mAh yet measures only 5-7/8″ x 2-1/2″ x 3/4″ and weighs only 10.2 ounces.  It provides an incredible amount of backup power to recharge the HP Stream, yet is small enough to carry in a bag.  Of course it can be used to charge other devices as well.  It has two USB outputs for charging.  It can be charged using any USB charger. I have a standard USB cable and an Apple Lightning to USB cable. This allows me to also charge my iPhone, or even the iPad if it was included in an evacuation.

This shows the size of the Anker 2nd Gen E4 External Battery.

This shows the size of the Anker 2nd Gen E4 External Battery.

This shows the two USB outputs on the Anker External Battery.

This shows the two USB outputs on the Anker External Battery.

Other Back-Up Power Options

Of course if you have more room, such as a large evacuation bag, you might want to consider having a solar charger and recharger.  I have a smaller system that uses a Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Recharger and small portable solar panel.  The additional advantage of the Guide 10 Plus Recharger is that it will recharge both AA and AAA batteries making it a multi-purpose device.

I also have a larger system that uses the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Portable Recharger and a larger portable solar panel.  Depending on the situation I can decide which system, or both, will go with me.  I like the fact that all of the Goal Zero portable solar panels can be linked together providing for more

For more information on Goal Zero products you can check them out HERE.

As you can see, having important Emergency Information with you when you leave your home is important.  But is not something that can be accomplished in an hour, if you want to do it right.  It takes time and planning, but if you ever need the information, you will find that the effort was worth it.

© 2015 by John D. McCann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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