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Protect your valuables in case of disaster

Posted: November 7, 2008 8:19 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 4:30 a.m.
I still find things I engraved with my Dremel tool back in the day. I think it was around 1982, and it was the last time I tried to inventory and document my possessions. And I also remember scraping my Social Security number off some of those possessions as they went to the Goodwill years later.
Best laid plans.

Now if those few remaining 1980s “valuables” were lost in a house fire, I wouldn’t even care. I mean, how attached am I to the old ice crusher? No, it’s the more recent purchases, such as my new, aggravating, Vista-operated computer, that I’d like my homeowners insurance to reimburse me for after I burn it — I mean accidentally, of course.

In the event of a house fire or other disaster, the safety of your family is your primary concern. But, what about after the disaster? Where will you start to pick up the pieces if everything is lost? You’ll need those valuable documents — and while you’re at it, why not document those valuables?

Buck Buchanan is a battalion chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, who is filling in at our local Battalion 6. He understands the importance of being prepared for an evacuation, both in terms of personal safety and in preservation of valuables. “From a fire department point of view, we tell them to be prepared, but not how,” he said. “You see it everywhere, on the news all the time, where people have lost valuables. They need to validate their claim when they file it with their insurance company. I think that people should be ready for any catastrophe, any potential emergency that might displace them from their residence.”

Safety deposit box
Once you have your possessions documented, and your important papers gathered, you have, basically, three choices in protecting these records. Your first choice is to put your valuables in a safety deposit box. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have too much stuff, and you can afford it. The biggest drawback is that whatever you put in the safety deposit box will not be quickly accessible. For example, you’ll have to visit the bank before you can send a copy of your divorce decree to that cute but psychotic girl you met through the computer dating service.

Home safe
Your second choice in records preservation is a fire-proof home safe. These are relatively inexpensive and spacious, but their biggest drawback is that your stuff stays behind when you leave. You can’t just pick up the safe and run. You’ll have to come back later and sift through the ashes and rubble to find your safe and get your documents.

These days, with so much information preserved digitally, home safes are available that are rated to protect your digital media, such as CDs, memory sticks and USB drives.

For example, the Sentry Electronic Safe, model MSW3517, can be purchased at Wal-Mart for approximately $170. It is water-resistant, has proven fire protection (one hour UL classified), has an electronic lock with four live-locking bolts, a multi-position shelf and tray for storage options, a key rack and compartment for small items, and a door pocket. It holds standard and A-4 size papers, folders and binders.

“The MSW3517 fire-resistant/water-resistant electronic safe is ideal for those looking to protect valuables, documents, files, birth certificates, passports and wills,” said Sondra McFarlane, SentrySafe director of marketing communications. “With the multi-position shelf and tray, door pocket, key rack and compartment for smaller items, this safe has many organizational features that can be adjusted to fit the owner’s needs.”

Separately, for electronic file preservation, Sentry now offers the Waterproof hard drive 250GB, model QA0005. It can be purchased online at,, and for about $399.99. This is a fire resistant and waterproof hard drive, which offers direct USB connectivity to a laptop or desktop computer. The hard drive enables backup of critical data in the event of crash, computer failure and fire and water-related disasters.

“With the 250GB hard drive, we’re able to provide consumers and even small business owners with an innovative means to securely back up their important data, digital photos, critical files and documents. Should an unexpected disaster occur, a person’s vital information will be stored on a disaster-proof hard drive,” McFarlane said.
Your third choice is a portable document preservation system. These are available in everything from basic lock boxes with handles to flame-retardant, compartmentalized and pre-organized systems such as the Dox Box 9-1-1 ($39.99). The idea here is that your most valuable records are packed and ready for an instant trip out the door.

“Every family should have a Dox Box 9-1-1,” said Mark Stern, founder and CEO of Dox Box 9-1-1. “In the case of an emergency, Dox Box 9-1-1 may not be the only thing you take, but it will definitely be one of them.”

The Dox Box 9-1-1 includes a water-resistant, flame-retardant, protective outer shell (19.5 x 15 x 6 inches); a three-ringed binder with sleeves for important documents and CDs; compartments for bankbooks, flashlights, keys, passport, prescriptions, receipts and more; padded compartments for valuables, such as jewelry or gold coins; a special section for family pictures and photo album; peel and stick labels to identify compartments; lock capability; and a glow-in-dark strip. Visit
Sentry also offers a grab-and-go type safe. The KS2100 Security Chest can be purchased at Target for between $40 and $50. It features ETL-verified one-hour fire protection of CDs and DVDs, up to 1,700°F, and a waterproof seal.

McFarlane said, “The KS2100 fire-resistant/waterproof is the perfect size safe if you are looking to protect and centralize important CDs, DVDs, birth certificates, wills, titles, deeds, passports and other valuable documents. The KS2100 safe specifically protects its contents from a potential flood or fire, however it is not intended to provide a level of security for owners.”

Additionally, Buchanan suggested you have your important papers and valuables ready to transport on a pull-cart that can be thrown in the back of a car. “The lighter you can travel, the better. Simple is the goal,” he said.


In medical emergencies, triage is a process of prioritizing patients for the most efficient treatment. You might consider this prioritizing technique at home. You can have your uber-important documents in the grab-and-go, and your can’t-live-without possessions, including photo albums, in a trunk you can haul to the car on a second trip, if time allows. Your second-tier documents, like old tax returns, can stay in the fireproof safe.

Don’t forget
In addition to the typical documents and valuables a homeowner might need to carry with them, seniors have additional concerns, such as medical records and medications. Children’s records are important, too — and you may want your children’s most valuable possessions handy, such as that doll your daughter can’t sleep without.

To carry it even further, you may want your pets’ records packed and ready, especially if you have pet insurance. However you prepare for a sudden evacuation or disaster, the important thing is to be prepared. Beyond that, organizing your documents and possessions helps you know where to find them at any time.
Additionally, documenting your possessions will help in the event any of them are stolen or lost.

So get it together now.


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