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How to remember what you forgot

What if you get the dreaded phone call while away on vacation or while at work and you are told your home has burned? Or you have been robbed? Or your home has been flooded? Destroyed in an earthquake or wildfire? Look around you to see all the different natural disasters our nation has endured over the past five years. Fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mud slides from heavy rains and flash floods.

One important item that people don’t always think of when planning their 5-5-5 Plan or bug out bag list is a file with backup copies of important documents. Having these copies can be extremely useful if you need access to the information on them or to prove who you are if you’re traveling in a foreign country. It may even come in handy if society breaks down and a new one begins. Hey, it could happen. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be just what you would put in your bug out bag. You need to have similar information collected in one place in your house in case of fire.

We have a bag that we call our “football” bag. This bag goes with us almost always. We have a digital copy of our life stored on the external drive device. Deeds, finances, pictures, serial numbers and photos of the applicable items belonging to the serial number, birth certificates, diplomas….

First, let’s look at a couple of ways you can copy the information and then we’ll go into what you should copy.

Paper copies

The nice thing about paper is it doesn’t require power (other than some kind of light to read by) and is ready to go as soon as you grab it. The bad thing is paper doesn’t do well if it gets wet and it’s not very efficient at containing a lot of information. It does have its place though. If nothing else, you have some handy fire tinder.

If possible, you should keep paper copies in some kind of waterproof package. If you get the kind with writing on it, rubbing alcohol will usually erase it. You’ll probably have to fold your documents since they usually won’t fit completely but hey, they’re copies.

You can laminate them instead but if you have many pages, that weight and size will add up quickly. Reducing the size of the copies on the paper and adding more than one copied page on each sheet will cut things down but only so much.

Digital copies

In addition, you should keep some kind of digital copies of your documents on a thumb drive. Ok, I can hear some of you grumbling now that you shouldn’t do that because the EMP strike will kill your thumb drive and any computer you’d need to read it. So, if it makes you feel better, buy a small faraday bag to protect your thumb drive and small electronic components. Well, that’s definitely a possibility but in 99% of other situations you’ll find yourself in, your thumb drive will still be accessible. Stop focusing your life on the remote chance of the worst likely thing to happen and start putting some effort into dealing with the things that are really going to happen. Besides, if an EMP or Coronal Mass Ejection wipes everything out someday (which it will at some point), you just go back to the paper you have. You weren’t going to carry 500 books in your bag so the digital copies were just a huge convenience until that day.

Obviously, one problem with a thumb drive is that if you don’t have something with a USB port to read it, your information is locked inside. On the other hand, you can copy pretty much every document you have on one and it costs little space and weight.

If you do use a thumb drive (and I suggest that you do), you should protect the information in case someone else gets a hold of it. Make sure you have a second thumb drive as a back-up. Remember, one is none and two is one. There are several ways to do this but here are a few:

Security software

You can load security software in the drive to password protect it. Some, like the SanDisk Cruzer Fit has it built-in. You can also add encryption software like TrueCrypt, which will not only put a password on the drive (in addition to any built-in ones), it gives you a hidden drive. One password opens up your main drive and a different one opens it all up.

Hiding files

You can hide the files on your thumb drive to make them invisible to most people who don’t know how to unhide them. Just remember, as you age, sometimes remembering what you hid and where you hid it gets lost in your memory as well. Just saying. Maybe keep a small log book in your safe or a neutral location of a trust agent in the event your mind locks you out and a family member needs to get in.


Adding the file to a .zip folder not only makes it smaller, you can add a password to it as well. If your computer doesn’t have that capability, something like 7-Zip is free and works well. With it, you can password protect files and folders.

If you get a tiny thumb drive like the SanDisk Cruzer Fit mentioned above, you can stash it somewhere like inside an earplug case or plugged into something like the USB battery you use to charge your cell phone when the power goes out.

Kindle, smart phone, tablet, or laptop

You can convert some of your documents into .pdf and load them into your iPhone and Kindle. The iPhone makes it easy to get to but the battery doesn’t last all that long and the screen is pretty small for some things. It does light up on its own though, and there are a lot of apps that are useful in survival situations.

The Kindle Paperwhite is one of several that can be used for documents but you have to have some kind of lighting to read it. You may need to access maps, codes, combinations, or your digital first-aid book to save a family member or team mate.

Which documents do you need?

Inventory list

One of the first things you should have a copy of is something that very few people take the time to do but it’s immensely handy and that’s a laminated printout of everything in your bag.

If you are like me, you have tiny things packed in all sorts of pouches and pockets in your bug out bag, and have duplicates and equivalents of things in case something gets lost, broken, or just doesn’t work in whatever situation you are in. Because of this, if I haven’t used that item recently or just repacked my bag (and even then sometimes), I cannot remember where I have something or if I even have one in my pack. I do not know about you, but I struggle at times remember everything I have in each of my packs and worse is which pocket I have it in. I know it would be easier to remember or make a list of the inventory and location than having to dump everything out and repacking it.

I have a couple excel spreadsheets to assist my memory. I am reminded of this. If I sometimes struggle remembering where something is located, how will I respond to finding something when the stress level is elevated? This spreadsheet you may create also provides a backup copy. The digital format also provides ease to you when updating your inventory. The digital inventory is also nice because of the what ifs you may encounter? Stolen bags? Lose bags in the unknown event?

Important references

You should keep a list of things that you may need to reference later that you should have on paper as well as in electronic backup form. Here’s a list of some of those things. A list of lists, as it were:

Contact phone numbers and addresses of friends, family, and other contacts such as your family doctor, insurance company, and office.

Emergency contact phone numbers, addresses, and directions how to get there for wherever you’re traveling such as your hotel, the Embassy, local police, local fire, local medical, etc.

Maps of the areas you’ll be in. The more maps, the better. Mark reference points on the map for places like your hotel or other places you may need to find.

Concealed carry laws (for each state which you may travel). This is important to know. The laws are changing rapidly.

Translation book for each language you may need.

Printed-out paper with your name, hotel address and phone number, and common words such as yes, no, please, thank-you, “I need a taxi”, “I need a doctor”, etc in both English and whatever language(s) you’ll need right next to each other.

Repair manual for your vehicle or mode of transportation. If this is your LPCs (Leather Personnel Carriers), then know how or have a document that tells you how to repair.

If you have a ham radio and a ham radio license, get the list of repeaters and offsets for the areas you plan on going to as well as the typical frequencies that people hang out on.

Manuals for any devices you have that are complicated, especially if you’re using something like a ham radio for emergency comms.

Official documents

Here’s a list of other items you should have both in paper and electronic backup forms for everyone in your group that has one. You can get copies of some of these from Some will need to be encrypted or hidden somehow:

Passports and visas

Driver’s licenses

Birth, death, and marriage certificates

Any identification you have in your wallet, at least 2 photo ID for each person

Eyeglass prescription

Bank information including account number, password or pin, and phone number for every account. A printed copy of this would be great to have, along with your digital copies.

Recent bank statement for each account

Credit card numbers, bank phone number, expiration dates and security code/password/pin or whatever they need to cancel them if they’re lost, compromised, or stolen

Health insurance cards and/or Medicare, Medicaid

Travel and car insurance

Military documents such as DD-214

Last year’s tax return

College, high school, and trade school diplomas

Important photos

Recent photos and information such as allergies for each member of your group

Title to your home(s) and car(s)

Account and contact info for each bill you have such as cable, phone, electric, etc

Medical history, immunization records and list of medications

Plane tickets and flight and/or travel itinerary

Prescriptions for Medications

Proof of Employment (paystub)

Living Will

License To Carry Permit or relevant CCW

Also, you should keep copies of survival and other reference documents in your thumb drive and in something like a Kindle. This allows you to have hundreds of books on things like first aid, emergency dental care, fire-making and water-purification techniques, how to make a gasifier, edible plants, how to make traps, and hundreds of other useful books that you couldn’t possibly carry in paper form.

Just go through all the different types of events that may happen (car wreck, flood, checkpoint, lost wallet, home robbery, etc.) and think of what documents you’d need to help in that situation if you couldn’t call home and get it. That’ll help you fill in the rest what you need.

Large projects (kind of an addendum to the article)

If you really want to be thorough, you should make three lists but just one that lists what you have and where you have it is better than nothing. With Excel, you can easily sort items so if you do it correctly the first time, organizing the list different ways before you print is easy once all the items are entered.

This works best when you have several things in several locations, such as your home or bug out location but can also be used to keep track of tools etc.

Why would three come in handy other than satisfying the possibility of OCD? Here are a few scenarios you could make them specifically for like your own bug out bag just for these items:

Scenario 1: It’s freezing cold and you prepare an awesome campfire. You are about to light it but you discover your lighter is empty. It will be dark soon. You cannot recall from memory what you have to start a fire and where it is located in your gear.

Scenario 2: A rainstorm blows in and you cannot remember where your raingear and hat are located and you need to quickly grab them but don’t remember which pocket you have them in.

Scenario 3: You are on vacation overseas. When you land at your destination and turn on your phone you receive a text message stating your home was robbed. You must identify items and serial numbers immediately to the police. You utilize your excel spreadsheet to identify rosters, serial numbers and quantities, along with locations in the home.

For Scenario 1, a list of items organized by use would be really handy. You can just put different uses such as light, fire, water, etc. across the top and put an ‘X’ in the box for each thing that item satisfies. For example, a lighter will give you both light and fire.

For Scenario 2, an alphabetical list by item name would work great. The key here is to name things like the military does (which is why they’re named that way). For example, you’d want to name your raingear something like ‘Poncho or Slicker”. That way if you have more than one type of rain gear such as ‘large poncho, poncho pants and jacket, or hooded poncho” they would all be lumped together.

For Scenario 3, you just have to name each pocket somehow. Once you’ve sorted your spreadsheet by pocket, file or bag name, your list will tell you everything you have in your medical bag, in your primary survival bag, and your main pouch, for example. Easy-peasy. You can manage your spreadsheet files like a digital bag by setting up columns or titles for each room of your home, or by equipment type, or by level of value.

If you only want to do one, just look at the scenarios above to see which would be most likely for you to worry about and sort it that way. There are a ton of different ways to do all this. Just start doing it and you’ll see how to adjust things.

If you have a lot of stuff in certain pockets, rooms, or bags, you may want to laminate a small sheet in each pocket that lists everything in that pocket.

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