You might think that surviving a disaster would be enough. Live through the crisis then get busy clearing away the rubble and rebuild. Sounds so simple. Life doesn't always work that way.
An excellent example is Haiti. A year ago, the earth shook and suddenly a few million people were left homeless. Those were the lucky ones — survivors of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands.
So here we are, exactly a year later. More than a billion dollars has been donated by countries and relief orgaizations around the world to help with the recovery and rebuilding of that devastated nation. The Red Cross alone collected more than 32 million dollars just from text message donations — $10 at a time from so many concerned and caring people who were willing to reach out to help perfect strangers. And what's the result of all that money and time spent? On the ground, it doesn't look like much progress, actually. And in the paperwork there is very little accountability of where all the money has been spent.
The watchdog group called The Disaster Accountability Project (www.disasteraccountability.org) asked 200 aid organizations operating in Haiti to spell out how much money they raised and how it was being spent. Only 38 of the 200 even bothered to respond. Those 38 collectively raised 1.4 billion dollars and, to date, has spent only half of it. Many refused to declare their goals or provide a breakdown of how they are spending the money.
Lack of accountability can lead to corruption, but that isn't the only problem. In Haiti, the government corruption runs so deep and wide that much of the aid that has been sent to help the country has been wasted or tied up in red tape and never put to the use for which it was intended. There's not much we as individuals can do about that, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of what's going on. What goes on there could go on here, as well. The art and science of hiding money to fatten one's self at the expense of others has been perfected by governments and organizations who, to quote Rahm Emanuel "never let a crisis go to waste."
Another of the stumbling blocks standing in the way of rebuilding in Haiti is that so many important documents were destroyed in the collapse of government buildings, so now people are having a hard time proving that they are the owners of property where a home was destroyed. Without that proof, a new home cannot be built.
And that leads me to my main point: Make sure you protect the important documents that prove your identity, your ownership of property, your medical records, financial records, insurance policies, estate documents, etc. You need to have this documentation for your entire family, with birth certificates for each member and immunization records for children and pets. Proof of ownership of vehicles, boats, airplanes, and other property should be included.
Place a copy of all these documents in a portable fireproof vault (you can buy these at Staples or Office Depot for between 35 and 60 bucks, depending on size). Place the vault somewhere in your home where you will be able to dig it out after an earthquake or flood. These vaults can provide limited protection against fire (like 1/2 hour in a fire of 1550 degrees F, for example) but are not perfect protection against a raging inferno. To aid in waterproofing the vault, place it in a kayaker's drysack or just seal it inside a couple of garbage bag, each of which has been duct taped shut. Off-site storage of a backup vault would be wise, hoping that not all venues would suffer total devastation at the same time.
You might consider backing up the paper documents with photographic or digitally scanned copies that are stored on CDs or other storage media. These days, it's possible to store the files in "the cloud" of the Internet, from whence they can be retrieved even if all physical evidence of the documents has been destroyed.
That is assuming that there are still computers and an Internet system after the crisis. I suppose if the entire world suffers a thermonuclear meltdown, it won't matter much. But short of that, having access to the important paper in your life can mean the difference between being able to rebuild or having to squat in a tent at a refugee camp while the wheel of government aid grind slowly forward.