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Disasters are a part of life. Whether a hurricane, tornado or a terrorist attack, preparation is a key to survival and reducing the hunt for critical documents.

Before the disaster is the time to be thinking about your emergency kit. Having your financial papers in order can save you money, time and anxiety.

The first step is to gather all your financial information together and place it in a convenient, safe, easily accessible place in your home. Place it all in an easy-to-carry container that is waterproof. If you have to leave in a hurry, you want to know exactly where the information is so you can grab it and go, and feel confident that the information inside will not be damaged.

Make a backup copy of everything to keep outside your home, in a safe-deposit box or other safe location, such as with a family member out of the immediate area. You will want easy access to your information if everything inside your home is destroyed.

Here are the things you need:

Identification: You should gather all of your own and your family's identification papers. This includes Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports for each member of the household, as well as your marriage certificate. You should have a photo of each person taken within the past year in the event that the family becomes separated and identification photos are needed.

If you usually carry identification with you, such as your driver's license, make a copy of it and place it with the other material. Having all your identifying material available after an emergency will make proving who you are much easier, which means that getting any aid will take less time.

Cash/credit: When an emergency happens, you are likely to need some money. Having a credit card specifically for this purpose can make the days after the emergency much less of an ordeal. You also will want some cash on hand. In a disaster, power will likely be out, meaning you won't be able to use ATMs for money, and credit card machines may not work.

Important phone and account numbers: Make a list of all the important contact phone numbers you may need after an emergency. This includes relatives and friends that you need to contact and financial phone numbers, such as your bank, your insurance agent, your attorney and your financial adviser.

This list should include all contacts in your wallet, such as credit card contact numbers. Having this handy is also helpful if your wallet is stolen. You want to make sure you have the account numbers for any bank, investment and credit card accounts.

Policies and documentation: Accessibility of all of your insurance policies - auto, disability, homeowner's or renter's, life and medical - is essential to rebuilding your life quickly. Include corresponding information, such as doctors' names, hospital cards, immunization records and prescription drug cards. A list of medications that family members are taking (prescription and over the counter) should be with your medical information.

Have a copy of your mortgage statement and a complete household inventory for insurance purposes. This should include a written list or a file on computer disk, and a video or photos of all the items in your house. Include the make, model and any identification numbers when possible.

Will: In the event that a family member dies or is seriously injured, you want to have wills, durable power of attorney, the executor of the estate, letters of instruction, trust documents and life insurance.

Computer backup files: More essential information is stored on your computer, making backup copies vital.

While it may take a bit of effort to gather this information, doing so will be one of the best financial moves you ever make if an emergency does occur. By having all this information in a convenient place within your home and a duplicate copy in a safe-deposit box or some other secure place outside your home, you'll have one less thing to worry about.

Scott Taylor is a family and consumer sciences/4-H program assistant for the University of Florida/Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. He can be reached at