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A Prepping Essential: The Grab-n-Go Binder

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In panic situations, which happen around my house quite often, actually, people lose their wits. The extra adrenaline produced by the human body during times of intense stress, causes confusion and can even cause some of the same symptoms as a heart attack. That’s why you need a Grab and Go Binder.

Can you imagine the level of adrenaline in your body if you suddenly got news of a dangerous chemical spill in your area or that a wildfire had taken an abrupt turn toward your neighborhood? Officials tell you to evacuate now. Besides the kids, what do you pack up first?

image: woman with long hair wearing striped shirt holding grab and go binder

What is a Grab and Go Binder?

Great question!

A Grab-and-Go Binder is a vital part of any family preparedness plan, and is one of the first things you should put together. This binder will contain all of your most critical information in one place for any type emergency, even if it’s just a quick trip to the ER.

Unless you’re extraordinarily organized, chances are these records and documents are scattered around your house. Set aside a block of time to track them down and organize your family’s binder. Emergencies arrive unexpectedly. A Grab and Go Binder is one way you can prepare for them ahead of time.

How to Assemble Your Grab and Go Binder

For this project you’ll need a 1″ three-ring binder, a set of tabbed dividers, and a copy machine. A box of plastic page protectors will keep your documents clean and unwrinkled. Label a divider for each of the following sections, and then begin inserting copies of your documents.

The binder you create will be unique to your family, but here are some suggestions to get you started.

Financial Documents

  • copies of the fronts and backs of debit/credit cards
  • copies of house and car titles
  • mortgage information or any other ownership documents
  • copy of your will or living trust
  • names, addresses and phone numbers of all banks
  • other important documents related to employment and/or a family business
  • copies of your insurance policies (life, health, auto, homeowners, etc.) and agent phones numbers and addresses
  • List of all bills, due dates, addresses, phone numbers
  • Last year’s tax returns

Personal Documents

  • names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of relatives and close friends
  • copies of:
    marriage license
    birth certificates
    drivers licenses
    *  CCW permits
    pet vaccine records
    Social Security cards (request a replacement card with ssa.gov)
  • a list of firearm serial numbers
  • legal documents pertaining to child custody or adoption
  • recent photos of each family member and each pet
  • color photos of your house and each room in the house
  • photos of anything of particular value
  • military documents
  • diplomas and transcripts
  • appraisals

Medical Documents

  • copy of health insurance cards
  • a list of blood types for each family member
  • names, addresses and phone numbers of all doctors
  • medical histories of each family member
  • immunization records
  • a list of current prescriptions, dosage, and pharmacy contact information

Other Item You Might Want to Consider

  • SD card that has a movie of your home and its contents as well as your children, for insurance and identification purposes
  • Fingerprints
  • Evacuation routes
  • State maps and surrounding states
  •  IP addresses of resourceful websites such as:
    *  SHTF Movement.com is
    *  drudge report.com is
    *  the woodpile report.com is
    *  essential intelligence is
    *  nasa.gov is
    *  google.com is
    This is just in case the government shuts down any websites you may use you can still look it up by typing the IP address in the tool bar.
  • Place folded flat N95 mask for each person in the home and a pair of latex gloves in a manila envelope

With your finished Grab-and-Go Binder, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that your family can focus on a quick evacuation without trying to retrieve scattered family records.

What About the Originals?

What to do with the originals? It’s probably best to keep them in a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box. If that safety deposit box is a good 50 miles or more from your home, so much the better in the event of a tornado or other natural disaster. Also, be sure at least two other trusted people have access to that box in case you become incapacitated.

Update the Grab and Go Binder Regularly

Just as you updated your emergency kits and rotate your food storage, the Grab and Go binder also needs maintenance. I suggest that you do this at the same time as you update kits or perhaps when you change batteries in your smoke detectors. Stack this task with another that you already do regularly so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

An emergency binder to prepare your college student for campus emergencies is a great idea also. Use this article as a template and customize for your student.

A Digital Backup

Each time you update the binder, or when you add or change something, backup all of that information on a flash drive. Here’s how it works.

Recreate the grab and go binder on your computer using a main folder containing sub-folders. One survival mom has subfolders for:

  • The Cats
  • Financial Documents
  • Household Documents
  • Legal Documents
  • Medical Documents
  • Personal Documents
  • Family Contacts

She has scanned copies of my driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, passport, marriage certificate, Veteran discharge DD-214, professional licenses, etc. She’s also updated medical and insurance records, funeral arrangements, and other personal documents.

The initial set up is a lot of work, but it’s worth it gathering all this information in one place. After you have all of this on a central location on your desktop or laptop, copy it to a cloud storage option, like Google Drive, and to a flash drive.

The Master folder on the computer is updated as needed. Each year, all folders are copied to the remote locations. Another option is to have the master folder set to update to cloud storage automatically when there is any activity.

There are a wide range of flash drives. Some hold just a small amount of data while others can handle large files. If you are putting family pictures on a drive, you will want a large capacity memory. This flash drive by SanDisk can be password protected and has encryption properties. It also comes in a wide range of memory capacities.

Having back up to the backup plan is essential in case of fire, flood, severe weather conditions, and other emergency scenarios. Squirreling a couple of these away with your essential information on them will put your personal information at your fingertips.

image: survival flash drive directions for grab and go binder

Find full instructions for making your own Grab & Go Binder in my book, Survival Mom: How to prepare your family for everyday disasters and worst case scenarios.

Updated and revised with contributions from Mimi Skinner.

49 thoughts on “A Prepping Essential: The Grab-n-Go Binder”

  1. You could also get a CD storage clear plastic page and keep CDs with digital copies of family photos, scanned images of the documents on the list you provided, or just any other digital file you think you would not want to live without! Nice blog, Lisa!

    1. thesurvivalmom

      Thanks for the suggestion, Jenny! I know we would hate to lose all our digital pics. It would be a good idea to put a second copy of the CD in a safety deposit box. Don’t forget to include pics of your home’s exterior, the interior of each room, and then a photo of any valuables you own. In so many cases when a home has been destroyed or severely damaged, it’s nearly impossible to put together an accurate insurance claim without the necessary information handy.

      I’m so glad you found my blog!


    2. An eReader that allows you to upgrade your storage capacity with microSD cards is handy because you can keep copies of all your docs "buried" in among your novels, and prep books with boring titles like "How to Budget", or "Analysis of Mineral Content of the Brassicas", or whatever. A water-tight container for your e-book reader, alternative source for powering it, and a carry case for multiple microSD cards could conceivably carry everything you might need in the way of information.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I'd make copies of the important documents and keep the originals in a safe, lockbox, or a safety deposit box. In this day and age it's not too difficult to get original copies replaced, but it could be quite a hassle, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster or something similar.

      I'm glad you found my blog, and I enjoyed your comments. Hope you bookmark my site and come back often.


    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I'm glad you found my blog! Feel free to drop by anytime and share your experiences and opinions!


  2. Have you seen the Fly Lady web site? She is mainly a site to help women with keeping their houses clean. However she has awesome tips on emergency evacuation as well.
    I am very glad that I found your site. My hubbie is celiac and I will make him healthy brownies with the pinto bean recipe!
    Thank you for your dedication!

    1. Yes, I've seen her site and have used a lot of her ideas. Not enough, though. When I use her system, my home is ready for company 24/7. As it stands now, I need about a 48 hour notice! Thanks for the reminder that my life went much more smoothly when I was taking her advice!

  3. I think I'll apply the grab-n-go concept to my new food storage plan. I'll keep a running inventory with updated excel spreadsheets, then include categories of printed recipes and prep and cooking instructions. My storage cabinet looks so paltry in comparison, but I've just started and am excited to build on my plan. Thanks for an educational website.

    1. That's a really good idea, Kat. I find that I grab tomato products most often, e.g. tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, pasta sauce. I'm constantly looking for bargains on those products, as a result. This summer I've committed myself to growing as many tomatoes as possible and canning my own.

      BTW, keeping an inventory is actually quite motivating. If you have 20 cans of soup, let's say, that might be 20 lunches for your kids. You have almost a month's worth of lunches already! If your kids are bigger, figure on adding some pasta or rice to the soup to stretch it out a bit. It really is very encouraging to see how everything adds up. I have posted quite a few tips on food storage, including one or two on keeping an inventory. Don't forget to do the same with things like soap, shampoo, eye drops, etc. Good luck!

  4. Good point about having it all in one place. I have to admit, I'm still working on actually DOING both of these, but the Life.doc binder leaves NO excuses for not getting this done. I need to do the valuables.doc as well. The other thing I want to do is copy all our photos and important computer files onto a portable back up drive so we can grab that quickly in an emergency.

    I have gotten as far as having some of the important documents for us and my mother in law at my parents house in another state. (We're fully responsible for my mother in law at this point – she.s the .5 in our 2.5 kids.) But it's definitely not all the information that you list here.

    1. We run with a grab-n-go concept, too, but not with the documents so far. Gunna add that one. We have a pretty well secured safe setup, and things are well protected there.

      Our food is GNG… totes and uniformly shaped boxes. We can load up and be gone for good in just over an hour, and for short term in 25 minutes.

  5. I'd suggest too copies of car registration, insurance cards and maintenance records in case the vehicle(s) are lost or damaged in a naturall disaster, fire, etc. Thanks for your great blog!

  6. Would also recommend a copy of ALL of your medical records, i.e. doctor visit notes, labs, x-ray results, EKG, etc. I keep this on a thumb drive and have had to use at a specialist's office when he hadn't received information from my family doctor (saved me from having to reschedule the visit). Also important if you have a medical history (cardiac, lung, diabetes, etc). Useful for – emergency room visit, get a new EKG, is that rhythm new or old?? Can compare to old records.

    I do this for each member of my family.

  7. Would also recommend a copy of ALL of your medical records, i.e. doctor visit notes, labs, x-ray results, EKG, etc. I keep this on a thumb drive and have had to use at a specialist's office when he hadn't received information from my family doctor (saved me from having to reschedule the visit). Also important if you have a medical history (cardiac, lung, diabetes, etc). Useful for – emergency room visit, get a new EKG, is that rhythm new or old?? Can compare to old records.

  8. Karen Isaacson

    Now that I've found what I need to put in a GNG binder, I'd add one thing: keep it in a secure location, out of sight, and not labeled as what it is but rather something that you associate with GNG'ing. DH and I both have new flash drives, too, for additional backup, plus information on making a hidden and password-protected directory to keep the files secure.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      Unless you've ever been in a situation where you can't find important documents, you can't imagine the inconvenience of having to get replacements. Karen, your idea of having multiple electronic copies is a good one, but also have a hard copy or two at a family member's home or even kept at work in a locked drawer. In a truly dire emergency, something saved on a flash drive or CD would be useless until you could access both a computer and a printer.

      1. Per the EMP post, you might want to make sure at least one is protected in case of an EMP. For something as small as a flash drive, you could probably even use a tin tic tac container with the paint sanded off so it gets metal on metal.

    2. Karen, to truly keep the information secure, you'll need to use a good encryption program like True Crypt (it's free). I do computer forensics for a living and, trust me, it's easy to find your hidden directory and just as easy to crack the password.

  9. I just recently had to get a copy of my daughter's birth certificiate for her driver permit. It was a total pain. I think in certain kinds of emergencies it might be impossible. Better to have than to need.

  10. Just started my Grab N Go binder. I am also including pdf files on comprehensive first aid, emergency treatment for drinking water, and food storage guides. Thanks for all the suggestions.

    1. I just added a .pdf for how to season cast iron on a wood fire and, as I find it, information on common edible plants in my area. I had no clue that day lilies were edible – or that they had a non-edible look alike. I've printed out the information on both and how to tell the difference.

  11. Choose a color for your binder,that is different from any other binder. In a grab and go situation, you may have to tell big brother to get the polka dotted binder, immediately. No mistakes when it counts.

  12. We dealt with our house getting flooded during a tropical storm in 2008 and we had about an hour to pack up and leave once we realized we were going to be flooded (we honestly didn't know it flooding was coming, and we just happened to live in one of the few neighborhoods that had bad draining that caused the flooding).

    I can speak from experience that the brain does lock up. I would walk into a room intending to pack up some stuff, not knowing how bad the flooding was going to be or how long we would be out of our house and I would go blank and wonder why I was standing in the room.

    It turned out that we were out of our house for 6 months. We were fortunate to have flood insurance, though, and I can say that having good records is a MUST for dealing with insurance people. We had just about everything we claimed paid for because I kept copies/originals of receipts for just about everything we purchase. I was able to prove the cost for almost everything. The few things we couldn't prove were approved because the insurance rep could see how organized I was about everthing else.

    As you said, photos of everything/every room is important. It is also important, if possible, to take photos immediately after a disaster to show what was damaged before you throw anything away. The more photos the better. Our pool table was badly damaged because the water caused the legs to split in half. Our claim for the pool table was going to be denied until I showed details photos of the damage to it from the flood waters.

    It might also be good to keep a small amount of food to add to your binder, such as energy bars. Once the adrenalin runs off you are going to be hungry. If you use plastic sleeves that can be zipped open and shut in your binder then you can easily add a few of these to your binder.

    Lastly, it might be good to add some emergency cash to your binder (concealed in a zipper sleeve). You might need cash right away. We had $200 that we took with us that proved invaluable. (I added this as a response to a reply but then realized that it might be better as its own response so it can be seen, since your responses are hidden – please delete my other response since it is a duplicate of this. Sorry!)

  13. I recently discovered that my State Farm insurance agent can print out a very neat & tidy listing of all my insurance policies on just a few pages. So instead of keeping track of several different declarations pages for each policy and having to update the information at each renewal, they are all listed together. The information includes coverages, deductibles, policy numbers, effective & expiration dates – basically everything you would need in a very nice concise form. If someone wants to request the same info I would suggest they call their agent's office and ask for a "Policy Listing Print" from their customer profile (not all agents may be familiar with this capability).

  14. PerpetualLearner

    Here are two thoughts … in addition to the afore mentioned documentation a video of everything in your house and storage. The other idea is to recycle a binder from one of the kids, who will notice a kids binder in your car, and use it for a copy of your GNG binder. Just keep it with your vehicle 72 hr ki.

  15. I recently put all the documents mentioned above on an encrypted (Ironkey) flash drive that I have attached to my key chain. I back it up periodically to my home computer and my work computer. It’s small, secure and I always have it with me.

  16. One thing I haven’t seen listed is your digital camera…put it on the list of things to grab! If you have an extra (or buy a cheapie one) put it in your vehicle 72 hour kit. You never know when a “picture is worth a thousand words”!

  17. In addition to all the aforementioned items, I would include any important religion documents such as baptism certificates, etc.
    Great website!!

  18. Hi. LOVE your site. I am a 59 y/o retired woman with my immediate family (niece/her husband/3 children under 13 years). We live in Southern California about a mile apart. In 2003 we all had to evacuate to a relative’s home near the beach because of the 2003 wildfires. I helped the family evacuate (they had 3 tiny babies), and took my dog “just in case”. A week later my home, my dad’s home and everything we owned was ashes. We literally had the clothes on our backs and what was in our cars.

    You have NO idea of the magnitude of re-creating the paperwork for your life. It took me nearly 2 years (along with the re-build) to re-create all my legal documents. I personally was fortunate to see a PBS special with Suze Orman. She recommended her Ultimate Protection Porfolio and I purchased one that night. It takes a LOT of work to put all the necessary papers in the Portfolio, but it gives an immense feeling of security! I estimated that it took me about 120+ hours spread over months to prepare my portfolio.

    In 2007, wildfires hit again. It literally took me 7 minutes to evacuate and then I was able to get my 88 year old step-mom with Alzheimer’s from her property 15 miles away behind a police line to stop people from going thru. It took me longer to persuade the police to let me through then it took to evacuate her and my dad’s essential papers and belongings. All told, I was able to evacuate my bare necessities, medications, papers, pets and my dad’s wife (very agitated with Alzheimer’s), and all of his essential documents and necessities and medications in less than 90 minutes. (30 of those were spent getting through the roadblock!) My dad was helping our dearest friends evacuate livestock from their ranch which burned to the ground. We didn’t see him for 3 days.

  19. Instead of taking and making all these copies simply scan them into your computer and copy to a flash drive — takes up no room at all. You still might have to take some originals but a flash drive/memory stick is the easiest carry method.

    1. The Survival Mom

      I agree, Lois. Keep in mind, though, that there are times when a computer might not be easily accessible, or a printer, and hard copies are best. Be sure to keep each document in a page protector, or laminate them if they aren’t official, such as a birth certificate.

  20. We have our GOOD binder built up already, but lately I’ve been thinking of making two mini-binders for our individual information to keep in our GOOD bags, in case we get separated during an emergency. Am I over-thinking things, or does a redundancy plan make sense in this situation?

  21. A thumb-drive or jump-drive is a good choice for this as well. They come in a variety of sizes (many gigs as opposed to maybe 1 on a cd) and you don’t have worry about where to use it, many new smaller tablets and net devices do not have a cd player in them but they do have a USB port. They are also more portable than a cd, you can slip it in your pocket, just don’t get it wet or forget to take it out of that pocket before laundry day, it may not survive.

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