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Preparing for disaster

red folder

Make a grab and go file for emergencies

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Revised March 2016 by Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency; reviewed April 2016 by Sarah L. Butler, Financial Empowerment Educator — Family Resiliency.

Print related fact sheet (PDF)

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you suddenly became a victim of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, fire, or other unexpected event? Would you know what to grab if you only had minutes to escape your home? The plans you've made in advance and what you choose to take with you will influence how quickly you rebound from disaster (whether you have the information to file claims, contact information for accounts, etc.).

Grab and Go File

National agencies that work with disasters recommend gathering important items in a file case or binder stored in a place where all family members could quickly grab it and go. Make sure that your file case or binder is small enough to easily fit in a backpack or other small travel bag and keep it in a waterproof container. The following information should be in your grab and go file.

List of Vital Information

Use the Roadmap for Important Papers (PDF) to help you organize this information.

Photocopies of Important Papers

See Replacing Your Important Papers (PDF) if any important papers are missing. You may also be interested in the ND (PDF) or Non-state specific (PDF) versions.

Other Items

Electronic Grab and Go File

If you have access to a secure server and internet connection, make an electronic grab and go file. First, scan your official documents to make electronic copies. Include an electronic copy of your completed Roadmap for Important Papers (PDF).

Then, send these documents to yourself in an email so that you can access them from any internet-connected computer. Another option is to save copies of these documents on one or more CDs or USB drives and then store them somewhere outside your home that is secure (a locked cabinet at your work, with a trusted friend or family member, etc.). A third option is to save a folder with a cloud storage service or online file storage provider.

Remember that you will still want to store original hard copies of your documents in a safe place.

See the Related Video

Do You Have a Grab & Go File?


Albertson, M. (n.d.). Disaster Relief – Preparing Your Evacuation “To Go” Box. Salt Lake City, UT: Utah State University.

Emmerman, M.N. (2009). The Red File®.

FEMA — United States Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.)

National Endowment for Financial Education. (2015). Disasters and Financial Planning: A Guide for Preparedness and Recovery.

Related resources

List it or lose it — The case for household and property inventory — Tips for doing an inventory of your personal property.

Roadmap for Important Papers (PDF) — Interactive form to help you organize all your important information.

Disaster recovery — Resources for your family following a disaster. Includes the Recovery After Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit.

Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.

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