How to Make an Emergency Grab-and-Go Binder

A white binder containing our most-important and hard-to-replace papers.

Are your important papers in order? Can you grab them in a hurry if you need to evacuate your home? Learn how to make an emergency grab and go binder, and download a free printable checklist to make it easy.

How to make an emergency grab-and-go binder

As I'm writing this, we're keeping an eye on a brush fire about a mile away behind our property. The light wind is blowing the fire up the canyon parallel to us.

Updated July 2024

High winds are predicted for tonight and tomorrow, with thunderstorms overnight.

I'm hoping for heavy rain to put out the flames, even though this particular spot seems to catch fire and burn every year.

It's never come close to us in the past, but you never know. Fire and high winds are a dangerous combination.

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Several weeks ago we had another fire just up the road, less than a quarter of a mile away.

That one blew in our direction, scorching the far end of our property before the volunteer firefighters brought it under control.

As soon as we were alerted, we sprang into action. While hubby soaked the yard with the hose I gathered our most-important items and loaded the pickup truck with our 3 dogs, 3 cats, our emergency grab-and-go binder, laptops and chargers, and hubby's pills.

We made the decision to not worry about the livestock as they were pastured behind the wind's path and would have been safe.

It turned out to be just a drill, thankfully. Our volunteer fire department arrived in record time.

And I was thankful that I'd spent time a few years ago putting together our grab-and-go emergency binder.

All I had to do was put it in the tote bag, knowing that all of our important papers were safely inside. It took all of thirty seconds to grab it and go (hence the name, obviously).

Why you should have a grab-and-go binder

There are several ways to organize and store your personal information; a grab-and-go binder is just one option.

Plus, whether there's an emergency or not, having your papers stored in one place and well-organized will benefit you in many ways.

You'll be able to find any paper you need for whatever reason in just a few minutes.

If you need your birth certificate or marriage license for some reason, there they are. Need the title to your pickup truck? There it is.

Your emergency binder houses your homeowner's insurance policy. Your passport. Your children's shot records. Your will.

No more searching the house for a paper you need. (Because I've never done that. Yeah, right.)

A white 3-ring binder with a blue cover, titled:Emergency Binder

And just think of the favor you are doing your family by having all this information in one place. They may need access to it all someday.

Make sure someone in your family knows where you keep your important information.

Feel free to modify these directions to fit your circumstances and comfort level. If you're happy keeping your documents in a safety deposit box at the bank, don't change just because I have an emergency notebook.

But you might want to take this opportunity to make sure you still have everything up to date.

Gather all your information and important papers

Start by copying the items in your wallet:

  • Driver's license
  • Credit cards (copy the back too so you'll have the phone numbers to call in case of loss or theft)
  • Social Security card
  • Health insurance cards
  • Other ID cards from work, school, organizations or associations

Then gather the following documents, tailored to your family and your situation.

If you are missing any of these items, this is an excellent time to gather them from wherever they are hiding.

If necessary, get replacements, order certified copies of legal documents such as birth certificates, and decide if you need to update your will or insurance coverage.

  • Vehicle titles (including tractor, trailer, RV, etc)
  • Property deeds
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificate
  • Immunization records
  • Power of Attorney
  • Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, etc.
  • Trust papers
  • Wills
  • Deed to burial plots
  • Insurance policies (homeowners or renters, life, auto, property, boat or RV, etc.)
  • Contracts
  • School transcripts and diplomas
  • Military service records
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Bank account numbers
  • Prescriptions for medications and glasses
  • Passports
  • Income tax records from prior years

Don't forget your pets and livestock; they have important papers too.

  • Immunization records and proof of spay/neuter for your dogs and/or cats
  • Livestock registration papers and health certificates
  • Photos of your pets and livestock for identification purposes and to prove ownership 

I'll give you extra points if you have a photo of you and your pet together. If you are separated or your dog is lost, what better way is there to prove that this dog is yours?

Next, make a list of your extended family members' and friends' phone numbers.

Don't rely on your cell phone to store them all. Print out all those contacts and keep them with your important papers.

Then make an emergency contact list of your important numbers such as doctors, school, work, neighbors and employers.

Add up-to-date photos of your children. Include a recent family photo too, with all the members of your family. This doesn't have to be a professional portrait, of course. Just ask a friend to snap a group photo for you.

How to organize your grab-and-go binder (with a printable checklist)

Here's how to put it all together and get your grab-and-go binder organized.

You can download and print a free copy of my checklist below so you don't forget anything.

A package of sheet protectors and a package of index tabs.

You'll need:

You can find all the supplies listed above - all of which I use in my own binder - all in one place here in my Amazon shop.

What size binder should you use? 

It depends on how many papers, documents and records you have.

We started with a 2-inch wide 3-ring notebook but over the years we've moved into a four-inch wide binder.

Yes, it's heavy. I keep it in a sturdy tote bag all the time so it's easy to grab and secure to carry. I've also considered using two 2-inch wide binders instead of the 4-inch wide one.

Divide your papers into categories

I use sheet protectors to hold our documents, and dividers to organize them all into these general categories, but you should organize your documents in whatever way makes sense to you.

For instance, you might use these categories:

  • Emergency contacts, including family, neighbors, doctors and veterinarian
  • Personal - birth certificates, school documents, passports, etc
  • Property - deed, mortgage info
  • Insurance - life, auto, homeowners or renters insurance policies, etc
  • Vehicles - titles for vehicles, tractor, trailers, etc
  • Financial records
  • Military records
  • Health records
  • "In case of emergency" section with wills, power of attorney, and your final wishes
  • Animals - I put all of the rabies shot certificates in one sheet protector, the spay/neuter papers in another, copies of the horses' registration papers and Coggins tests in a third sheet protector, and a fourth holds the goats' paperwork. 

If you prefer, you can organize your livestock and pet records by animal instead of by species as I have done.

I have some printable goat records here if you need some. They work well for animals other than goats too.

A clear pencil pouch holds passports and other small documents.

It's worth spending time on this project

If you're already a well-organized person, this might not take you long.

In fact, if you're well-organized you probably already have a system you don't want to change. That's great!

Just spend a few minutes analyzing whether or not you should rearrange your files (or whatever) so you could grab the important ones in a hurry. Maybe you want to put your important files in red file folders in that file cabinet?

I spent several weeks locating all of our papers and documents from the various file drawers and other places they were hiding, and I sent off for an extra copy of our children's birth certificates while I was at it.

Now that our grab-and-go emergency binder is all assembled, I spend a few minutes a couple of times a year updating it.

I remove any outdated papers such as loans we've paid off, replace the annual statements our insurance company sends us, and replace the dogs' previous rabies shot certificates with the current ones.

Download my printable checklist for free here.

If we ever need to evacuate quickly, we can grab our emergency binder and head out the door in just a few minutes. Putting this all together was time well spent.

>> You can find the links to the supplies I've used all in one place in my Amazon shop. <<

Listen to the podcast

Listen to the podcast where I was interviewed about making a grab-and-go binder here, from KFGO Radio's It Takes Two show.

For more posts on self-reliance and good old-fashioned simple living, subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter, and join me on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

If you ever have to evacuate your home in a hurry you'll appreciate having your important documents in one easy-to-grab place: your emergency binder. Here's how to make one, with a printable checklist so you won't forget anything.

A white binder/notebook and supplies to make an emergency binder. Text: "How to organize your Emergency Grab and Go Binder"


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