How to Make an Emergency Grab-and-Go Binder

In the event of an emergency evacuation, you'll be glad you made this emergency grab-and-go binder for your hard-to-replace documents.

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.

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 mile away. This one blew in our direction, scorching that end of our property before our volunteer firemen brought it under control.

As soon as we were alerted, we sprang into action. While hubby soaked the yard with the hose I gathered the 3P's: pets, papers and pills. We made the decision to not worry about the livestock as they were pastured behind the wind's path and would have been okay.

The house dogs and cats were ready to load in our vehicles, I grabbed my grab-and-go emergency binder, laptops and chargers, and hubby's pills, scooping everything into a tote bag. We were ready to go in less than 10 minutes.

It turned out to be just a drill, thankfully. The fire truck arrived in record time.

Afterwards I thought of a few more things I could have grabbed as well, and I identified some things I shouldn't have spent time on. For instance, I should have just thrown the dogs' harnesses and leashes into the truck instead of fussing over putting them on. The dogs would have willingly jumped inside the truck, happy that they were going for a ride; leashes and harnesses could have been put on later.

And I could only locate one of our two cat carriers... and then I remembered that we have a third cat now. I improvised and put all three cats in the large dog crate to be carried to the truck.

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. But since several readers asked me about ours after I mentioned the fire in my weekly-ish newsletter (which you can sign up for here if you'd like), I wanted to talk about how I put ours together. I've also made a printable checklist to make it easier for you to make one, too.

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. It 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. (We've never done that. Yeah, right.)

Use a 3-ring binder to organize your family's hard-to-replace, important papers.

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 they know 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 a "go book."

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 or 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, 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. What better way to prove that this dog is yours?)

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

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

Here's how to put it all together and get it organized. You can download and print a free copy of my checklist below so you don't forget anything.

In case of an emergency evacuation such as a fire, take your important documents with you!

You'll need:

    3-ring binder (or this zippered binder; no worrying about papers falling out)
    Sheet protectors
    Tabbed dividers
    Pencil pouch with 3-ring holes (I keep our passports in one of these)
    Tabbed envelopes with 3-ring holes (they'll hold those fat insurance policies and so on)
    A copy of my printable checklist which you can download below for free

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

  • 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 our 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. (I also have some printable goat records here if you need some.) You could organize these by animal if you wish instead of by species as I have done.

Use this printable checklist to organize your family's important documents in case of evacuation.

It's not a quick 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 fine. 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 the important files in red file folders?

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 the kids' 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.

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.

For more posts on self-reliance, self-sufficiency 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. I'd love to see you there!

This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here.



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.

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.

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Me said...

Thank you for this post. We have a binder too but you have some things I had not thought of. We both have plastic shoe boxes with our prescriptions and supplements in them. Easy to grab and go too. I experienced a fire that destroyed my home many years ago and believe me, I do not want to be caught like that again. We have or stuff to get to easily and since we have lots of tornado action around us, along with wildfires, it pays to be prepared. Great post and thanks for helping me to see a few other things we need to add.

Kathi said...

I'm glad it helped you think of other papers to put in your binder. I like the shoebox idea for prescriptions.

Loy said...

Thank you Kathy. This is a wonderful resource page. I am going to "hop right to it" as my mother used to say and put ours together.

Kathi said...

Good for you, Loy! I'm so glad this was helpful to you and motivated you to get started.

candy said...

We have one of these binders so we can grab and go along with our 72 hour kits. Found you on Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

Kippi O'Hern said...

I live in hurricane Florida and I really should get motivated and make this album since we NEVER know if it is going to destroy our house. Thank you for the tip and motivation!
Happy Spring,
Kippi #kippiathome

Kathi said...

72-hour kits are another subject, for sure! Thank you for stopping by, Candy.

Kathi said...

Hi Kippi. I hope this has inspired you to get yours done! You won't regret the time spent, believe me.

Gramma Connie said...

I have intended to put together a binder like this for years. A few days ago, my husband suffered a medical emergency and we rushed to the hospital. I was thankful that my phone had a full charge, my wallet contained some cash, and that I had a reasonable amount of gas in my car.
In the ER waiting room not know what the out come of my husbands emergency would be, I kept thinking of all the passwords to all the accounts I didn't know. Or even if I knew all the accounts! So, I purchased a binder today, and using your list here I will be working all weekend to fill it. I will include a list of all accounts, passwords, pin numbers; what is paid online, by mail, automatic deduction from our bank, etc. I'm going to also list what the contents of our safe are, and valuables that would need to be covered in case of fire or robbery.

My husband will be fine by the way :)
Thanks Kathy!

Kathi said...

I'm glad to hear that your husband will be ok, Connie!

Dianna Horner said...

This is such a good idea i just didnt know how to get started so thank you.I am getting it together.

Kathi said...

Dianna, I'm glad this gave you a starting place so you can get it done! It can seem daunting unless you cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Nancy W said...

Do appreciate this post, now that we live in an area with potential earthquakes this is so important!

imsovintage said...

This is great! I should have done it a long time ago! The only thing I can think of to add is either a video or photos of the house and contents. I few years ago I had a huge tree go down in the back yard soon after I moved here. A large shed held a lot of the things I planned to move into the house but it was destroyed. I was upset and stressed and could not remember all that was back there so I did not recover anything from the insurance co. Had I taken a moment to take pics it would have been so much easier Thanks so much!

Kathi said...

That's an excellent addition! I'm so sorry you went through that experience though.

Kathi said...

So true, Nancy!

Jeanne said...

Thanks for this list!! After reading one of the comments I thought about adding a little extra cash to the binder. Just in case you don't have any on you at the time of your emergency!

Kathi said...

Thank you, Jeanne! Another great suggestion!

milkchaser said...

We put our papers in a lockable fireproof box, just big enough for the papers you described (although, I never thought to include the insurance policies - those can be pretty big, I think I'd just include the coverage pages). The advantage of the box is, obviously, in an emergency, if you can only get yourself and your pets out of the house in time, the papers would survive a fire.

Also, a lot of this can be scanned and backed up online, as well, to any of the various free cloud accounts. You can use a password manager program like lastpass, dashlane, sticky, roboform, etc. We pay for the premium version so my wife doesn't keep asking me for passwords and I can monitor my kids' school email accounts.

Unknown said...

All the years tax records would fill a big box.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this... and not making it "sign up here to get your checklist emailed to you!" which seems to be common. I found you via Pinterest and am going to A) get to work on my binder and B) share this so friends and family can start too. Thanks again!

Bobbie said...

Been needing to do this for a couple of months after seeing what my niece did for my sister when her husband died. I could see it was a good idea and my sister said it was a life-saver for her. So, I copied your list and added a few of my personal needs to it and will be doing one immediately. Husband is fixing to have surgery and I will need his records and info. Thank you for a great jumpstart list!

Kathi said...

Good for you! I'm glad it prompted you to get started and thank you for sharing it too!

Kathi said...

I hope your husband's surgery goes well and yes, it's a great place to keep your medical records too!

Abby Fields said...

This is such a great find. I have been looking for a good way to organize my papers without the usual stuff-it-in-a-file situation. I would also put clear packing tape on the inside cover over a piece of paper with emergency phone numbers for all types of disasters. From everything from insurance to disaster restoration companies you can call.

Kathi said...

That's a great idea, Abby!

LJ said...

This is a great idea, and even though I don’t live in a disaster-prone area this would be handy for lots of events. But please, consider that a lot of this information can be used for identity fraud (especially passwords and PINs) so either encode this information in some way, or keep your binder in a locked or secret location.

Kathi said...


Michelle said...

I mostly know where our documents are. Sometimes it takes a little hunting. This is a great idea! I'll be making a binder this week!

Jen said...

Thanks! We could use more organizing - I feel like I have paperwork all over the place. A few months ago I started a home inventory, but I haven't fully finished. A great project while stuck home.

Bethy said...

Your checklists names "ID Kit" yet I don't see this referenced on the blog. What is it?

Kim said...

So I’m curious where you keep your binder because this was my thought as well.

Kathi said...

Ours is in a secret location. :-)

Kathi said...

I don't see an item on the checklist for "ID kit". Can you tell me where it is, or what the item above it is, please?

Unknown said...

I have started putting together a grab and go binder. However, the first things you mentioned - copies of drivers licenses, credit cards, and health cards - were things that I hadn't thought of. I know what I will be working on this afternoon.

Kathi said...

I'm glad it was helpful!

Life Of 2 Snowbirds said...

I have a version of your grab and go but it's not half as efficient as yours! So glad to find your post!!

Kathi said...

I'm glad to hear that! Even one step towards being prepared is better than nothing at all. (We never consider ourselves "done" - there are always improvements to be made.)

JayCee said...

Thank you for sharing this! I would never have thought to have a picture of pets! I would also recommend pictures of your family in case you get separated, so you can ask around.

For my wedding I received a plastic tote with a couple of binders with slots labeled for most of these items! All I had to do was follow her system! She also included a variety of office supplies in the box and some articles with life tips such as how to increase your credit score.

It was a great gift. It was so nice to start our life off together organized!

Kathi said...

What a great wedding gift!

Kelly said...

Wonderful post and advice! Do you put original documents in the binder or just copies?

Kathi said...

I use the originals, but if you're not comfortable with that, copies are better than nothing!