Millions of people in the path of Hurricane Irma, a rare category 5 storm that extends for hundreds of miles, are being warned to evacuate or brace themselves.
If you're among those making plans to evacuate, don't overlook important steps to preserve your important records. Assuming you have time to safely do it, gather copies of your important documents, papers, insurance policies and so on.
This includes items you might keep in a fireproof safe at home. Remember, your safe may be fire-resistant, but it's not protected from flood waters.
Here are the kinds of documents and possessions you'll want to gather and take with you to a safe location.
A list of family doctors, prescription medications and contact information for all pharmacies you use. While you're evacuated, you'll need these to get new supplies of medications you use on a regular basis.
Original Social Security cards. These can take time to replace and may be needed to establish eligibility for benefits.
Passports and original birth certificates. These are essential for travel and establishing your identity when filing a claim with government agencies.
Valuables: Jewelry, coins and other small objects you may want to take with you.
Property insurance policies and agent contact information. You'll need this information right away if your house suffers damage and you need to file a claim.
Safe deposit box keys. If you store valuables in a bank safe deposit box, you'll want to make sure you have the key for it.
Statements for financial accounts, investments, retirement plans, bank accounts and associated contact information. You may need to access these after the storm to pay for initial repairs and living expenses.
Copies of your important legal documents. These include powers of attorney, living wills and health care proxies for yourself and anyone else for whom you're designated attorney-in-fact or health care surrogate. Having access to these can help ensure the protection they were created to provide.
Spare keys and titles to all vehicles. It helps to know where copies are in the case you need them.
Cash: Don't forget to get some and keep it on hand to get you through a few weeks. Remember, when the power goes down and flood waters swamp backup generators, the banks will lose power -- and ATMs won't work.
If you have the time, make electronic copies of your documents, and back them up to a cloud-based service. Also back up all important files such as pictures, electronic copies of financial records, documents and so on using a cloud-based service such as Carbonite or iCloud. You'll be assured that your files will be replicated in a location far away from the affected area, and you'll be able to access to them via your smartphone at any time.
If you and your family are evacuating to different locations, you'll want to have a communication plan. Consider using an instant messaging service available on smartphones as an emergency means of contacting your family whenever internet access is available.
Before you leave home, you should unplug all electronic equipment such as computers, wireless routers, TVs, microwave ovens, etc. Electrical surges and lightning strikes can destroy them even if you use power strips with surge protection.
Also make a record of all property inside your home. The easiest way to do this is to take a video with a smartphone of each room in your home, narrating it by describing the items in the room.