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How to replace documents lost in a disaster

One of the dire consequences of any disaster for many people is the loss of important documents. Often, such documents are needed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state emergency services in order to process assistance applications for those who suffered losses or damage to their homes and belongings.

“One thing we always stress in our encouragement of disaster preparation is for people to put critical documents in a safe place,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Philip E. Parr. “This means placing them in a sealable plastic bag or other watertight container and securing that container where it is best protected and can easily be located.”

Unfortunately, sometimes even these steps will not keep documents from being lost or destroyed, especially in the event of tornados, hurricanes or wildfires. If papers are lost – like birth certificates, Social Security cards, drivers’ licenses, tax records and so on – New York state and FEMA are advising residents on how to recover them:

  • Birth certificates: If you were born within the confines of the five boroughs of New York City, visit or write to the Office of Vital Records, 125 Worth Street, Room 133, New York, N.Y. 10013. (A photo ID is required both by mail and in person.) The office advises the fastest way to get records is online at www.nyc.gov/vitalrecords. The phone number is (212) 788-4520.
  • If you were born in New York state outside of New York City, log onto www.vitalchek.com or phone 1-877-854-4481. This will connect you to a company called VitalChek, which is contracted with the state to handle credit-card orders. There are modest fees involved.
  • Social Security cards: Call the U.S. Social Security office at 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time. For TTY users the number is 800-325-0778, or log onto www.ssa.gov/ssnumber for more information.
  • Federal tax records: Call 800-829-1040, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, or log onto www.irs.gov.
  • New York state tax records and New York City tax records: Log onto http://www.tax.ny.gov or phone 518-457-5181

For copies of your utility bills, bank records, insurance policies, mortgage payments and the like, call the appropriate firm and speak to a customer-service representative.  It is also a good idea to make copies of all your vital and important documents and mail them to a friend or relative you can trust to keep them safe and retrievable in case disaster strikes.


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Middletown resident and graphic designer.


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