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Volume 27, Issue 3

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How to Replace Documents Lost in a Disaster

NEW YORK – 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.

If papers are gone – like birth certificates, Social Security cards, drivers’ licenses, tax records, etc. – 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 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.
     
  • Drivers’ licenses: Visit any New York Department of Motor Vehicles office. To find an office nearby, log onto www.dmv.ny.gov/index.htm and click on “Replace License or ID.”
     
  • Social Security cards: Call the U.S. Social Security office at 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. For TTY users the number is 800-325-0778, or log onto www.ssa.gov/ssnumber for more information.
     
  • Federal tax records: Call the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-1040, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST, or log onto www.irs.gov.
     
  • New York state tax records: For copies of returns, log onto www.tax.ny.gov/help/contact/how_to_reach.htm. Click on “Get a copy of my return” and fill in the application. You can also apply for a tax-filing and payment extension for those directly affected by Hurricane Sandy at this site.
     
  • 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.

To prevent further loss of vital documents, place the originals or copies in a sealable plastic bag or other watertight container and secure that container where it is best protected and can easily be located. It is also a good idea to make copies of vital and important documents and mail them to a friend or relative you can trust to keep them safe and retrievable.

For more information on New York’s disaster recovery, visit www.fema.gov/disaster/4085, http://twitter.com/FEMASandy, www.facebook.com/FEMASandy and www.fema.gov/blog.