If your home is unexpectedly hit by fire, floods, a hurricane, a tornado or even a crashing tree, will your photos and important papers be safe?
If you take some smart precautions before disaster strikes, you can minimize your losses and save yourself a lot of worry, too. Here’s what to do:
1) Digitize photographs. If you still maintain photo albums that are important to you, be forewarned that they are heavy, bulky and if you have a lot of them, probably too voluminous to move quickly. If you don’t have time to evacuate before a disaster hits, you could lose them all. The solution is to digitize your photos while you have the time and peace of mind to do so. Get an inexpensive scanner and set it up next to your computer screen. Go through your albums, but don’t scan every single image. Most albums show multiple pictures from the same scene. Pick one or two that are most representative, scan those, then file them into folders you can easily sort through and retrieve. The initial scanning process will take time, but once it’s done, you will breathe easier knowing your photos are secure. You can also create a list in Word or other word processing file to remind yourself what pictures are where.
2) Digitize documents. Scan insurance policies, last wills and testaments, passports, bank records, birth certificates, your mortgage and any other documents you wouldn’t want to lose in the event a natural disaster occurs.
3) Set up a back-up hard drive. I have an external hard drive that constantly backs up my files. When I scan a photo, it not only goes to a file on my laptop, it also ends up on the backed-up hard drive. The hard drive is light and portable, so in the event of a disaster, I could easily carry it as well as my laptop out of the house. NOTE: Some people back up to thumb drives, and of course, this works and is better than nothing. But I have a tendency to lose thumb drives or get them confused. The hard drive keeps everything in one place and nicely organized.
4) Back up to “the cloud.” Even though I have a back-up hard drive in my home, I also back up my computer constantly to a secure file in the internet cloud. I had this lesson reinforced a couple of years ago, before I had my own external hard drive back up. I decided I would back up everything to the cloud “just in case.” The day after the back-up was complete, a massive electrical storm in my area completely fried my computer. When I replaced the computer, the backup files were easily re-installed from my file in the cloud, with nothing lost. Companies like Carbonite.com offer good cloud back-up services.
5) Store original documents in a safety deposit box or in a fire-proof bank vault. If you have original documents at home, even after you’ve scanned them, you might want to secure them in a secure safety deposit box in a safe place or a fire-proof bank vault. If you had a lawyer draw up your will, or you have a financial adviser who helps with investments, both of them should also have copies of these documents; check to make sure they’re taking proper precautions.
6) Use the photo back-up options available on your phone. I have an Android phone, so the photos I take on my phone frequently and automatically back up to my Google photos folder. You can do the same on a Mac. By the way, using this feature is also handy in the event your phone is stolen.
7) Store documents and photos on your second floor or higher, if you have one. This is an especially good precaution if you live in an area that is prone to flooding.
8) Identify the most valuable documents, images, files and records to protect, recommends Polygon. Most of us have far more files than we need. Know which ones you need to keep, and which ones aren’t of primary importance. Winnowing out the extras has an added bonus: it will reduce clutter.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers useful guidance on how to prepare for natural disasters generally here.