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Protect Your Digital Documents From Disaster

Updated on February 22, 2013
A priceless treasure - my Grandfather's pocket watch
A priceless treasure - my Grandfather's pocket watch | Source

Do you have a plan to protect your family's important documents and files when disaster strikes? How about your household possessions? Have you thought about it or, about what is important? Yeah, I know, it's on the list of things to do one day. It was for me too until I realized that time may be running out.

The scene of billions of documents floating through the air after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center is forever etched in my memory. I thought of all the financial planning contained in those pages or the medical directives and legal wills created in the hundreds of law offices in the area. And I wondered - how on earth do you put the pieces of your life back together without proof that you ever had it together. I knew that I needed a plan and didn't have one. This is what I have done so far and I think every individual or family should give it some thought before it's too late.

framed art
framed art | Source
wall hanging - made by my sister-in-law
wall hanging - made by my sister-in-law | Source
Kachinas, Indian Pottery, Music CD's
Kachinas, Indian Pottery, Music CD's | Source
Grandmother's vases made in Occupied Japan
Grandmother's vases made in Occupied Japan | Source

Household Inventory

Most of us are comfortable knowing we have homeowners insurance or renters insurance. Are we too comfortable? Maybe.

We spend a lifetime accumulating things; some are valuable, others are not. Some hold special memories and some are investments for the future. If a natural disaster swept them from your home, could you prove that you ever had them? Most of us couldn't.

Creating a home inventory isn't hard and can be done in an afternoon. Grab a camera and start capturing images. You can use a video camera if you want to narrate as you go but still photos are just as effective as proof of ownership, if you ever need it.

Need ideas?

  • Take wide angle photos of each room.
  • Take individual photos of art or collectibles.
  • Take photos of your crystal, china or silverware (if you have it).
  • Open kitchen cabinets and drawers and snap photos of your kitchen ware and gadgets.
  • Open the closet doors and snap photos of clothing, linens, shoes.
  • Don't forget the basement or garage. Get photos of your lawn care machines and tools.

Don't be shy. Take photos of everything and anything. If a disaster or emergency happens, it will be your responsibility to prove what you owned. It may take a bit of time to do but think of the hours you worked in order to have these things or, the memories and personal stories behind them. You can't replace those moments in time but you can be compensated - if you can prove you had them.

We'll talk about what to do with the photos a little later. For now, just take the photos!

certification | Source

Legal Documents

If you're like most people, you probably have a file cabinet stuffed with your legal documents. You probably have a file for your car titles, your Will, your Medical Directive, and your Income Tax records. What about your social security card, driver's license, or credit cards. How about insurance policies. Have you ever thought about making a backup copy? Perhaps you've already got a backup copy somewhere but if not, this is a good time to make one. There are several options that will work just fine. Choose the one that works for you but do it. That's really what is important.

Suggested ideas:

Make photocopies and store them off-site. Get a safe deposit box at the bank or ask a trusted friend of family member to store them. The chances are, if there are two copies, one will survive a disaster.

Grab those files and start scanning. This is perhaps the easiest way since once they are scanned, you can make multiple copies as needed.

Again, we're going to talk about what to do with the files later, so keep reading.

photo album scanned
photo album scanned | Source

Photos. Music, Books

How many photo albums, music CD's, and books do we collect in the course of our lifetime? The short answer for most of us is - LOTS. Music and books can be replaced but those photo albums cannot. They are your family history; memories that can never be recreated.

Another image is burned into my memory of the recent disaster called Hurricane Sandy. The image is of a woman in her 60's who lost everything including her home. While stumbling around in the wreckage, she found a wet and wrinkled photograph of her mother and she wailed in joy. It was the only photograph she had of her mother and although it was wet and curled, no amount of money could have given her such joy as finding that precious photograph. I cried with her from my home hundreds of miles away.

Now is the time for us to protect those precious memories. It will not be easy and it will take a lot of time but this is an investment in your past, present, and future. Do it!

Grab those photo albums and start scanning. You don't have to do them individually. You don't even have to remove them from their pockets or from that awful magnetic sleeve that has them glued down in it's yellowing plastic. Scan the entire page. It's not important that they look great but it is important that you scan them. They can't be replaced. Remember that!

Burning your CD collection to your computer's hard drive is also time consuming and so it is not critical to your disaster and emergency plan. It's only an option that is available. At the very least, take photographs of your collection.

Books are treasures to those of us who love reading and writing. They can never be replaced for what you have spent on them so take photos of your library collection. Don't worry about the titles, just make sure you've documented the volume of books you own.

Protecting Your Files and Documents

Now that you've done all the hard work of taking the photos and scanning the documents, it's time to talk about how to protect them from potential disaster and emergency events. In a nutshell, you need to store them somewhere safe and that decision is up to you but I have incorporated three methods of storage in my disaster and emergency plan.

  • Safe deposit box at the bank
  • External hard drive
  • My brother's safe.

Storage space is always a consideration. No one wants to unload hundreds of pages of printed documents on family or in a safe deposit box. That's why we've scanned everything or created digital photos.

Format Options

Internet Backup Storage:

There are many sites on the Internet that provide backup storage for your files and they are relatively inexpensive. You might take a look at Carbonite, Cloud, or Mozy. PC Magazine has reviewed quite a list so you might want to do a little reading before making a choice.

USB Flash Drive:

USB flash drives come in every size and shape these days and are a compact and affordable way to store files anywhere. Prices depend on brand, speed, and size but there is a USB flash drive for every budget. They can also be purchased in bulk from many distributors. Just check popular sites like Amazon or Ebay and buy a few. Flash drives make refreshing files easy too.

Security! Security! Security!

This is the most important paragraph you will read today. So please, listen carefully!

When you decide to make digital copies of your important documents and files, it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you password protect the files, no matter where you store them.

  • The vendor of Internet storage will provide instructions for their site.
  • If you choose USB Flash Drives for storage, it is not enough to just password protect the drive. It is especially important that any document that contains personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, address, etc. be stored in a folder that is also password protected. Your operating system help index will provide information on how to password protect a folder. Do not get lazy on this one. Do it no matter how long it takes you to figure it out.

Let's Wrap This Up

None of us knows what the future holds. We've all seen the horror of lives torn apart by hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, and...terrorism. There is no time like now, to protect yourself. Once lost, you cannot get those memories back and without proof of what you own, your insurance company may leave you high and dry.

In the end, human life is the most sacred of all that we have to protect. But, we can be proactive now, while we have life, to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We can preserve memories before it's too late. Now is the time to put together a disaster and emergency plan for yourself and your loved ones.

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

Read more of my hubs here.


Submit a Comment

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Cyndi10, you are a busy girl this morning. Thanks for reading another one. It sounds like you've got a good grip on your own important things. I agree with you about how people are grateful to be alive but have lost so much that could have been salvaged. It takes a lot of time but to me, it's worth it. Thanks again for a great comment.

  • Cyndi10 profile image

    Cynthia B Turner 

    6 years ago from Georgia

    Hi Linda, especially useful information. I wrote a similar hub a while back. I get agitated each time a disaster roles through not only because of the devastation, loss of lives which is horrible, but you hear so many survivors say how grateful they are to be alive, but they are also lamenting the loss of their irreplaceable family pictures and items that connect them to their past.

    You can't save everything, but you can save some things that are a part of who you are with a little planning. You have some great ideas here. Take care.

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    6 years ago from Central Florida

    I'm of the paper organizational era. I was an accountant until this past September. When work implemented digital archiving, I was so resistant! I can go to a well organized physical file quicker than following a path on the shared drive! Some things just shouldn't change in my opinion!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Shauna, I swear we are living duplicate lives. Isn't it fun to keep discovering how much alike we are? One difference is, I am totally disorganized with paper but I have everything documented digitally. :-)

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    6 years ago from Central Florida

    Linda, I am guilty of the 'one day' mind set. I have files upon files, all of which are paper, well organzied, but paper nonetheless. I have absolutely no documentation for my worldly possessions and heirlooms. Guess I'd better get crackin'!

    BTW, I'm a Notary also. Yet another thing we have in common!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Pearl, it is a chore but gosh, I think it's really important. It would break my heart to lose my photos or, to have an insurance company deny replacement because I couldn't prove I ever owned it, especially when they don't mind charging you for the premium. :-) I'm glad you enjoyed this and found it helpful. Thanks for the votes too.

  • grandmapearl profile image

    Connie Smith 

    6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

    lrc7815, excellent ideas and very well presented. This is a must-do for me. At one time I had taken photos of everything we had, but a lot of those items have been replaced with others, or whatever. I've contemplated doing this, but it seemed such a daunting task I put it off. You have simplified this so that I should be able to do those things that will keep it all safe, just in case. Voted Up & Useful + shared

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi shiningirisheyes! I'm so happy that you were prepared. It's one of those things that many people put off until it's too late. Thanks for the validation. :-)

  • shiningirisheyes profile image

    Shining Irish Eyes 

    6 years ago from Upstate, New York

    One of the most important lessons life ever taught me after successfully riding through the destruction of Hurricane Irene. When Sandy hit, we had taken the necessary precautions ensuring our most valuable positions and documents received protection.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Rich, I understand procrastination. I'm an expert. But, I have finally finished scanning all my photo albums and have a copy on a Seagate external (1 TB) hard drive, a second copy on flash drives, and a third copy on another set of flash drives stored off site. I figured the photos were most important to me. Music I can replace if I have to but I can't recreate those memories. I have my music backed up to the Seagate too but I'm not as diligent about keeping it current. I encourage you to work on those photos and legal documents. :-) There, that's all I will say about it.

  • rcrumple profile image


    6 years ago from Kentucky

    Linda - Great information. Many times we plan, but never do. As the president of the procrastinators club or my street, I'm more guilty than most. I'm losing my faith in external hard drives as I've just had one go bad on me with over 60,000 songs on it. Luckily, I have the cd's to put back on one should I decide to go that direction again. Yet, what is to stop that one from going bad, or, even the other one I use? And, should I take the time to put these on a hard drive, who's to day it will work in the future with the Windows 38 operating system? (As they can never leave well enough alone.) I do agree with an off site storage bank box, though. I'll get around to it ... one day! : ) Great Job!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Pamela. Thanks so much. I do hope this was helpful. It's a big project but well worth it. I know I would sure hate to lose my photographs and documents.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    6 years ago from Sunny Florida

    You have some very good ideas to increase your ideas to increase security. I keep a large amount of documents and old money in our safe deposit box but there are always many things you really don't want to lose. Thanks for some great information.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    lol MH, it's so hard being responsible all the time. :-) I'm really glad I found something fo ryou to do in all that spare time you have.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 

    6 years ago from San Francisco

    Oops. I thought I had all the bases covered. Thank you for watching my back. There are few things I need to have done.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Bill. I have been working on this for years. It is an ongoing project since 9/11. When my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers, I began to really appreciate how precious memories are and I got serious about the photos. He is stuck in his happy place of memories of his youth (my childhood) and the photos have become his only activity short of eating and sleeping. I frequently think of how sad it would be if those photos were lost. Sure, for now, those times are alive in my memory but one day....who knows. If you need a little more incentive, think about your son. Remember those days when he was a toddler? Do you have photos? Would you want to lose them? They are your precious memories, but they are also his. And one day will be the the history he shares with his children. :-)

    This subject had been nagging me since seeing the woman find her mother's photo in the flood ravaged New Jersey. So now, it's done.

    Thanks for reading pal. Enjoy your weekend. It's gorgeous here in the east.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Very useful information, Linda! You are right of course; this is always on the to do list, and keeps being put further and further down the list. Let's hope you have given me some incentive to do this sooner rather than later.

    Great job of compiling information and wonderful suggestions.

    Have a great day my friend!



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