Digitally Preparing for an Emergency

The recent fires in Southern California have me thinking about what would I do if I had to evacuate. I’d grab the family and the dog, but what else? While I have a collection of personal mementos such as product boxes from my career, I’d probably just take my Eagle Scout award which is sitting on a shelf in my office. What about all the documents in my file cabinet? They could be important in the future.

Eleven years ago, I started on a journey to scan everything and go “paperless”. I’ve been pretty good at scanning in things that come into the house, but missed a number of documents over the years and never went back prior to eleven years ago. This week, I’ve gone through my entire file cabinet and used my Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 to finish the task. I put all the documents into Paperless for easy organization. In addition to all the paper, I used the scanner to scan over 1000 photos! The scanner is a workhorse and scans in everything I throw at it. Some would have used a professional service for the photos to save time, but I just plugged away and used the ScanSnap at 600 dpi to scan in the photos.

Now that I have all my photos and documents in a digital form, the question about what I’d take in case of fire gets a little easier. I’d grab my MacBook Pro and my Akitio Thunder2 Quad with 24 TB of storage. This drive has all my media as well as backups from all the computers in the house. Of course, I need to bring a Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 dongle and a cable!

Would I be devastated if something happened to my house and belongings? No doubt I would, but as long as my family is safe everything else is just “stuff” and by going digital with my documents, I have peace of mind that I at least have copies of important documents.

9 Replies to “Digitally Preparing for an Emergency”

  1. I wish I were as organized but I am working on it.

    How about a home inventory: have you gone around the house photographing stuff and making notes about it?

    I’ve collected quite a bit of art over the years which, as you can imagine, isn’t digitizable. I’ve never had it all appraised to add to our homeowners insurance as I should, your article is a nice nudge to get on that.

    One of the reasons I resisted a desktop computer is that a MacBook Pro is easily grabbed in a “go bag” for quick escape. Lime you, I have backup drives but I like the idea of having a computer with most if not all of my life on it.

    It would be fun and useful to continue to flesh this out and your piece is an excellent start.

    1. Hi Richard,

      I haven’t done a home inventory probably because we don’t own many things that are valuable besides a piano. Looking around the house I see appliances, a TV, and some photographs. While it wouldn’t be inexpensive to replace everything, it would give us a chance to see what is really important! Doing a home inventory probably wouldn’t take all that long; maybe I’ll put that on my list to do next.

      Thanks for the idea!

      1. “Lime you”

        So much for proofreading.

        I looked at the Fujitsu scanner… how good or less than good is it at photographs? Can you adjust the resolution? What’s the top end of resolution?

        I’ve had the book Paperless for a while but your post got me to re-read it. It gets updated pretty often and the current update is quite current. Interesting stuff. If I were still working and traveling I’d be doing this like mad. As it is, I’m an old, retired dude who doesn’t generate that much paper needing saving anymore. Any paper I save is really habit less than necessity.

        1. Hi Richard,

          I actually saw your typo and meant to correct it, but forgot to fix it!

          The ScanSnap will do 600 dpi for color. You can adjust it 150/200/300/600 dpi for color and 300/400/600/1200 dpi for black and white. I’ve found that the scanning for photographs is acceptable. I’m not going to blow them up to poster sized, but for putting in albums and displaying on a TV, I think they’ll be fine. It is very, very fast at its job which is good for me as I never scanned in this many photos using a flatbed scanner due to it being tedious. I didn’t get the scanner for photos; I got it for receipts and documents. Having said that, it has done a very acceptable job at photos. The cost, of course, is quite high for a scanner.

          1. Thanks Scott. 600 dpi isn’t enough for me. I like to zoom in on old photos I scan and some of them I do print (not large but I want nice prints).

            I agree, flatbed scanning is tedious and I’d get one of these if it scanned color at 1200 dpi.

          2. One of the professional services I looked at did 600 dpi which seemed low if I was going to be spending a bunch of money. If you have the time and desire, using a flatbed scanner will yield better results. Good luck!

  2. Scott we lived this during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey: our house flooded with almost 5′ of water less than 24 hours after we left following the issuance of a mandatory evacuation order covering our neighborhood.

    Thanks to you I’ve been using Paperless for years and I keep hard copies of really important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc…) in a fireproof box that was on our evacuation “take-with” checklist, so they were all safe.

    My desktop Mac’s TimeMachine backup drive was on my checklist so I took it, but I foolishly neglected to take its power brick or cable. Fortunately I was able to get replacements quickly from OWC/Macsales, but that was a worrying moment when I realized I had no way to get the data out of the drive. NOTE: I also use redundant remote backup services (yeah, I really REALLY don’t want to lose data) – Backblaze, which works great with my Mac backing up both my internal & external drives, and Crashplan Personal (which is going away shortly) that backs-up important document folders to a friend’s computer. Afterwards I was able to grab all the data from a lost PC out of the Crashplan remote backup, so that worked great.

    We lost all of the papers in my “to be scanned” pile, a very good lesson in not getting behind on committing documents to digital. We also lost a box of pictures I had been saving-up to send to Legacybox. That part stinks, but on the other hand I don’t have to worry about organizing them anymore 😉

    Having lived through this I encourage anyone who is creating an evacuation checklist to do a test-run once the list is complete to make sure you have room for everything in your vehicle(s). I hadn’t done a test-run and only barely managed to fit everything on our list. And since we were facing just a flood we were OK leaving many things behind in sealed totes on a high shelf – if we were running from a fire we would have had to make some pretty tough choices about what to abandon.

    1. Hi Josh,

      Sorry to hear about your losses. It is always easy to put off necessary tasks like scanning in documents and photos for another day. Hopefully other people start to learn that they need to prepare today for a disaster tomorrow. This, of course, applies not only to documents but also to personal items.

      Good luck with your rebuilding efforts!

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