Assignment: Prepare for Disaster

Over the past two days, like many others I’ve been watching parts of the Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, on HBO detailing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Initially I didn’t have a strong desire to see it — not because I was disinterested. Rather, it was because I had a strong indication about what I might see….and I knew it wouldn’t be good.

Well, I was wrong. It was much worse than I could have imagined. Often we see so many of the same images that we’re desensitized to the actual event. The film brought new images to my eyes. And even worse, the film began to put more detailed images of people’s last Earthly moments in my mind. Families trapped in attics thinking that the water wouldn’t reach that high…. as they gasp for their final breath. Bed-ridden and wheelchair bound people who couldn’t have created a mock-raft even if their life depended on it (and sadly, in this case, it did.) Children floating face down with backpacks. It was a depressing look at a dark period in American history. (This is the one time when I wish I didn’t have a high-definition television.)

Rather than focus on the emotions that the film stirred up (and I could easily go on), I think we should use the Katrina example as an opportunity to prepare for disaster near our own homes. This week in church one of my friends gave a great presentation on things that we should be doing to prepare for disaster. It’s true, we don’t plan to fail — but often we fail to plan. And everything she said was key. Designate a meeting place where you and your family agree to meet, if separated. Identify a family member out of state who everyone should contact and who would serve as the central point of information. Keep water and canned foods in the house…. just in case. All great precautions.
Since this is a tech-focused, site, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share another strategy. In the event that tragedy strikes my home (either via fire, flood, hurricane…. or worse) I can live without all of the “stuff” that’s in the house. Everything is replaceable. Every DVD, gadget, computer, mobile phone….heck, even my MacBook Pro is replaceable. However, there are some things that you can’t just go to EBay or Amazon and buy new versions of. The pictures of a deceased loved one. The photos of your son’s first birthday party. Death certificates. Identity cards. Tax returns. Banking information. Property deeds. In the time of disaster, I can’t take my file cabinet along with me. But there is an alternative.

Step 1 – Scan Your Documents!

Soon (and I’m talking within the next month — hurricane season is here) make a plan to start scanning your documents and photos. It’s a very easy task that will pay off in the end. Perhaps you can set up a project and have your children help. Maybe make it a family project. If you don’t have a scanner, invest in one. You can get a decent scanner for under $130 — probably much cheaper if you just want to scan documents.

Scanning your entire document library can be a daunting task. (Lord knows I have a ton of documents). However, start with the most important documents and continue to do a little bit more each weekend until you’re done. As you acquire new documents, just put them in the scanner, hit the scan button and in 20 seconds, you have a digital copy that takes up very little hard drive space. Even if you only scan your insurance policies and 10 or 15 priceless pictures, should tragedy strike, the time invested will be time well spent.

Step 2 – Move Scans to an External Backup!

Scanning the files alone isn’t sufficient. After you scan the files, save them to an external hard drive. The best alternative if you’re not too tech savvy is a USB Key Drive. (One Gigabyte or 1GB is a sufficient size and can be obtained for about $50 – $60.) You can also burn a CD of these files instead (although a CD is a bit harder to continuously add data to as you get more documents). Dump all of your documents on the key drive and keep the key drive on your keychain. In the event of a sudden disaster, you have a hard drive right on your keychain that has all of your important documents, phone numbers, etc. (NOTE: You could be handing over your identity if you ever lost your keys and that key drive! Encrypting the data (meaning, taking the documents and photos and putting them in a folder that is password protected) is a necessary move if you plan on carrying the . I suggest a program like TrueCrypt. I’ll do a follow up post on TrueCrypt soon.)

You don’t need to keep the USB drive with you at all times. However, keeping it in the junk drawer won’t be of much use to you if you were at work when disaster struck.

Another alternative is to use some sort of online storage. I’m not crazy about the idea of letting my data sit out in cyberspace, but if there are some secure alternatives you are aware of, this is a terrific option. In the time of trouble, you would only need to do is find an Internet access point (or perhaps have someone else log in) and then you’d have access to all of your important documents.

Step 3 – Move that Archive to a 3rd SAFE Location!

OK, so you have your files on your computer’s hard drive, on your USB key or external hard drive….and now we need a THIRD copy for a THIRD location. In the information technology world, they teach network engineers to keep an archive copy of the company’s documents and proprietary data at an offsite location at least a certain distance away from the headquarters site. It’s no different when it comes to our personal backups. Burn a CD with all of the files on it and give it to a family member who you trust and who lives relatively far away. Your Aunt who’s one state away. Ask her to keep it with her safe documents. If you don’t have anyone that you can trust, think about a safe deposit box in a bank.

Step 4 – Update!

If you’ve ever had a hard drive crash, you know that even if you have a backup, you’ll only be as current as that backup. If you save all of your important docs and don’t update your key drive or send your Aunt another CD with more files, it probably isn’t the end of the world. But you should get in the habit of updating the archive. Set an alarm in Outlook or on your mobile phone for a time during the year when you update your files. I am going to target tax day (April 15). This is also a good time to change your smoke alarm batteries.

Step 5 – Pray

Actually, this shouldn’t even be a step — it should be continuous. Peter advises us in his letter to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Pray that Christ will be with you in the time of trouble. It has kept me at peace when others were climbing the walls more than a few times. If you don’t have a relationship with Christ now, there’s no better time to start. Don’t wait until planes and buildings are falling out of the sky or until the next ‘Katrina’ (or worse) to get your house in order. The bumper sticker was right…. Know Jesus, Know Peace.. No Jesus, No Peace.


Hopefully these tips have proven to be helpful. If you need help with any of the things mentioned — scanning, archiving….praying…. let me know. Drop me a line via the comments. I’d be more than happy to help.

1 Response to “Assignment: Prepare for Disaster”

  1. 1 Julie
    August 23, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    I could not find your email address, but I do not have HBO and wanted to find out how I can view Spike Lees documentary

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