Saturday, November 3, 2012

Preparation Mentality: the foundation of recovery

The recent hurricane that hit the upper east coast in November 2012 has showed how unprepared some people are covering the basic necessities of life when the corner store and local gas station are closed. When the power is off for hundreds of thousands or millions of people. When someone can't grab an extra twenty dollars when they check out at the grocery store. When the house is without power or evacuated. Local and federal agencies can only do so much, so fast and its never fast enough. While we often think they know to much about us they are not your keeper or your babysitter or do they even work for you personally. You have to take responsibility for your own life and if necessary put it back together as quickly as easily as possible.  

It starts today. Take your smartphone, your point and shoot digital camera, your GoPro or Flip, whatever you use for taking video and walk slowly around the inside of your house. Walk through every room, open every door and drawer. It doesn't matter how dirty or cluttered the place is. You are capturing everything you own that if you lose in a disaster you have a record for putting yourself back together. If you know the make and model of items, provide that in a running commentary. "The flat screen tv is this, the game console is that, its a blu-ray player." If you own a collection or have items of true value like paintings or jewelry  make sure to focus in on those items specifically to show authenticity. Larger collections like comic books or baseball cards, china, items left in a box for the most part, at some point in the near future you need to lay those out on a bed and take very close up images of these so that the quality cannot be mistaken. If you have photographs around your house that were given to you, like family portraits, school photos, team photos, certifications, scan all those into your computer. Most newer home computer printers have this option or you can do so at kiosk at a corner drug store or several big box stores that have electronics areas, at a cost of a few coins per scan.  While you are scanning items, include drivers licenses, passport top pages, social security cards, immunization records. Save everything to a computer.

Most families have multiple computer systems. Kids have laptops, parents have smartphones, maybe a tablet laying around the house. Of course a general desktop computer, or two. Each of these will hold a vast amount of information that needs to be collected into one localized system. If you have a Cloud storage program, that would be great but not necessarily the best or only option. You have to sustain yourself. Start with backing up smartphone photos, videos and music to its primary docking system. Then using a thumb drive, memory card with reader or an external hard drive, begin to get all this information onto one source. Also include any personal files or images that have been saved. Everything that you have created or kept on a computer in the My Document area should be copied.

Don't bother backing up full programs or games. It takes up too much space on a drive and is replaceable. Only worry about what you would normally find in a personal folders area of the computer. Some internet browsers allow you to export passwords and bookmarked pages as a file to your computer library. Which is a good idea. You can also back up all your emails in Outlook (steps easily found in Outlook Help or online) with just a few clicks and store that single file in your library. Unfortunately if you lose your smartphone or it is damaged and needs replacement, reclaiming text messages and images are difficult if not impossible. Research Cloud storage for your device.

The final destination of all this information will be a compact external drive. Invest in one or ask for one as a gift for a birthday or Christmas. Become self contained in your digital data so that if you are at a friend or relatives home, using a public computer system at a shelter or library, if you are standing in a vast power outage area using a laptop sitting on a car hood powered by a cigarette plug, you can retrieve what you need.

There are many models of thumb drives and external hard drives that come with password protection or encryption. This is a smart choice for controlling sensitive data like social security cards, bank information, online passwords. There are also very good programs you can download online that accomplish this. You can research file encryption options at sites like The Kim Kamando Show and cnet

What has worked for me.

I prefer 16 and 32 gigabyte micro SD cards to regular sized SD memory cards. The reason is that the price is modest and a micro card is more versatile and preparedness is not about specialized equipment, its about multipurpose. They often come with a full sized SD card adapter so that it can be used in smartphones as a micro card or more standard digital cameras or put into slots on a card reader, laptop or desktop computer where full sized SD card slots are more common.

A useful tool for basic media swapping is a card reader. These devices accept every standard sized card storage device from propriety digital camera memory sticks to compact flash cards, XD cards, SD cards and several others styles and transfer that information to your computer via USB cable. No longer a need to carry the cable for this camera or that device. You can take photos or movies from a friends camera or some smartphones and view on your desktop monitor, newer television or laptop. 

After using the various hand-me-down external drives I have collected over the years, with various levels of storage capability, I finally researched and bought my own a few years back. Based on my needs for preparedness and everyday carry, I choose an external drive that is waterproof and shockproof, eliminating the need for a bulky case but small enough by itself to be carried daily. It is also powered by USB, meaning it did not need to be plugged into a wall outlet. The single USB cable powers the unit and transfers data. Many other types use a split USB cable requiring two ports on the computer system, one to power the unit the other to transfer data.  Stay away from external drives that require a wall outlet or do not contain its own driver files to work on all types of computer systems. These are usually large units and in an emergency you will not take the time to unplug or retrieve the unit. 

My choice was a 1 Terabyte drive from a company called Silicon Power. Some people prefer more well known and trusted brands and there is nothing wrong with that. Except I can carry my external drive in my backpack, swim across a body of water or drop the pack from a second floor and it will still work. 1Tb holds hundreds of DVD's, every digital photo I have every taken, all my music and every single document I have every created in MS Office or scanned or saved over an entire career of living and business, with room for more. I think a terabyte is plenty of space for the average person.

This post is just a primer. To prepare for a loss of comfort items, home damage,  lost heirlooms. It is also to collect all your digital files, scans, family and life photos, music, phone videos and movies in one small storage device that can be grabbed quickly and you can take to a safer place in a hurry. Not to mention, use it when you need it.    

Next installment, putting your life to paper and answer the age old homeowner question, "Where did I put that?"

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