The impact of natural disasters for photos and documents

I live in Utah and I’m quite certain we will never experience a hurricane here. We did get a very rare tornado once back in 1999. We are sitting on a giant earthquake fault though, and my middle school geology teacher used to love to scare the daylights out of us about that! I guess every area has it’s hazards. I know that I have many readers and some online friends who will be right in the path of Hurricane Florence and I want you to know that I’m hoping that you all stay safe!

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Thankfully, with today’s technology we are able to get some warning for some natural disasters. Even when that is the case, we often don’t know what the exact impact will be until the storm actually hits. Other disasters can strike in an instant without any chance to prepare. It’s wise to have some basic food and water storage and emergency supplies on hand. Even then, there is usually a run on basics and lines at the gas station. I always feel especially worried for people who have to evacuate and it’s hard to imagine what kind of stress that must induce.

I am not at all qualified to give advice for how to handle these situations. I’m trying to learn what I can by watching how others handle these difficult times. And while the first priority is the safety of the people (and animals) in our lives, there is something to be said for having ideas to deal with important documents and precious memories and photos as part of an emergency preparedness plan. That has been on my mind a lot this week as I’ve watched the hurricane approaching. I keep thinking that I’m not as prepared as I need to be on many levels. That includes insuring that my photos and documents would not be lost in a disaster and that even if they were physically destroyed, that they would be accessible through digital backups.

I’ve bookmarked a few helpful resources over the years, but I decided that it’s time to put together a post that will help me tackle these issues. I hope it will be helpful to others as well. There will be a lot of links to check out, but I’ve tried to link to the best sources possible.

Start with this post from Becky Higgins

This is a very lengthy post but it covers so many of the issues that surround disasters and memory keeping. Here’s a summary snippet to help you know what you can learn from this post.

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Understand how to make backups and how to use the cloud

This article on CNBC is helpful. You will need to access documents and records that are legally important, but don’t forget about the ones that help you tell your family’s story as well. Here’s a related link about what documents to keep in your emergency “go bag” for reference.

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Digitize your photos and back them up in a few locations

The absolute best way to protect your photos is to have them all digitized AND backed up in several places. At least one backup should be accessible online and it would be best if you were not the only one who knew how to access this backup. This is a lot easier now that most of us are taking digital photos already, but almost everyone has years (or decades) of traditional photos that could be lost in an instant. Scan these and save them like you would do with digital photos. Better yet, share them with relatives as well so they can enjoy them and also be another backup source. I have almost all of my photos in digital format but I will confess that many of them are not organized or stored in an online location that anyone would be able to access but me. I need to work on this area for sure.

I have the skills and know-how needed to get this done, I just need to take the time to get everything in order so that if a disaster hit, I wouldn’t have to spend time worry about this. I have several past posts here on this blog that will be helpful no matter where you are at in this process.


Automation and technology will help!

Do you worry that you will never be able to do all of this? The cool thing is that there are so many tools now that make backup tasks almost completely automated. There are many benefits to living in modern times so at least get started with using the options that are readily available. After those are set up, then you can start focusing on the rest.

  • Set up Google photos to automatically upload all of your photos to be automatically imported into your account. You can do this on your phone and/or tablet devices. This is also a feature that will work from your computer if you download the proper tool. Google photos are private by default. Occasionally, you may need to open the app to get the photos to upload. I find that this happens now and then.

  • Set up Flickr to automatically upload all of your photos. Use Flickr tools and apps to set this up. You can select to keep them all private if you are worried about security. Just a note, I have had a few issues in the past with the app uploading all my photos automatically so just open it a few times to be sure it’s working.

  • Upload your photos automatically to Dropbox. Use these features to take the manual labor out of backing up.

  • Use apps and or IFTTT tools to get photos and documents to backup automatically to the service of your choice. Be sure to check the settings for privacy and double check that the backups are working once they are set up.

  • Use a multipage scanner to scan documents quickly. I love my Epson DS-575W but if you can’t afford to buy your own, you can often use scanners at locations like FedEx Kinkos offices and other copy centers. Just be cautious about scanning sensitive documents with personal info on them.

  • Many phones and tablets can turn a picture into a pdf file so you can skip the scanner! The native notes app on iPhones and iPads has a feature to do this and you can even create multi page documents.

  • Copy centers like FedEx Kinkos will scan your photos and put them on a USB drive for you for a reasonable price. ScanMyPhotos online service is my favorite way to bulk scan hundreds (or even thousands) of photos. They do a fantastic job! Local family history centers often have photo scanners that you can use for free. You can also team up with friends and family and use someone in the group’s scanner and have a scanning party. Even better if you share photos with each other!

  • If you use a service like AdoramaPix to print photobooks, you can archive your orders in their system to reorder at a later date. This might be true for some photo printing sites as well. Many insurance policies will pay for the reprinting of photos and albums. Be sure to ask if your policy would cover this. Mine (State Farm) said they would!

    Do you have anything to add? Feel free to leave me a comment. I want to be sure this post is helpful to as many people as possible.

    Be prepared and be safe!