Friday, September 27, 2013

Disaster Planning for the Paper Collector

An emailed advertisement arrived recently for a $30 webinar on disaster planning for genealogists. Huh? $30? Don't pay it and don't spend your time that way. There are plenty of free ideas for disaster planning. I'll even throw in my 2 cents worth for free. September is disaster preparedness month, so let's think about the unthinkable.

I've been involved in disaster planning and disaster recovery over the course of my career. One of the interesting factoids I saw is that only 3 percent of the events that impact business are actual disasters. 97 percent of business impacts are due to a problem that affects the continuity of the business. I think that's true for us, too.

We need to plan for the 3 percent, but it's the 97 percent that is more likely. I can even think of one event that has a 100 percent chance of occurring to each of us. More on that later.

Start by thinking about your environment. What's more likely, a leaky roof or a tornado? A kitchen fire or a forest fire? A flooded basement or a river carrying your home away? A tree falling on your home or a hurricane? A computer crash or a computer theft?

How do you protect your precious photos, research papers, computer files and scrapbook albums? I'm not advocating trying to protect unused scrapbook paper, but that might even be important to you.

First prepare for the ordinary problems that I listed.

Planning for the 97 Percent

  • Make sure you have fire extinguishers in your kitchen, workshop, garage, near your grill, etc. Check them periodically and replace them as needed. 
  • Smoke detectors. Enough said.
  • Look at the ceiling over your precious possessions. Could a leak drip on those photos? Figure out how to shield them. Mine are all under at least one shelf and many are also in plastic cases.
  • Are those genealogical files stored in the basement? Can you move them to a higher area of your home?
  • Walk around your home periodically. Are your trees healthy? Is one leaning? A friend had a large leaning tree that simply fell down on a clear, windless day. She was lucky that it missed the house and cars. We're not all going to be that lucky. Get rid of those leaning and unhealthy trees near your home.
  • If forest fire is a concern, get the recommended space cleared around your home. I think it's something like 30 feet all around. This is a big and potentially costly effort, but it can save your home and your life.
  • Is your computer backed up? Are there backups somewhere else besides your home? This electronic preparedness is what I want to focus on, because it is the best way to fully protect photos and files from any disaster.

Beth's Step One: Scan, Scan, Scan

If you've been a longtime follower, you know my step one for scrapping heritage photos is to scan them. If you're scanning photos, slides and paper files, you're got a great start on disaster preparedness. But once the images are on your computer, they need to be backed up somewhere else besides just your computer. And you need a backup that is away from your home.

Off-site Backups

If you are uploading images to web sites, you've got those images backed up far from your home. There are also free and paid backup websites for backing up part or all of your computer. However, there's a risk. Using websites to store your information works as long as the web site stays in business and lets you leave the stuff there.

My strategy is to make a copy of my files about once a year and give that copy to my brother, who lives nowhere near me. I used to give him a CD, then it became a DVD. The most recent copy was on a USB flash drive.

I also keep a full computer backup in case of a crash. That backup is kept in my home. I've had data loss due to computer and software crashes, but never due to a disaster. For me, computer crashes are near the top of my probable events. But one other thing is number one on my probable events.

Planning for the 100 Percent

One event that businesses plan for, but we prefer not to, is the loss of a key employee. Businesses have succession planning. We need to do succession planning for our very own disability and death.

Who is our successor? How will our work be preserved? Who will have access to our websites and the valuable data and contacts stored there?

Take a moment to check out a sample genealogical codicil to your will. Family Tree DNA offers the ability to set up a succession plan for use of your data stored at their website. I hope we'll see more websites offering that in the near future.

I keep a list of important websites and my logons to each one. I update it periodically. It's sealed and stored in a private place. It is to go to my brother or daughter at my death (or total disability).

Think about how you want your valued possessions preserved at your death. Don't put it off, though I know just how hard it is to face our own mortality.

I'll leave you with a cautionary story about putting off thinking about death.

My beloved grandmother was dying of terminal cancer. Along with her and my mother, I wrote her obituary. Both of them were writers, so it was a bittersweet time of remembrance and yet a fun time of getting three creative minds into agreement. When we finished, we expressed to the gathered family that we each need to write our own obituary while we're alive.

About 18 hours after that, my mother had a debilitating stroke. She no longer had the ability to express her thoughts. She died 10 days after that stroke took her verbal capabilities. As a published writer, you know she would have wanted to write her own obituary. Instead I had to do it, working along with my grandmother and father.

So please join me in planning now for the one sure event we all have to face.

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