I’ve been watching the news about the wildfires in Los Angeles and San Diego, California and when I am not glued to the television, I have the live CNN feed up on my computer. Having lived in Northern California for almost 20 years, I can tell you first-hand what it is like to witness a tragedy like this.
In 1989, I was on the 38th floor of my office building in San Francisco when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. I hid under my desk, said prayers to various deities (Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim – I wanted to cover all bases) but survived. The building had swayed three feet in each direction. After running down 38 flights of metal stairs, I convinced several workers to stay at my place out at the beach that night. I’ve never seen a city come more together than that night – you got to know your neighbors and you shared the unbroken bottles of your wine collection with strangers.
I also witnessed the Oakland Hills fires of 1991. At night I would go up to the roof of my apartment building and just see the orange flames whipping around. I’ll never forget how one friend realized something was wrong: about two hours after the fires started, he was walking in San Francisco and saw someone’s charred recipe card sitting on the sidewalk. Then another, and then another.
After having been through and witnessing these types of events, you make plans. Right after the quake I would ask friends “If you had 15 minutes to evacuate, what would you take with you?” Everyone says that the real things that matter are those that can’t be replaced such as photos, albums, legal documents, pets and loved ones. For me, it would include all my genealogy research. I think now, am I prepared for such an event?
I don’t like being an alarmist but it is in the realm of possibilities that my home could catch fire or be hit by a tornado (I am in Chicago after all). So I’ve done the following:
- I purchased a 250GB external drive. It is very small (about 8” by 5”) and can fit in a firebox or safe. It is also easy to unhook and take with me if I have to run out the door.
- I make backups on a regular schedule. Some external hard drives have a “one button” backup where you can designate what you want backed up.
- Hard drives do and, over time, probably will fail. This has happened to me several times, even with some workhorse laptops. Be prepared – make backups of your data!
- Consider uploading data to an online repository. There are various ways to do this such as a subscription site where you pay a monthly fee. Just make sure they have strict security and privacy policies. I also take advantage of the 5GB of storage space on my Hotmail account and space on my Gmail account.
- Scan all your photos (and label them with accurate file names and descriptions of course). This way if the actual photos are lost, you can send them off to places like Costco’s website to be reprinted.
- Keep items in a secure and in a dry place. When I was cleaning out my mother’s home in New York, items went into The Box – which was actually an 18 gallon Rubbermaid storage container with a tight fitting lid. Since the house had already suffered a major flood from the hot water heater, I knew the photos and items would be dry.
It is never fun to have to think about these and other disaster scenarios. But being prepared can make the difference between being able to pass your work on to others in your family. Just think of how many people in California are going through this ordeal right now. And besides thinking, also send them some good thoughts and some prayers.
Photo: rather than post a fire photo, I opted for one from my California days. This is Minyo, my male bichon frise with his favorite hedgehog toy!