Keeping Keepers

Pardon me while I risk temporarily bumming you out. Think for a moment about what you would do if suddenly all your family photos, legal documents and everything else stored in your home were suddenly gone. Irrecoverably gone -like the property of the victims of the southern California wildfires of 2003. If you are reading this from the comfort of your home then you have an opportunity, right now, to avoid that scenario. An opportunity that any victim of such a disaster would love to have again.

Most of my clients allow me to take a copy of backup tapes containing their computer data from their office to a safe deposit box. This is convenient for me as I combine this easy chore with my regular visits to the bank. The payoff for this small act can be huge. With all their important data safely tucked away in a bank vault, my clients need only replace their computers (incidentally, this would mean a upgrade for them) in case of physical disaster. After a short trip from the bank to their office, their data is restored and business carries on. I've seen disaster when offsite storage was not performed. Bad things, man. [shudders]

How can you transfer this sort of business-preparation to the items in your home? Easily and inexpensively, these days. I was impressed by a fire victim I saw on the news who's home was in imminent danger of being burned. While preparing to evacuate, he ran to each room of his home, stood in the middle of the floor and rotated 360 degrees while holding a running camcorder. He said it took less than five minutes to visually document his entire house. This act alone must have saved many hours of "trying to remember what he had" and made his negotiation of insurance claims easier. This is using technology to the fullest! If you have a camcorder, a few minutes of recording can make you equally as prepared. Remember to store the tape somewhere outside your home.

There are two other tools that you can connect to your computer (a scanner, and digital camera) that offer an excellent "personal backup" for your legal documents and priceless family photos.

Scanners, as all home technology, continue to plummet in price. A color scanner can cost less than $100. Scanners have become a snap to hook up; Windows XP will recognize, automatically install and set up most brands by simply plugging them in. I've scanned in most of my irreplaceable family photos and transferred them from the computer to CD and tape. If something should happen to the original, I can now retrieve the photo from a backup CD or tape and print it out again on a color photo printer (also less than $100). The CDs and tapes stay out of my home, safely tucked in my car and safe deposit box.

Digital cameras are more affordable than ever. There are now disposable digital cameras you can buy for $10. In addition to documenting your possessions photographically, you can actually take photos of your family photos quickly and easily. How many owners who have lost family wall-portraits from hurricanes, tornados or fire would now love to have a digital photograph of their portrait? It may seem redundant to take a photo of a photo but how to you place a value on a backup of a one-of-a-kind family portrait if that portrait suddenly no longer exists?

It's no fun to imagine a disaster hitting my home, or worse, considering how I would feel. But going through one short session of "preparing for the unthinkable" can do much to dodge potential pain from loss. Backing up for me is like creating a will or a selecting an insurance policy. Once I've gone through the not-so-fun part of thinking about and arranging them, I can put them out of my mind -hoping they'll never be needed. But if the unthinkable happens, I can focus on replacing the "easily replaced" instead of grieving the irreplaceably lost. Go get your camera and use it so you won't have to do both.

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