How to Keep Photos and Important Documents Safe in a Natural Disaster

10/31/2017 11:15 am ET Updated Nov 01, 2017
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How can families best prepare for natural disasters? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Zouhair Belkoura, CEO & Co-Founder, Keepsafe Software, on Quora:

My heart goes out to friends and family who were impacted by the devastating Northern California fires weeks ago. Many survivors have spoken in recent weeks about how painful it is to have family memories destroyed (and the perspective it brings into focus). In the weeks to come, I expect we’ll hear much more about the hassles of piecing one’s life back together when little or nothing remains.

Emergency response personnel emphasize how critical preparation is for minimizing the impact of an unforeseen disaster. Since my company’s expertise is securely storing people’s private photos and documents, and in light of increasingly devastating seasons of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires, here are tips for protecting your precious documents and family keepsakes.

1. Archive and back up your pictures and documents

When you scan documents and digitize photos and videos, you create a digital archive that you can rely on in the event that hard copies are damaged or ruined. Backing up your archive to a cloud service allows you to access photos and documents with a personal account even if your device is stolen, lost, or damaged.

Make sure that you update your account details if they change and verify your email address with the service you use so that you can always get into your account.

2. Make a digital archive on your phone

  • Prioritize scheduling time to get your affairs in order. Your mobile device is a pocket-sized computer that can organize and archive your life. Put it to work!
  • Digitize meaningful photos, videos, and documents you don’t want to lose (wedding pictures, baby pictures, letters, children’s artwork, special events, and family milestones, etc.)
  • Save photos of valuables, keepsakes, and important documents (passports, SSN cards, licenses, personal and pet medical records, etc.)
  • Keep digital copies of important receipts and insurance policies (in email or take pictures of written documentation).
  • Back up photos and important documents to the cloud in case you lose your device.
  • Confirm you have enough cloud storage space to protect all your essential items so you can rest easy knowing that everything is covered and accessible.

3. Keep photos and documents private on your phone

If you are keeping personal photos and documents on your phone, your first step protecting your privacy should be using a password, fingerprint, or touch ID to lock your phone.

Next, consider using a photo vault app on your phone for an added layer of security to keep sensitive photos, documents, and videos safe. Your phone (and photo vault app) should encrypt data on your device so that if your device is lost or stolen, it can’t be retrieved by anyone other than you.

To confirm that your devices are encrypted:

  • On iOS: go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, scroll to the bottom of the screen and make sure “Data protection is enabled”
  • On Android: Open Settings > select Security > Encrypt phone

4. Verify that cloud backups are secure and your privacy is protected

The term “cloud” refers to a server that stores digital copies of your materials. Ideally, the service you use should encrypt your data on its servers so that if an attacker hacked into them, he/she wouldn’t be able to also access your stored private items. In addition to encryption security, make sure that the service you use has a transparent privacy policy and is straightforward about who has access to encryption keys and whether others at the company can access your content.

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