A Disaster is Coming. What Do You Grab?


What MUST be preserved?

By Kurt Rump

My heart might have broken, just a little bit.

I happened to see some news coverage of some storms that hit the South pretty hard, and one of the camera shots was of someone picking an old family picture up out of the rubble, shaking it off, and saying something on the order of, “I wonder whose picture this is?”. I feel like we relive one of these stories every time there’s reporting on a major storm.

You’ve seen those segments, right? It seems to come up a lot during tornado season in particular, and, of late, when wildfires are raging out of control. Not only do people lose their homes, but they lose their old family photos, heirlooms, and treasured belongings. I mean, a couch is a couch, right? You can replace a couch. But you can’t replace Grandfather’s pocket watch that he carried with him every day, or your wedding album, or that box of old photos that you’ve been meaning to sort and label.

A new term for you (and me)

I don’t know about you, but I’m from the “photo-sandwich” generation (a new phrase I’m coining right here). That means my younger years were spent with film cameras – snapping pictures, sending the film off to be developed, and getting an envelope back filled with my prints and negatives – and my more recent years have been spent in the digital world.

What that REALLY means is that I have a lot of photos in digital format, already on my computer or stored in the cloud somewhere, and I ALSO have boxes and boxes filled with envelopes of prints and negatives. TRANSLATION – boxes and boxes filled with memories of my younger years.

So, when I see the tornado stories, or the story of a house fire, or a flood, and I hear people on the news talking about everything they lost (but how grateful they are that they didn’t lose any human or pet lives), my heart breaks a bit for them.

And I ask myself this: if the tornado sirens go off, or there’s a hurricane headed my way, or there’s a wildfire in the area, what will I grab? What will I make sure gets out of the house with me (or into the basement with me), besides my family members and pets? What must I be sure to preserve and protect?

My advice: prepare in advance for the pictures.

If you have boxes or albums of pictures – old ones, new ones, childhood ones, or pics from generations ago – if you’re a keeper of the photos, get them scanned. Digitize them. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, consider getting a service to do it (send them off and get a thumb drive back), or hire a family teenager to do it at your house or theirs. Get everything into digital format.

Once digital, store the photos in the cloud, ideally in addition to storing them on your computer and in-house backup. In other words, store them someplace you’ll be able to get to if you have a catastrophe that destroys your computer and gobbles up your stash of thumb drives.

But what if it’s not a storm?

How many event or vacation “albums” are on your Facebook or Instagram right now? It’s so easy – you go on a weekend camping getaway or a full-blown vacation, take pics with your phone, and upload them straight to your Facebook and/or your Insta. Family and friends scroll through, make comments, tell you how wonderful it all looks, and everything is peachy, right?

Until it’s not. Your account gets hacked. “Fake you” starts posting garbage everywhere. Your account gets suspended. Every photo is gone – and potentially gone FOREVER. Yes, it’s a “digital tornado” – and you want a plan for that, too. (Check out our prior post about Facebook for more on this.)

My message here is this: Facebook and Instagram should not be considered backup sites for your photos.

So… where are you?

You’ve scanned your pics (or had them scanned) – now what? You could drop them into a folder on Dropbox or onto Google Drive. That’s the cloud-based backup you need – but that doesn’t do much to facilitate sharing or conversation, right? Or, now that they’re in the cloud, you could ALSO post them to Facebook and/or Instagram to share with family members, but if you lose access to those platforms, you’ll lose all of the comments also. That’s definitely something else to think through- but not what this post is about. (Though we DO have a pretty good inkling about what you COULD do. 😉)

A disaster is coming – and thankfully you have a little bit of warning. Aside from family members and pets, what are you going to be absolutely certain you take with you as you evacuate or shelter in the basement?

  • Computer
  • Any pictures and photo albums that I haven’t scanned yet
  • Grandfather’s pocket watch
  • Wedding album
  • That ugly vase that was my great-great grandmother’s and I have no idea why it’s so important
  • Lots of clean underwear
  • Toothbrush

Now it’s time to create the plan and assign specific things to each person to grab if we have to get out in a hurry. Everyone can take care of their own toothbrushes and undies though. It’s the responsibility for the pictures and the heirlooms you’ll want to divvy up.

What are YOU grabbing?

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