Emergency preparedness: How to disaster‑proof your tech
Here are a few tips that will help you get your ‘go bag’ ready if you have to leave at a moment’s notice and need your communications and data to survive
If you live in an area where emergencies aren’t rare (like I do; our area has one of the highest rates of fire evacuations in the world), getting your tech set up so it’s ready to go quickly makes sense. Here are a few tips that will help you get your ‘go bag’ ready in case you have to leave suddenly and you need your communications, data and a way to stay alive to survive during an emergency.
Have a plan
This means actually having a go bag with basics in the first place. Don’t forget chargers and cables. Extra batteries are a must, but also some kind of small solar charger and one of the tiny generators you can get for a few hundred dollars is well within reach. With tech getting less and less power hungry it can go for days without a charge. But everything shuts down when the electrons stop flowing.
Scan (or take pictures) of important documents such as Drivers Licenses/ID card, SSN, passport, birth certificate, vaccination certificate, marriage certificate, financial papers. If possible, store these in a password-protected archive, encrypted virtual drive or external USB drive, etc. But at the very least, legible pictures via your smartphone will help.
Ensure redundant communications
During an emergency you may be able to use cellular data to communicate, but almost without exception the cell towers get flooded with traffic when everyone picks up their phone to figure out what’s going on.
Cell tower deployments aren’t suited for this kind of instant deluge of traffic, as handling it would raise the infrastructure cost significantly while it mostly goes unused and would be very hard to justify to investors. This means getting some alternate setup, like the multicarrier, load-balancing routers used by military and remote offices that need to stay connected. These can seamlessly route data across several available providers and technologies.
Satellite data communication is possible in some cases, but that data can be expensive, so you may want to limit your communication to text and email. Avoid videos on limited connections as just “nice to have, but not necessary”.
Have online backups
If you’re on the run and your tech breaks, have a way to restore it to new devices. This normally means cloud backups, or at least external hard drives you carry with you. In the heat of the rush, laptops get left on car roofs and fly off driving down the road. Keep in mind you’ll be distracted, so redundancy is key. Local backups are still an option, if only because you may not be able to get online for a while at an evacuation site.
You also need to have high confidence in the solidity of your backups – knowing what to watch out for and avoiding these five mistakes while backing up your data will help.
Have spare food, fuel, and money
Starting an emergency out of gas makes for a very protracted trip full of problems. I have a friend who never lets his gas tank get below half in case he needs to suddenly drive out of harm’s way. In an emergency, grocery stores are cleaned out almost immediately, as well as banks and ATMs.
This has happened numerous times in our town. Keeping some food, water and money in a stash can keep you safe for days or weeks – hopefully long enough to re-establish some normalcy. And remember to cycle through replacing it in the good times, as even dry and canned foods have shelf lives, and if you can afford to, donate your ageing-out food stash items to a local food bank.
When you run your first test drill, there’s nearly a 100% chance you’ll find problems. When our neighborhood decided to stage an evacuation drill for fires that destroy the land, we had to assume no one was going to come save us for days so we needed to be able to fight. That’s when we found out we were missing probably 3-4 items that all cost less than US$20 each that kept us from being able to do anything meaningful. One was a hose adapter. They’re about US$5. Not having one meant we could fight precisely zero emergency fires, largely defeating our intended purpose.
These all sound simple, and certainly aren’t very expensive, but probably a single-digit percentage of the population has actually tried something like this. Ignorance isn’t a strategy, and neither is hope. While hope is great, preparedness bolsters hope and will help you through.
Oh, and we’ll be trying an emergency fire evacuation drill again every year. If the engines don’t start on our equipment, we’ll still be able to fight precisely zero emergencies, which is a lot like having no plan at all.