Disaster Preparedness Checklist – How To Backup Your Data for Digital Survival
This is a revised and expanded outtake from yesterday’s article, Disaster Preparedness Checklist – Top 5 Items for Your Digital Survival
Digital Survival #1: Backup your data to USB-powered compact external storage
The goal is to have all your data in your pocket or backpack, ready to be used on any PC you may come across. Image the difference it could make!
USB powered devices take power from the computer’s USB port and do not require a wall socket or any other source of power. If you can power the computer, you’ll be able to power these through the computer’s USB. They work with anything that has a USB port – all laptops and desktops, PCs and Macs, even some Android tablets. Handy!
For your most important data I recommend USB flash memory, ideally 2 or more with the same content for redundancy. Store them separately, one in your 72 hour kit and one on your person. I keep a small one like the one on the left in my wallet with the coins. Your keychain is an other great place to store a flash drive, just make sure it’s sturdy and able to take the beating.
32GB these days is affordable around $20-25, and is enough for most of us to hold our critical data. Larger capacity models are available at a premium, but be careful, there are lots of counterfeits. Any drive larger than 128 GB is likely to be a fake, as of November 2012. Buy from a source you trust.
What about the data that does not fit, then?
For larger amounts of data 2.5″ external hard drives are cost effective. These little buggers run off the USB port, just like the flash memory above, and are relatively cheap now. 1 TB models have been widely available for a while now. These days 1.5 and 2TB drives are better value though. The picture on the left links to a 2TB model, which is cheaper and takes up less space than two 1TB drives. They used to be too expensive but not anymore; they have replaced the bulkier 3.5″ desktop pc drives in my disaster preparedness checklist years ago. Those are heavy and require a wall socket for power, so they’re not ideal.
The downside? Hard drives are mechanical devices, susceptible to shock and water damage. I recommend carrying in a hard case.
Here’s a quick video on how small these really are, and a USB cable trick that comes handy in our out of disaster.
SSD: The sturdy (and faster) alternative to the hard drive
For these reasons, if money is not a factor, you may want to consider a solid state drive. Put it in a 2.5″ external case. It’s easy to do yourself, just check youtube for videos or ask a geek kid to do it for you. SSDs are the ultimate backup device: they use less power than a hard drive because they have no moving parts. This makes them shock tolerant, plus they last longer and are faster. The catch is the price. The largest capacity 1TB drives go for a shocking $2500 currently (November 2012). Clearly, they’re not for the uncommitted.
The sweet spot price/capacity wise is the 256 GB mark at the moment, which can be had for $200 if you look around. That’s quite a bargain, depending on how you look at it.
My tip is to hunt for deals on outgoing models. Newer models are faster, but speed is not the main thing we’re after. Whatever you get it’s still going to be a lot faster than any hard drive.
A Word on Optical Disks
Die-hard IT guys may argue that optical disks are the safest backup. That is not entirely true – CDs, DVDs and Blurays rely on chemical bonding that degrades over time. For the same reason they are sensitive to heat and direct sunlight. That’s true for flash drives and hard drives as well; what I wanted to point out is that they’re not nearly as safe as it is generally believed.
But that is now why I don’t specifically recommend them.
My gripe is that they are just too impractical. They are large, heavy in bulk, and store relatively little data. Fewer and fewer computers have optical drives now; most energy efficient laptops don’t.
I say there’s no harm in having a few disks of critical backups in your emergency preparedness supplies. Having an extra copy of what you have on the USB memories can’t hurt.
Building your strategy around disks, however, may bring you more pain than it’s worth.
What to back up?
In order of importance…
a. Your irreplaceable stuff. All your documents, photos, videos, and everything you personally created and can’t be replaced.
b. Your online storage. After a disaster, expect Internet access to be down, or be sporadic at best. That’s bad enough for information flow, but it can be worse if your precious data is locked away in the cloud, unaccessible to yourself.
Back up your websites too. WordPress.org sites, such as this one, have built-in backup functions. All sites may be backed up by logging into your hosting account and downloading through FTP. Ask your hosting account provider if you need assistance.
c. Installer packages for your top applications. Remember, the net may be out. If you’re geek like me, a bootable pen drive and the image of a working system partition is handy as well. (Hint: Google knows everything. Let me know in the comments if you want me to do a writeup on these.) Your chances of digital survival have just gone through the roof.
I hope you’ve found this useful. For more tips on digital emergency preparedness, check out Disaster Preparedness Checklist – Top 5 Items for Your Digital Survival