The recent wildfires in California have devastated an entire city. Paradise, CA was so completely destroyed that it may never be rebuilt. Those who lived there have mostly lost everything, because the fire moved so quickly that there was no time to pack important belongings before evacuating. Even fireproof safes turned out to be not fireproof enough. One person lost his life savings when the safe holding the money was subjected to such intense heat that its contents “turned to unrecognizable dust“.
I’ve been taking the time to read reports of how computer and document backups were, or were not, adequate to safeguard important records during and after the fire. Most of the reports are dismal, to say the least. From online conversations and other sources, here are just some of the incidents that have been discussed:
- Computer data backed up on thumb drives, stored in a “fireproof” box, were indeed protected from the flames; but the heat inside the box rose so high that the drives simply melted, becoming unusable.
- Documents in a similarly “fireproof” file container were charred into unrecognizable black ash, even though the container remained nominally intact.
- In many cases, fireproof safes and filing cabinets were badly warped by the heat, rendering them incapable of opening. Many people have not yet been able to return home to see what survived the flames, but some who have claim that they had to use angle grinders with cutting wheels, the “jaws of life“, or other heavy-duty equipment to open them.
- Some who managed to load their vehicles with valuables got stuck in traffic jams on evacuation routes. They had to abandon their vehicles and their contents to save their lives as the flames approached. The net result was as if they had left their valuables at home . . . they still lost everything.
This disaster has highlighted the need for backups of vital documents, work in progress, etc., for businesses and individuals in general and for writers in particular. Our life blood, so to speak, is usually stored at our homes – not just manuscripts and work in progress, but research notes, details of research trips (including photographs, recordings, museum guides, etc.) and other important items. Our bookshelves are often filled with important reference material, too – and older books that we’ve painstakingly accumulated over many years may not be replaceable, or at least not by affordable copies.
We should learn from this disaster, re-examine our current backup plans, and improve them where needed. In particular, off-site digital storage has been shown to be more reliable and trustworthy than thumb drives or CD’s kept in allegedly “fireproof” storage at home! USA Today has a useful article on backing up our digital footprint, with some good suggestions. It might also be a good idea to store copies of physical media with friends some distance away. (Writers in Paradise, CA who did that at friends’ houses in the same town are probably regretting itright now, because the whole town is gone! Distance from disaster is your friend…)
Let’s learn from this tragedy, and update our own plans accordingly. For useful ideas, read Cedar Sanderson’s article on the subject on this site earlier this month.