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How Safe Are Your Memories?

One of the things that hits home for so many of us watching the coverage of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is the loss of a family’s history. Clothes, furniture, dishes…they can all be replaced. But nothing can replace our photos and scrapbooks once they are gone, lost to wind, water or fire. Maybe we can all learn a valuable lesson from the losses suffered in Katrina and ask ourselves: how can I make my memories safer?

There are many ways that we can lose our photos and other things stored “safely” in our homes. Fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tornado or even just a computer failure can result in the loss of our precious memories. We don’t like to think that those things can happen to us, but the reality is they can happen to anyone. So what can we do to ensure our memories are as safe as possible?

The first step in protecting your memories is to identify the threats they might face. Of course, a house fire could happen to any of us. Tornadoes affect virtually everywhere in the U.S. But other threats are specific to geographic areas and your situation. Computer failure is of particular concern to digital photographers and scrappers but not to film and paper scrappers. Earthquakes are concerns in some areas, but not where I live. Here in Florida the big natural disaster threat is of course hurricanes. Depending on where you live, wildfires may be a concern. Once you’ve identified the threats you need to protect against, you can take steps to best address those threats. For my family, those threats are house fires, computer drive failure, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires. (While Florida is not thought of by most as wildfire country in 1998, before we moved here, this entire neighborhood burned to the ground in wildfires so hot they melted the tar on I-95 and jumped the freeway. At one point the fire changed direction unexpectedly and sheriff’s deputies were banging on doors to alert people to get out, escaping just minutes ahead of the flames consuming homes.)

The most basic things to protect are your photos. This can be done in several ways. If you are a digital photographer, it can be as easy as making sure your photos are backed up onto CDs that are stored outside your home, perhaps mailed to a relative outside your general geographic area so they won’t be subject to the same large disasters as your home like earthquakes or hurricanes. In our home we do several things to protect digital photos and make them portable as well. First, copies are kept on multiple hard drives on our home network so that if one drive fails they are still safe on the other one and easily transferred to a new computer. Second, they are all backed up onto my husband’s ipod, making them easily portable in case we need to take them with us from the house during an evacuation. In addition, one of the computers that houses the files is a laptop and can be taken with us during an evacuation. The next step for us should be burning those images to CD and getting them off-site.

Protecting film photos is more problematic. Since copies of originals can’t be as easily and cheaply made or stored, they are harder to effectively protect. If you have somewhere outside your home that you can store duplicates of all your photos, that is an excellent way to go. But it is unfortunately not practical for most people. If you don’t need your negatives regularly for reprints or enlargements, storing those offsite can also be a solution. Another method, albeit a time-consuming one, is to scan all of your negatives and store the scans in the same way that you would backup digital photos. (Something to consider with newly processed film is ordering the pictures put onto CD at the time of processing to make digital backup easier.) At the very least I recommend storing your negatives and photos separately in your home and keeping your negatives in a format that is easily portable and somewhat protects them. As I discussed in my previous entry about storing photos and negatives, I have achieved this by storing my negatives in negative sheet protectors in three-ring binders. They are easily usable for ordering reprints and enlargements to work with, and easily portable to take with me in case of an evacuation.

Scrapbook pages represent many hours of work and contain more than just our photos. In many cases they also contain precious journaling that should be carefully preserved. Digital pages, as with digital photos, are relatively straightforward to safeguard using similar techniques to those for digital photos. Burning duplicate CD’s, transferring files to multiple computers and using a portable disk drive like an ipod are all inexpensive and quick backups to do.

Paper scrapbook pages seem more challenging but can actually be backed up almost as easily if you take the step necessary to make them digital: scanning! I scan virtually everything I create for possible submission anyway. From that point it is a simple thing to make sure those files are on multiple computers and burned to CD, etc. Then if the paper originals were lost at least the digital versions could be printed and put in albums. I also take the simple step of shelving all my scrapbooks together in one place in my home so that in the event of an evacuation they can all be quickly grabbed to be taken with us.

Losing replaceable things would be overwhelming enough. But it would be truly devastating to lose a lifetime of photographic memories along with scrapbooks into which we have invested countless hours of time and love for our families. It seems a wise investment to take a few steps to ensure that in the event of a disaster befalling our family’s home, these priceless treasures are as protected as possible.

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