How to protect and save your family photos for emergency evacuations

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

What's in your emergency evacuation grab-bag?

There are not many Australians who haven’t in some way been affected by the current bushfire disaster. We hear more and more the advice to have a bushfire survival plan. So when asked what essential things they would pack in an emergency evacuation, most people say “photos” among their must-have list.

Beautiful family portraits deserve pride of place

When I was looking at what we might need to pack, I knew the obvious things like clothes, toiletries, first-aid kit and medicines, food, water, mobile, chargers. And, of course, not forgetting important documents like passports, insurance papers and title deeds.

A taste of yester-year

But what about the irreplaceable? Family photos are your cherished memories so leaving them behind during an emergency evacuation is not negotiable. For this reason you need to plan and prepare.

Beautiful portraits deserve pride of place.

Anyone who knows me and my business know I am all about printing photos and having beautiful wall art. After all what is the point of having hundreds of gorgeous photos stuck on a thumb-drive in the bottom draw?

I like the fact that I get to enjoy our beautiful family photos hanging on our walls every day. I love looking through photo albums.

There is something beautiful about the tangible printed photo.

But I understand putting your 20”x16” glass-framed print in the backseat along with the kids, bags and the dog is impractical during an emergency evacuation.

Anyone born since the ‘90s would be more familiar with digital cameras than the old analogue (film) cameras. Nowadays in our digital-heavy world with being able to capture photos so easily on their smart-phones, you can set up most devices to automatically backup to the “cloud”. But the down-side of digital cameras is it is data-heavy.

Even on holiday in Estonia I am on the job!

It is all too easy to take hundreds of photos on your holiday and tell yourself you’ll sort them out later. And never do.

I easily took more photos with my Canon 5D in just two days during a recent holiday in Estonia than I did for the entire six weeks I was in Africa in 1994 with my trusty old Minolta film camera.

I’ve been using digital-SLR cameras for the 20 years but also have a couple hundred rolls of films and heaps of old prints from before then, including hundreds of photos from my grand and great-grand-parents era.

Another happy client with her gorgeous wall art

I have over time been scanning the most important photos I want to preserve, it’s a tedious process but worthwhile. Most of them would be irreplaceable if our house burnt down.

But my clients can be reassured that any photographs I have taken of them are backed up and stored safely so if the worst was to happen, I’ve got their backs.

But what about all the other photos you have taken yourselves over the years?

So in addition to packing your 'grab-bag' when preparing for bushfire or flood emergency evacuations, here are a few things you can prepare well ahead of time. And most of it is just plain good practice.

Back up Back up Back up Your Hard Drive

In case I didn’t make myself clear back up your hard drive. It astounds me the number of people who have their life’s work on their computer or their only photos on their phone without being copied anywhere. Not in the cloud or external hard drive. I’m not just talking about photos, this is for any important documents you may need to preserve.

Two is One, One is None

I live by this saying: “two is one, one is none”. I also believe in Murphy’s Law and I’m a bit of a control freak so it stands to reason I like to counteract Murphy by doing something about it.

Basically what this “two is one, one is none” maxim means is to always have a backup plan. My husband says I am a planner, I think by that he means “over-planner”. He also says I’m an over-thinker but that’s for another day!

Behind-the-scenes of my editing suite

In short, if you have a computer and that is the only single place your data is stored, then what would happen if that computer got corrupted or died today?

Essentially you have nothing.

Yes, there are companies who specialise in data recovery. But that is not guaranteed and can get expensive. And why put yourself in that position of needing them at all?

During a photoshoot, I always write to two cards simultaneously so if one card is corrupted, then the other should be fine.

After the photoshoot in my studio office, the first thing I do is download all photos to the computer. And I do not format any of my cards until the computer is copied to an external hard drive.

Two is one.

But Three is Better

Actually, make that four because overly-careful me has three copies of my data.

External hard drives are essential for data back ups

This means sometimes I have a total of four copies of data at any given time. As each project is completed, I ensure the latest back up is stored on all three external hard drives before I delete from my computer. This keeps my working machine clean and running well so it is not clogged up with unnecessary data.

Store Offsite

And now that you have your two (or three) back ups, store one of your hard drives offsite at your parent’s home or at work. After all, when you've gone to that effort to have multiple back ups, it’s no use having them all in the same place if your house burns down or gets robbed.

Cloud back up

Cloud back up such as Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive or Dropbox are handy for storing documents and photos, but if you need lots of storage (especially if you are data-heavy like me) then you need to buy extra space.

Personally I am somewhat reluctant to store any personal documents on any cloud server simply because I worry that my privacy might be compromised. (That damn Murphy is in my ear again!)

But I do use cloud for when I am travelling to store a copy of the photos until I get to my computer and my multiple back up system.

Keep your hardware up-to-date

CDs and DVDs are now obsolete

How many of you have a draw full of old DVD’s and CD’s but no computer to play them on? Or they are scratched from sitting out of their covers so even if you still have that clunky old desktop machine with a DVD reader, it can’t be read.

Even the stock-standard USB-A thumb drive is becoming obsolete.

Don’t wait until it is too late for your external hard drive to give up the ghost because it is not a matter of if but when it will stop working. At the very least it will, at some stage, become obsolete for the operating system and computers.

About a year ago I bought the latest and greatest MacBook Pro. I love it: it is shiny and fast. BUT it only has four USB-C ports.

So all my existing external hard drives, which aren’t that old by the way, cannot even plug into my shiny new MacBook Pro without requiring an adaptor.

There are so many different types of USB cables with differing speeds and types it is hard to keep up. You have Type A, Type B, Type B-Mini, Type B Micro USB3, Type C and more. Not to mention Apple’s Thunderbolt and Lightning. Very very frightening.

So make sure you have the latest hardware that can talk with your current operating system.

I like to replace my external hard drives intermittently so I don’t have the expense of replacing them all at once. Plus it ensures I generally have at least one late-model external hard drive as my primary back-up source.

Print your photos

So after all that digitising and data storage, do print your family photos and stick them in an album. After all, how many of us actually browse our computers to look at photos?

Yet most of us upload them to Facebook and Instagram for a few hours of gratification to see how many people “like” us and then not look at them again.

Box canvas prints are popular for family portraits

Being a family portrait photographer, of course I am a big fan of printing photos and framing them. And for me the bigger the better. And fine art photo albums are a great way to have all your photos on display.

You can always take that precious album of memories with you no matter what happens.

Show off your special people because preserving family memories is the whole point.

So don't forget to pack the irreplaceables in your emergency evacuation kit because your family memories are irreplaceable.

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