A disaster recovery plan does exactly what it sounds like: it gives you a way to recover from a disaster, usually a loss of data. This can be anything from losing your laptop, or having your hard drive die on you, to something as terrible as losing your home in a fire. With recent advances in personal technology, creating a disaster recovery plan for yourself can be quite simple. Once you identify the data you want to protect, you can implement your plan in as little as an hour.
When you think about the data that you want to have access to after an emergency, you probably think of files on your desktop. The story you’re writing on, or the movie you just downloaded. You shouldn’t limit your plan to just digital files. There are important pieces of information that you have on paper, filed away somewhere in your home, that you will need in case of an emergency. Think of it this way: if you home was washed in away in a sudden flood, and you only got out with the pajamas you had on at the time, what would you need to rebuild your life?
Make a list of these items. Include your driver’s license, social security card, lease or mortgage papers, car registration, any insurances you have for your vehicle or home, tax returns, and medical records (especially if you have an ongoing condition). Put your digital data on the list too. Anything that you’ve created which can’t be replicated quickly – such as writing or art or music, which, if lost, might never be remade in the exact same way – should be saved. Another important source of data is your photographs. With digital cameras, we often end up with lots and lots of pictures on our computer which don’t ever get printed out. Lose your computer and you could lose years of your memories.
I have thousands of pictures, including scanned copies of old family photos, and if I didn’t keep backed up, I would have lost all of that several times over the years. Each time I had a computer fail, all those images could have been lost. My son’s first days, my Grandmother all dressed up for a fancy party, my mom holding me when I was a newborn – those pictures can’t be recreated.
Once you know what you want to save, the first step is to make digital copies of all of the information which is on paper. This is the longest step. The easiest way to do it is with a scanner. You simply scan your paperwork, and save it to a file on your desktop. If you don’t scanner, it’s worth it in the amount of heartache you’ll save yourself later to go out and purchase one. If you aren’t a position to do that, you can take your paperwork to an office supply place to be scanned. Don’t forget to make a copy of your birth certificate and driver’s license too! Even if your disaster is something as small as losing your wallet, being out to print out a copy of that information will make it easier to get through your days until your replacement documents arrive.
If you can’t access a scanner at all, but you have a digital camera, you can take photos of your documents. Lie them flat on your kitchen table, make sure your camera is on the highest quality setting (the most dpi or dots-per-inch). After the first one or two, check it by transferring it to your computer and printing it out. You want to make sure this is capturing readable copies of your paperwork, before you get too far into the process. No sense in doing all the work and then finding out afterwards you have to do it over again.
If you have an iPhone, there are several apps which you can use to scan your documents. I have DocScan on mine; it’s a free app and works fine, but there are others out there and you can look around until you find one that suits you. There are similar apps available for Android and Blackberry users as well. I think a scanner will give you a better quality document, but if what you have is a camera phone, then you can work with that.
Once you have your documents turned into digital files, you need to create two folders on your desktop. These two folders will hold all of the data that you want to back up. One will be your recurring back up, for files which change often, such as a copy of the novel you’re currently writing. That files changes every time you work on your book, so you’d want to back it up every week. This folder will be much smaller than the other folder that contains documents which don’t change. Your 2003 tax return, the registration for your car, photos – anything which doesn’t get edited. You can add to this folder as you make new pictures or scan new documents or finish a project, but it doesn’t need to be backed up as often. Once a month will probably be fine.
Find the files on your computer that you want to save, and put copies of those files into the two folders. Finished? You’ve done 95% of the work to make your disaster recovery plan happen, and we’re almost done.
The last step is to save that data somewhere other than your computer. You choose a cloud service like Dropbox or Box or Ununtu One (please see my post about cloud computing for more suggestions), or you can use a physical hard drive. I use a combination of both. I have a hard drive which holds copies of everything, including music, pictures, movies, software – things I don’t want to have to pay for again – and I keep that hard drive in a fireproof safe, along with my passport and things like that. It’s a little safe, about 8 by 10 inches, and I think it cost me $30 at Walmart. I also use a cloud service to update the files I change or add to often. So the monthly backup is on the hard drive, the weekly backup is online. That makes it easier. I don’t have to drag out the hard drive every time I write a new story or take a new picture.
The important thing to remember is that you can lose your data at any time. You can avoid major problems saving a copy of your information somewhere safe. Then, if you do have a disaster, you have one less thing to worry about. It’s all about spending a little bit of time now to save a lot of time and trouble in the future.