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Some of you will remember the "Emergency Records on a Thumb Drive" Instructable I published back in February of 2009. I got a lot of comments from many of you and it certainly stirred up a lot of discussion.

Rationale- Well it's time to do a version 2.0. The premise hasn't changed but the software and technology have. Even though everyone has a smartphone and their life is on it, it may break, go lost or get stolen, them what? Panic!! Today with the security concerns about the web and all the hacking going on, it's even more important to keep backups of your docs, photo, videos and all your important records close at hand. Yeah, I have cloud storage but nothing important resides there, just photos and music. I just don't trust those guys.

Hardware- One nice thing that has progressed is the lower price of memory and the higher transfer speed of USB 3.0. For this project I snagged a 128gb Lexar thumb drive at Costco for about $30. If you're as old as me, (I'm not giving my age away) you remember when $30. got you a 8gb thumb drive, maybe. $30. FOR A 128 GIGABYTE THUMB DRIVE!!! THAT'S FREAKIN' AWESOME!!! We'll let's not get carried away. There is a down side of this. This is the second drive I've used for this project. The first one crapped out on me after a few weeks so keep your receipt handy. It's a plastic case and feels cheap but at this price, I'm willing to take the plunge. The smart play here is to have a duplicate drive as a backup. At this price why not.

Backup: Make a backup copy of all of the files on your thumb drive on your computer and use an app like GoodSync to synchronize them when ever you change one. You can even set them up to do it automatically.

Here's the links:

GoodSync

Bonus: If you have a smartphone (the Android type, sorry iPhone), you can get an OTG (on the go) cable and read all those files that are on your thumb drive right on your phone. Most smartphone don't have 128gb of storage but that will be a reality pretty soon.

Step 1: DOCUMENTS FORMATS-

Important Documents: Like my previous instructable on this topic, I'm recommending to store all your important docs in Adobe Acrobat. They are universally readable, printable and editable. Acrobat has also come along way.

TIP: When making your PDFs, size them at the highest quality so if you need to print them latter, they won't have a bad case of the jaggies.

Photos: As for photos, JPEG is the way to go. They can be resized easily and readable and printable from a number of free viewers.

Videos: Facebook and YouTube? Where were they in 2009? Boy how time flies. MP4 is the format of choice and you can also view and resize them from a number of free video editors. TIP: Videos take up a lot of room so for this project, resize them at say MP4 @ 360. It's the perfect size to play on your phone and anyway, you have a bigger sized backup on your external hard drive, right?

Audio: Even though the cloud is a great place to store your 50,000 song music collection, when the grid goes down or there's no internet, your favorites are right at your thumb tips. Sorry for the pun. Choose MP3 format here unless you're an audiophile snob then choose FLAC.

Contacts: These can be exported from your contact manager, Gmail or other email client as a PDF, excel spreadsheet or HTML file.

Passwords and Logins: If you aren't using a password manager to manage your online security, you should. Like your contacts, passwords and logins can be stored in a number of different ways including PDFs, excel and HTML.

Step 2: TYPES OF DOCUMENTS-

OK, here's the list. You can prioritize them anyway you want. This is my approach:

CONTACTS:

What to Include- For each contact you should have:

  1. Phone
  2. Address
  3. Email
  4. Alternate phone
  5. Web Site

and as much info as you need to get in contact with them in an emergency.

How To Prepare Them- There are several ways to go here:

  1. 1. Export them from your email client or contact manager to an Excel, PDF or HTML file.
  2. 2. Scan your address or phone book to Adobe PDF file.
  3. 3. Make a digital recording of important names and numbers.

HEALTH RECORDS:

What To Include-

  1. Complete Medical History (including the most current version of):
  2. Operations
  3. Allergies
  4. Vaccinations
  5. Diseases
  6. Any special needs Medication
  7. Prescriptions
  8. Eye Wear Prescriptions
  9. Hearing or Walking Aids Info
  10. Dental Records
  11. List of Doctors (should be in important contacts)
  12. Health Insurance Cards & Policies
  13. Primary Health Insurance
  14. Supplemental Medical Insurance
  15. Medicare Card
  16. Long-term Care Insurance
  17. Disability Insurance
  18. Life Insurance (Agent, Beneficiaries)
  19. Funeral Insurance Policy
  20. Durable Power Of Attorney
  21. Wills and Living Wills
  22. Health Care Proxies.

How To Prepare Them- Scan all paper documents into the PDF format. Color if possible. Try and get digital copies from your health care providers. If you can't get paper copies.

In my earlier version I recommended to store you medical records in the cloud. Don't do it. Since that earlier writing, the number of online records repositories have grown, shrunk and disappeared. It's better to keep everything private and in your possession. I've created a sample medical history document that's available here.

IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: This can be an exhaustive list so please be patient. Make sure you include current or past copies of all of the following or the ones you feel are suitable for you. Make sure if you are doing this for your family, you include copies for EACH family member. These are not listed in any particular order.

What To Include-

PERSONAL IDENTIFICATION RELATED-

  1. Driver's License
  2. Passport
  3. Birth Certificate
  4. Social Security Card
  5. Citizenship Papers
  6. Marriage/Divorce Records
  7. Military ID or Discharge Records
  8. Diplomas Other documents that show who you are.

FINANCIAL RELATED-

  1. Credit Cards
  2. Debit Cards
  3. Safety Deposit Box Numbers and Photos of Keys
  4. Current Checking and Savings Account Statements
  5. Check Register or Savings Books
  6. Brokerage Account Statements
  7. Stocks and Bonds

RETIREMENT RELATED-

  1. 401k Plans
  2. Profit Sharing/Pension Plans
  3. IRA Accounts
  4. Military Benefits/Records
  5. Social Security Records

INCOME RELATED-

  1. Payroll Stubs
  2. W-2 Form
  3. 1099 Form
  4. Other Work Related Documents

TAXES RELATED-

  1. Annual Income Tax Records for Several Years
  2. Property Tax Records

OTHER LEGAL DOCUMENTS-

  1. Contracts
  2. Partnership Agreements
  3. Deed to House or Property
  4. Mortgage (or Rental Lease)
  5. Homeowner's Insurance
  6. Automobile Title
  7. Automobile Insurance

How To Prepare Them- Scan all paper documents into the PDF format. Color if possible. If you don't have copies, try and get them from the original source including government, civil or private companies.

FAMILY & FRIENDS PHOTOS:

What To Include-

  1. Current and Past Photos of Yourself
  2. Current and Past Photos of Your Family
  3. Current and Past Photos of You With Your Family
  4. Photos of Group Events Like Parties, Weddings, etc.
  5. Current and Past Photos of Your Pets

Actually this is wide open, make yourself happy.

How To Prepare Them- Since scans of photos and digital photos can take up a lot of disk space, use a resizing program to re-sample them to about a post card size, say 4" x 6" of 1200 x 1800 pixels. For practical purposes, you don't really need anything bigger.

HOME INVENTORY: Ah, yes! All your stuff. This too can be simple or as complex as you want to make it.

What To Include-

  1. Simply take photos of all your possessions, property and valuables.
  2. Make lists and add information about where you bought it, how long you've had it, what you paid for it and what it's worth.
  3. Scanning all you receipts would be good too.

There are many apps that can do this however, if you choose one, your stuck with it's particular file format and database. Think about how you are going to use the info later, can you export it? can you print it? You can even take short videos of each room in your house, your collection of fancy plates or anything else you wish. Speak clearly and get in close for good detail. Detail is key here. The more detailed, the less the insurance companies will dispute it's worth.

How To Prepare Them- 1. Digital is king here. Use a digital camera and a digital camcorder that records small MP4 videos. 2. Scan any receipts or records. 3. Use a spreadsheet program to make your lists and print to PDF 4. Use an inventory program specially designed for this purpose (remember my thoughts on propitiatory software discussed earlier).

MUSIC & VIDEOS:

All those MP3s and YouTube videos you downloaded are important, so save a few. They take up a lot of space so be VERY choosy.

What To Include-

  1. Some of your favorite song.
  2. Videos of you child's first steps. It's up to you.

How To Prepare Them-

1. MP3 for music as it's compressed. 2. MPEG-4 or other compressed formats

BOOKMARKS:

You've spent countless hours surfing the net. It would be a shame to loose all those bookmarks.

What To Include-

Your bookmarks of important sites.

How To Prepare Them-

1. Most browsers have a function to export your bookmarks to various file formats. Google different ways to do this.

2. On Windows-copy your "Favorites Folder" in you "My Documents Folder" on your root or "C" drive. They don't take up too much room and can save you a lot of time trying to find those sites again. You can run them right from this thumb drive by double clicking them in the file manager. It's just a shortcut.

PASSWORDS:

Passwords are a different matter. If you're like me, you've got hundreds of unique passwords and need to manage them or you'll forget them. Popular password managers are available to help with this. My go to manager is LastPass but I keep a backup list that I use with KeePass. Both have apps for my phone. I paid for the premium license with LastPass and it's well worth it. KeePass is free.

Here's some links:

LastPass

KeePass

VEHICLE PHOTOS & INFO:

I guess you could include this in with Home Inventory but then my cars are my CARS. You guys know what I mean. Anyway the same holds true for them, lots of photos and detailed info.

What To Include-

  1. Photos and videos of the exterior, interior, engine compartment, trunk,
  2. Serial Numbers, etc.
  3. Bill of Sale
  4. Title Registration
  5. Service Records (very Important)
  6. Mileage Logs Insurance Records

How To Prepare Them-

As before, digitize everything. Scan all paper docs.

Step 3: PORTABLE APPS THAT RUN FROM THE THUMB DRIVE

This is my favorite part. I'm a freeware and open source junkie. Especially when it comes to USB thumb drives. I must have tested over 1000 applications since the start of this trend in early 2000's.
Note: I'm running this thumb drive on the Windows platform. Check with the developers to see if a variant is available for the Mac.

What To Include- I have 4 types of software on the drive:

1. PortableApps.com Suite - which runs portable versions of the most popular free software.

2. LiberKey Suite - runs portable versions of everything PortableApps suite doesn't (with some duplication).

3. LibreOffice Portable - runs Microsoft Office compatible docs.

4. Stand Alone Apps - several apps like my password manager and encryption tools that work outside the portable suites independently.

Your needs may vary so you may want to mix them up. Here's links to each:

Portableapps.com

LibreKey

LibreOffice Portable

Step 4: DATA PROTECT AND ENCRYPTION

Let's talk about protecting that data. There are several different ways to go here:

  1. Manually Save Files With a Password
  2. Create An Encrypted Partition
  3. Lock A Specific File Folder
  4. Lock Your Entire Thumb Drive

You may want to do any or all of these. In an emergency, especially a health related one, you want medical personnel to get your health info easily without any delay. For this reason I'm putting health at the top of the list and prioritizing all the content as follows with the level of access assigned:

  1. Health records (limited access)
  2. Important Contact (limited access)
  3. Important Documents (owner access only)
  4. Home Inventory (owner access only)
  5. Vehicle Info (owner access only)
  6. Family Photos (open access)
  7. Music & Videos (open access)

Let's talk about each of the encryption options-

  1. Manually save files with a password: Many programs have the ability to save a file with password protection. Acrobat, Word and Excel are 3 that I'm familiar with but there may be more.
  2. Create an encrypted partition: One of the best tools for this used to be Truecrypt but it requires admin rights. A better alternative is Rohos Mini Drive which doesn't require admin rights and is the current favorite.
  3. Lock a specific folder: My current choice for this function is Folder Lock. It's simple interface and AES-256 bit encryption keep the folder secure.
  4. Lock the entire drive: Use USBSafeguard to lock the drive and all it's contents.

You can use some or all of these as a stand along or in conjunction to really secure your data. Be aware that the more secure you make your data, the longer it will take you to get to it. Work out a plan first.

Here's some links:

Rohos Mini Drive

Folder Lock

USBSafeguard

Step 5: WRAP UP

EMERGENCY HEALTH RECORDS - I pdf my critical (life threatening allergies) health info and put it in the root of the drive with a title "Health - Health-Read 1st".

ENCRYPTION - Everything else is encrypted. You can't see it, and only I know the password. I feel this is pretty strong. I purposely made the password very difficult to replicate I just have to remember it and that's a whole other topic.

READ ME 1ST FILE - I also have a Read me 1st text file that offers a reward if the drive is lost. Hey, don't you want that stuff back?

This might feel like an overwhelming project but it could save your ass if TSHTF if you know what I mean. Lay out a plan, process things is small groups and in no time, it will be all done and you'll feel a sense of real accomplishment.

Well that's it. I'd like to hear your thoughts and suggestions on ways to improve this project and how your thumb drive turned out.

Take care, The Toolman

About This Instructable

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Bio: Alan Walker a.k.a. "The Toolman" has been creative and worked with his hands all of his life. He has been employed in a ... More »
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