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Picture of How To - Emergency Records On USB Thumb Drive
I don't know about you but I like to be prepared. I don't always do a good job at actually preparing, but I think about it a lot. Let's look at an instructable for an emergency USB thumb drive. This instructable is about what's on the drive, not how crazy it looks,

WHAT-
This instructable should give you all the knowledge you need to prepare an emergency USB thumb drive that you can keep in your wallet at all times. It will be there for you when you need it and believe me, you will need it. You'll pat yourself on the back the first time you remember it there. It is there, isn't it?

WHY-
Why do this? We'll we live in an uncertain world. All you have to do is turn on the tube and watch the news to know that the world is going to hell, fast! Speaking from a personal perspective, I can't change world events single handed, but I can cover my own butt and maybe make the task of providing information to someone or some entity easier on me. Remember trying to pull info together for an application or form to fill out? A little stressful right? What if you house burned down, got copies of all your records?

I also considered putting all this information up in the cloud (the internet) but I'm not yet comfortable with the security aspect and one other important thing, you need a broadband connection, not available everywhere yet.

WHO-
You, or someone able to use a computer, digital camera, scanner, the internet, you get the picture. Here's a thought- provide this service for your elderly parents or someone who isn't digitally gifted. It will make you feel real good.

WHERE-
Right on your computer. It could be Windows, Mac or even from the internet. More and more online services are popping up all the time to perform tasks independent of you desktop. A word of caution though, this instructable is written to favor Windows and many of the portable applications here are Windows only. Sorry my Mac pals.

HOW-
That's what I'm about to share with you. The instructable is broken down into major sections like:

1. Why Choose This Drive
2. Altering the Case
3. Important Contacts
4. Health Records
5. Important Documents
6. Family Photos
7. Home Inventory
8. Music & Video
9. Online Logins & Passwords
10. Vehicle Info
11. Portable Applications
12. Protection & Encryption

Disclaimer: These instructions are meant to be a guide to you in preparing one of these emergency thumb drives of you own. I am passing this knowledge on to you because it has worked for me. I am not liable for any damages or loss of data you may incur due to following or not following these instructions.

Please use common sense and ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR DATA!
 
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Step 1: Sony Micro Vault Thumb Drive - My Choice

Picture of Sony Micro Vault Thumb Drive - My Choice
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Why choose this drive?

Well simply put, it's

1. The smallest practical drive I can fit in my wallet.
2. Most modern computers have USB drives. All platforms.
3, You can put in your wallet and you can't feel a bulge.
4. It's available in a variety of colors and capacities. I thought that the 2gb would be enough.
5. I don't have any brand loyalty to Sony, but they do make pretty good stuff.

Here's some alternatives that won't fit in your wallet but that are indestructible:

Corsair Survivor

Iron Drive

Step 2: Trim The Case

Picture of Trim The Case
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In order for the rubber case that comes with the drive to fit in my wallet, I had to trim some of the excess silicone away. So it looks like this.

I also added a red cross, the universal symbol for first aid or emergency so when they scrape me off of the asphalt and go through my stuff, they should find the thumb drive and know there's important info on it.

Provided it still works. I'm still thinking this part through on how to make it indestructible.
By the way, it's not waterproof but there is a video, I thinks it's on YouTube that shows you how to make your USB drive waterproof.

Step 3: What's Inside?

Picture of What's Inside?
WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Let's talk a bit about what's inside, the contents and the structure. This thumb drive contains all your important digital files including but not limited to the following:

1. Important contacts
2. Health Records
3. Important Documents
4. Family & friend's photos
5. Photos and info of your home and possessions
6. Favorite music and videos
7. Online bookmarks & passwords
8. Photos and info about your vehicles
9. Portable applications you can run right from this drive
10. Ways to secure this drive and it's contents

Now I don't know how much stuff you have and I only chose the 2gb flavor of this drive so your choices may vary. It's better to have more than not enough.

TIP: Compile all this stuff in a folder on your desktop. Right click on it to see how much space it takes up and buy the appropriate size drive.

HOW TO READ THEM-
In order to view the files contained on your drive, you need an application either on the host computer where you insert the drive or on the drive itself. Since it's suppose to be self contained, I'll recommend applications to run from this drive. More about those later.

HOW THEY ARE ORGANIZED-
I like to take a simple approach to this and file them in folders as listed above but you can do it anyway you like.

TIP- In an emergency, health care providers need to know where your vital records are so make a "Read Me First" text file and put it in the root directory so they can find it easily. You may want to wear a wrist bracelet or neck pendent to tell others where to find the thumb drive.

Step 4: Important Contacts

Picture of Important Contacts
Important contacts are critical in emergencies.

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
You should rank them in order of importance like this:

1. Family
2. Friends
3. Work
4. Insurance
5. Financial
6. Other

For each contact you should have phone, address, email, alternate phone, 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. Export your Contact Manager's contacts to an MS Office Excel file or Adobe PDF file.
2. Scan your address or phone book to Adobe PDF file.
3. Make a digital recording of important names and numbers.

I'll talk about ways to view and hear these types of files in the Portable Applications section later.

Step 5: Health Records

Picture of Health Records
Getting quick access to your health records is critical, especially if you can't communicate for yourself and you have allergies or other conditions that the medical staff need to know about.

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Medical records should include copies of the following:
Complete Medical History Including:
Operations
Allergies
Vaccinations
Diseases
Any special needs
Medication Prescriptions
Eye Wear Prescriptions
Hearing or Walking Aids
Dental Records
List of doctors (should be in important contacts)
Health Insurance Cards & Policies
Primary Health Insurance
Supplemental Medical Insurance
Medicare Card
Long-term Care Insurance
Disability Insurance
Life Insurance (Agent, Beneficiaries)
Funeral Insurance Policy
Durable Power Of Attorney
Wills and Living Wills
Health Care Proxies

*NOTE: you should include any current or past records that you feel are important.

HOW TO PREPARE THEM-
1.As mentioned before, scan all paper documents into the PDF format. Color if possible.
2. Try and get digital copies from your health care providers.
3. Go online to record and store your documents. I'm breaking with what I said earlier and making an exception on medical records. I found a site called iHealthRecords.com that let's me fill out an extensive medical background which I can print to paper or PDF, all for free. They even offer a service to partner with your doctor to gain access to the records.

iHealthRecord

Step 6: Important Documents

Picture of 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-
Driver's License
Passport
Birth Certificate
Social Security Card
Citizenship Papers
Marriage/Divorce Records
Military ID or Discharge Records
Diplomas
Other documents that show who you are

FINANCIAL RELATED-
Credit Cards
Debit Cards
Safety Deposit Box Numbers and Photos of Keys
Current Checking and Savings Account Statements
Check Register or Savings Books
Brokerage Account Statements
Stocks and Bonds

RETIREMENT RELATED-
401k Plans
Profit Sharing/Pension Plans
IRA Accounts
Military Benefits/Records
Social Security Records

INCOME RELATED-
Payroll Stubs
W-2 Form
1099 Form
Other Work Related Documents

TAXES RELATED-
Annual Income Tax Records for Several Years
Property Tax Records

OTHER LEGAL DOCUMENTS-
Contracts
Partnership Agreements
Deed to House or Property
Mortgage (or Rental Lease)
Homeowner's Insurance
Automobile Title
Automobile Insurance


HOW TO PREPARE THEM-
1.As mentioned before, scan all paper documents into the PDF format. Color if possible.
2. If you don't have copies, try and get them from the original source including government, civil or private companies.

Step 7: Family Photos

Picture of Family Photos
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WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Current and Past Photos of Yourself
Current and Past Photos of You Family
Current and Past Photos of You With Your Family
Photos of Group Events Like Parties, Weddings, etc.
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". For practical purposes, you don't really need anything bigger.

Here are several free applications to consider to download:

Faststone Photo Resizer

IrfanView

PhotoDrop (Mac Only)

You can even do this chore online, here are a few:

PicNik

Pixinate

Pixer

Step 8: Home Inventory

Picture of Home Inventory
Ah, yes! All your stuff. This too can be simple or as complex as you want to make it.

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Simply take photos of all you possessions, property and valuables. 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. Scanning all you receipts would be good too.

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 IT-
1. Digital is king here. Use a digital camera and a digital camcorder that records small AVI or Quicktime videos.
2. Scan any receipts or records.
3. Use a spreadsheet program to make your lists and print to PDF OR
4. Use an inventory program speciall designed for this purpose, like "Home Inventory". here's the link.

Home Inventory

You can store it digitally or upload it to their secure servers.

Step 9: Music & Videos

Picture of 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-
Some of you favorite song.
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
3. Play them using one of the portable applications discussed in a later section.

Step 10: Online Bookmarks & Passwords

Picture of Online Bookmarks & Passwords
You've spent countless hours surfing the net. It would be a shame to loose all those bookmarks and passwords.

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Your bookmarks of important sites.
Your online passwords (priceless).

HOW TO PREPARE THEM-
1. On Windows-copy you "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.
On the Mac-
2. 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. One of my favorites is KeePass. It's dual platform and free, my favorite price. Here's some liks to several:

KeePass (All Platforms Free)

Sxipper (All Platforms Free)

Roboform (Windows Only, Fee, Sorry)

3. There is a growing movement to utilize online password management but, I'm not on that band wagon yet.

Step 11: Vehicle Info

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

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Photos and videos of the exterior, interior, engine compartment, trunk, serial numbers, etc.
Bill of Sale
Title
Registration
Service Records (very Important)
Mileage Logs
Insurance Records

HOW TO PREPARE THEM-
As before, digitize everything.
Scan all paper doc.
Get missing documents from original sources i.e. Dealer, DMV, Insurance

Step 12: Portable Applications - Office Suite & Repair Apps

Picture of Portable Applications - Office Suite & Repair Apps
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 500 applications since the start of this trend in early 2000's.

WHAT TO INCLUDE-
Since I build and repair computers as a hobby, I need to 2 different groups of software on this drive:
1. One group to run as a portable office and graphics suite from the thumb drive.
2. And a second group to maintain and repair a computer from the thumb drive.

We'll take each in turn. Your needs may vary so you may want to mix them up. It helps me to keep them separated.

OFFICE & GRAPHICS SUITE
It helps to have a program launcher that runs from the thumb drive so you don't have to keep navigating the file manager every time you want to launch an app.

Like other instructables, I'm recommending the PortableApps.org site with really good programs for most of your portable office needs.

Here's a great instructable by m-arjin that does a great job explaining the details of how to install this suite of tools.

How To Install Cool Apps ON Your Thumb Drive

The PortableApps.org site also has detailed instructions as well.

PC REPAIR SUITE
I've assembled a list of free and open source tools for system analysis, file recovery, system maintenance and anti-virus/anti-spyware.

Step 13: Protection/Encryption

Picture of Protection/Encryption
Let's talk about protecting that data. There are several different ways to go here:

-Protect the drive (drive encryption with password access)
-Protect the folder (folder encryption with password access)
-Protect the file (file encryption with password access)

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)

For this project I'm recommending TruCrypt. It's widely used and easily available.

Well that's it for now. I think I've covered everything. Now before some of you tell me that I should have used this software or that software, These are my recommendations and yours will probably be a little different.

The point of this instructable is to give you a good overview of what type of info you want to keep on your thumb drive and how to go about it.

Good luck and I'd like to hear from some of you in a positive way.

Happy trails.

UPDATE:
Many of you have commented with some good suggestions on ways to improve this instructable.
A word on emergency heath records and encryption. I pdf my critical (life threatening allergies) health info and put it in the root of the drive with a title "EMT Read 1st". Everything else is encrypted with TrueCrypt as a hidden volume. 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.

Keep those comments coming.
1-40 of 108Next »
McClay141 year ago
If a pick pocket gets ahold of ur wallet you would be in big trouble
Oriyn2 years ago
This step now contains out of date information (very minor issue).

From the iHealthRecord website:

Access to the Medem personal health record website has been discontinued effective August 19, 2011. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

If you have any questions or comments, please email us at healthsupport@intuit.com.
bakdrft2 years ago
great idea! but Im an emergency responder, and if your hurt or injured I surely will NOT look for a USB device to find out if your allergic to PCN. We have no time for such things. Sorry- unless your an important person you will not get such anticipated service.
thetoolman (author)  bakdrft2 years ago
Noted. I should probably wear an allergic bracelet but I thought that including the info couldn't hurt.
To lock it you could use a mini cryptex.
Kirbsome!4 years ago
Great instructable, I've got one pointer though.
Never carry passwords to important sites with you. What if somebody stole your wallet?
What about having basic medical info that could help in a pinch on a dog tag that you wear all the time around your neck under your clothes? What thief is going to look at you and think "I bet he/she has medical info around his/her neck". I don't know isn't that kind of what dog tags were for? Basic info? Yeah store the other stuff in a safety deposit box that's an awesome idea.

As to the "what if patrol" talking about what if your wallet is stolen? Well you can "what if" all night and come up with crazy scenarios for every possible thing that could possibly happen. Ok for the stolen wallet crowd why not carry a dummy wallet and give that to the thief. What? You think after you hand it over they hang out for a minute to see what you've got in there? No they run off a couple blocks and I'm sure if they were mad enough to come back and "get you" (there's another "what if")for duping them with a fake wallet you would have had plenty of time to leave the area before it gets to that point.

I don't know, thoughts?........
Over here, they just shoot/stab you, get all the stuff they can, then run away (if there was police he would have shot the guy already). So a wallet tucked tight in there would be nice (seriously, I saw this guy trying to get his driver's license from his wallet, he couldn't even pull the wallet out). I'll list all possible scenarios I can think off.

1) Thief steals wallet, runs away, you call police.
2) Thief unsuccessfully tries to steal wallet, you improve anti-theft techniques.
3) Guy pulls you into a dark alley, you get held-up by the guy holding a weapon to any vital organ and either: 1) Just kills you on the spot and takes your stuff 2) Takes your stuff then runs away 3) Takes you hostage
4) You forgot where you placed your wallet with the USB in it.
5) USB somehow gets destroyed.
6) Data somehow becomes corrupt.

I dunno what else. Other than if you had some kind of impairment, anything is possible, it's just the chances of it happening is kinda tiny. So yeah any scenario you come up with should have a countermeasure. If the scenario was aliens abducting you then why need a countermeasure? They just abduct you then throw you into some random place in the world. They won't care about 2GB of data. It's possible, but unlikely.

PS. Dog tag around neck could be used to choke you to death, unless it was designed to break if excessive force is applied. But then you would lose it. Wrist tag recommended.
PPS. There is such a thing as a psychologically unstable thief you know. The guy could be so crazy you have a dog tag or something.
For the crazies that's the exact reason I carry a gun.
Moonrabbit6 years ago
I've considered things like this myself. But more educational materials than personal records. autonomousoperations would appreciate the Fallout reference here. If you were to assemble a kit with instructions on reestablishing infrastructure, if say a generation were to pass before you were able to start rebuilding. What information would you want that next generation of have available to them? On a smaller scale for personal use, what information would you want to have on hand if there were a cataclysm, you didn't have broad access to books, internet was gone, etc? Farming techniques, designs for generators, turbines, edible plants, medical techniques. Whatever you can think of. Black and white diagrams and documents take up so little space. You could fit books upon books on an 8gb drive. Just another thing to consider.
I'd recommend the SAS Survival Guide, and the collection of army field manual available on most torrent sites. Also Peterson's Guide to Edible Wild Plants.
I love that SAS guide. Have a hard copy stuck in my trunk Just In Case. On a practical level, choose your electronic instruments for battery life. For example... don't get the Google G1 phone. Your batteries are drained by the end of one day. I hate it. On the other hand, an old Palm IIIC, while it doesn't have a whole lot of space (8mg?) can run for at least a week before dying. Laptops, eh... maybe a couple hours. Even with a UPS you're not going to last long if there is no electricity at all and you don't have a generator, solar, turbine, etc.
Another good choice is the USAF survival manual. Lots of mountain climbing methods in it, also celestial navigation with just an accurate watch for starters. "Bushcraft" by Richard Graves WWII Australian manual, Good.

Get a 12v power supply that plugs into a car cigarette lighter.
I guess you would have to have faith that the EMP/Flooding/Lack of power would not make all the computers into doorstops. If you are assuming cataclysm, a time capsule with lots of microfilm/fiche and a portable reader is the only way to go. Media that are only readable by complex electronic devices is not a good contingency plan.
man, you are sooooooooo right
but then, if all technology is destroyed, how would we read these USB drives?
"On a smaller scale for personal use, what information would you want to have on hand if there were a cataclysm, you didn't have broad access to books, internet was gone, etc? Farming techniques, designs for generators, turbines, edible plants, medical techniques. Whatever you can think of. Black and white diagrams and documents take up so little space. You could fit books upon books on an 8gb drive." Well, assuming that you are in such a scrape, you probably aren't going to have any electricity, which means that you're hosed as soon as your batteries run out. If you truly must be prepared for a major inconvenience, you would probably want a microfische reader that you can hand crank and read via sunlight or candle light. Microfische takes up more room, true, but does have the advantage that if you were tossed onto Gilligan's Island you could read Robinson Crusoe or Lord of the Flies with no problem, and be able to look up all sorts of recipes for bananas and seafood.
Once things had settled down a bit, I don't think it would be that hard to get electricity. I mean just look at all the instructables on power generation. There's no shortage of card and batteries, use a car charger, pocket solar chargers are available anywhere now, wind turbines, or hook a generator up to a waterwheel.
tensegrity6 years ago
Good instructable! TrueCrypt is more than adequate to secure this data against it falling into the wrong hands, especially since TrueCrypt can create a hidden volume that resides inside of a normal encrypted volume, and just looks like unused space. You put the most sensitive data in the hidden volume, and then the less sensitive data (the photos, music, etc) in the normal encrypted area. The emergency medical info and emergency contacts remain unencrypted. If pickpockets or random criminals can beat AES encryption then we've all got much more serious problems.
that is very true....but someone will invent something more protective like quantum cryptography
Someone has! (Link) But this sort of encryption is only useful for secure connections to another computer for example online banking uses a form of encryption.
stib tensegrity6 years ago
Good point. Of course the problem with cryptography is pretty well summed up here
aloseman stib6 years ago
Yeah, that whole beat him till we get the password thing works well, but that's why TruCrypt, and tensegrity say to put the ACTUAL sensitive data inside a hidden encrypted volume inside the unhidden encrypted volume. Without the password, the hidden one can't be seen, even when looking at the headers (I'm forgetting the correct term, I think), it just looks "encrypted", not specifically the hidden or unhidden volume.
MMmm...I'd use a microsd card instead
macrumpton6 years ago
The big problem is that if you are unconscious then you can't give the password to unlock the most important info, on the other hand you do not want to leave it unprotected in case it is stolen. Perhaps getting a tattoo of the password on part of your body where only medical professionals could find it (when giving you a spongebath). Although if you are going the tattoo route you could skip the flash drive completely and have the url of a website with all your info on it (password protect the parts that are private). That way you do not have to worry about theft or damage to the drive, although having two tattoos in different parts of your body might be good in case of damage to the body part with the URL.
If you're going to go the tattoo route, why not tatt a barcode with a medicalert symbol that takes you directly to a secure website? Or engrave said barcode on your medicalert bracelet/necklace? Just a thought...

I agree, having that PI on a flash in your wallet, encrypted or not, sounds INSANE to me! There are thieves in every generation, and computer-savvy kids CAN and WILL try to break into a stolen flash, just for the challenge, if not whatever might be on it. Great idea for a safe-deposit box or trusted family member though, and a great instuctable!

scott!6 years ago
This is a good idea, I need to do this!
stuuf6 years ago
For the health records/phone numbers/etc, I would recommend using simple or at least well known data formats and character sets, so that anyone should already have software to read them, instead of including the software on the drive. Would YOU run random executable code you found on a corpse (or injured person)?
hammer98766 years ago
Great instructable. My only concern is that emergency medical services (EMS) aren't going to be looking for information on a thumb drive. Let's hope they all use their down time to surf Instructables. Seriously, though, cue commercial for Road ID (www.roadid.com) They have an identification tag that sends EMS to the Internet with a serial number and pin number. EMS are trained to look for such tags, bracelets, pendents, etc. Always carry identification. You never know when you are going to step off the curb and get hit by a bus. You will be transferred to the hospital where they will demand money to cover your deductible while you are lying there in pain. (Voice of experience.)
jchar776 years ago
Just imagine what Could happen if you lost it, or someone nicked it. I would put some sort of password or encryption software on the usb as well. You just never know...
zomfibame6 years ago
that is a very good idea to put health info in a thumb drive like that. (also, what is that funky Buck Rogers Space-ship lookin' car? and how do I get one?
Pray to the gods of the Internet. And NASA. And Wall Street.
benz_z cyrozap6 years ago
ur missing my favorite the god of blatant commercialism (and msn spellin)
cyrozap benz_z6 years ago
Isn't polytheism great?
benz_z cyrozap6 years ago
yup the best... if things go wrong start making commercial (stuff) sacrifices to them gods i recently dropped the god of wallstreet cuse hes down 4 a wile and is a little out of it ( and is demanding hedge fund managers blood)
thetoolman (author)  zomfibame6 years ago
Transport yourself into the future man!
oilpaint26 years ago
I have made one just for medical emergencies, with the medic alert symbol on it. I have attached it to necklace that I wear around my neck.
cornflaker6 years ago
Imagine if it wasn't encrypted and got stolen
rkhanso6 years ago
Why not just use your Palm T|X (in my case) or other Palm handheld device. This way, you have all your data, plus a way to display it if you don't have access to a PC. Your Palm T|X can use SD cards up to 2GB each and has built-in WiFI and Bluetooth in case you're able to get an Internet connection. At minimum, you have data/programs, calendar, clock, ebook reader, much more right at your fingertips in any emergency. As for powering it if there's a power grid failure - rig up a solar charger for the Palm battery.
RaNDoMLeiGH6 years ago
There is some merit to this for emergency purposes but not a whole lot for a paramedic trying to treat you on the scene. For that purpose, they WILL pull out your wallet and look for your ID and other important pieces of paper. If you're wanting to have this information available you should also have a card with your flash drive stuck to it and instructions on how to access the past medical records. But if you're in such a bad state that they need this information, they're going to be physically working on you and not surfing your flash drives. Make it easily accessable and DON'T put all your secure data in one place. *I* will come steal your wallet myself just to teach you not to do that.

We were burgled at the beginning of February. They stole my cell phone, my computer, all my flash drives, my PDA, and a number of other things containing important information. Including car keys and wallet. No, it was not cheap to get the car rekeyed (go to a locksmith, not the dealer, if this happens to you), but that was the least of my problems.

I am self-employed, so with my phone, laptop, flash drives, and PDA gone, they also got all my work that had not made it to a recent backup. As a photographer, this doubly sucked, because I have joined the digital revolution and have no film backups. Fortunately I have an online email account and was able to rebuild some of my client records, but not all.

Just a few photos are on Flickr and Myspace but for the most part I lost all photos of family, friends, and inventory (since my last backup) when they stole the computer. Back. Up. Your. Photos.

I was prepared for a crash, not a theft... all my info was backed up here and there, my bookmarks on a flash drive with portable mozilla, etc. I also keep a paper log of my cell phone contacts but it had been a while since I printed them out. The phone I had accepted a memory card but it was a weird size (MMC) so I didn't have one. I replaced my phone with one that takes a miniSD, so now I have two -- one in the phone doing whatever it does, the other being kept somewhere safe.

For that matter, it wouldn't hurt to copy your phone book to one of your family member's SIM cards. You can choose not to see all those contacts in your phone book, but if your phone goes away, someone you presumably trust will have a copy of your phone book.

Fortunately they left the USB hard drives behind. I was able to recover some of my information, but the backup I had done in January turned out to be corrupt, and the one before that was from September (which is really sloppy on my part). I was able to reinstall software by emailing the companies I bought it from with my receipt information (yay, online email) and so be able to use the programs again.

While I could get back on my feet as fast as the shock of being robbed allowed, the permanent loss of personal information and work documents has taught me something very, very important:

Keep your backups OFFSITE.

We have gone through and scanned receipts and serial numbers and put hard copies of them in a notebook, as well as PDF on two flash drives. One drive is at the bank in a nice spanking new safe deposit box, while the other is here at the house. The bank is just down the street so it's easy to go over there with the laptop and copy over the information to the one that stays in the box. The other one stays with the laptop which now comes upstairs with me when I go to bed (we were home when our stuff was taken) and in the trunk of the car when we leave the house.

The idea of putting personal records on a flash drive and then carrying that around (encrypted or not) is just insane. However, putting them on a flash drive and making a couple of backup DVDs for your parents and trusted contacts to hold onto in the event of your demise is not a bad idea, especially in the case of irreplaceable photos.

When I was in school I kept a separate floppy of each class (way before flash drives!) and copied the class notes to the disc after every class. A couple of times that saved my butt -- once my laptop flew out of a jeep when it rolled, and another time (or two) when the hard drive crashed. I would have failed classes if not for the backups. I can't believe that I've gotten so lax about making sure that my important data doesn't get backed up.

So, your lists of things to keep copies of is really great, especially for people who live in weather incident prone locations (like me, I live in Oklahoma = tornadoes). Scanning things and keeping them as PDFs cuts down on space that would be wasted if the docs were kept as JPG files. Putting them on a flash drive means that you can easily update them. It would be better to also burn discs (at least 2) that can't accidentally get erased or crash.

I wouldn't bother to copy music, since you can download a new copy of just about anything you lose, but that's up to you. I had some music on my laptop but I had the CDs in the closet anyway, so no loss. But the idea of keeping a copy of tax forms, employment records, etc is an excellent idea, especially if your physical records are destroyed by fire, flood, theft, or rampaging hoardes of zombies.
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