Wildfires In Our Backyard!

Virginia scanning important documents
Procrastinating no longer

Here in California wildfires are threatening thousands. Last Tuesday the evacuation area got within 5 miles . . . but fortunately for us, the fire turned and headed in another direction.

That fire is still burning, but for the time being we are safe.

The whole situation developed quickly. People just 15 minutes north of us were forced to leave their homes with only minutes’ warning.

Moreover, even though their houses haven’t been damaged, these people still haven’t been able to get home again!

The close call right here at home has made me reconsider our own state of preparedness.

I am embarrassed to tell our story of being “ready for evacuation.” 

I have written many times about go-bags.

Our go-bags were ready.

We have them in the house and smaller ones in the car.  They include a change of clothing, some water, first aid kit, personal items. At the top of each bag: shoes and a flashlight. So, all I had to do was put in some prescription pills.

I added a couple of personal items to my house bag, and some energy bars, and stashed it near the back door. So far, so good.

How about the car?

Our car was 7/8 full of gas, thanks to Joe’s unfailing attention.

Plus there’s a warm blanket and even a pillow in there, our CERT duffel bag, and a couple of walkie-talkies.

But what else would we put into the car?

Here’s where the challenge became clear.

  • What about our “original official documents” that we’ve collected over a lifetime – birth certificates, death certificates, marriage and divorce certificates. Military records. Transcripts. Credentials. At least they are all mostly in one filing cabinet drawer! One big swoop and they all landed in a cardboard file box.
  • What about proof of ownership of the house, the car, past houses, past cars, property taxes on all? What about insurance on all these? OK, another drawer and a second box was filled.
  • All the business records – we’ll take the computers themselves, a laptop plus a desktop with keyboard, screen, mouse. The back-up drives. Oh, and that binder with all the account passwords in it . . .Ugh. This would take time to disassemble and haul outside. We leave all this for later.
  • Photo albums! Another THREE boxes full, and we’re leaving the framed pictures behind on the wall.
  • All the cards — credit cards, health cards, insurance cards, passports. Plus some cash. Surprising how much room these take up when you never seem to have enough of them!
  • Phones, power bank, plugs and cords. Ham radio and batteries. This stuff is scattered throughout the house.
  • And more . . .

It quickly became clear that we have far more to save than is possible to stuff in the car.

But what was even more painful was the realization that for all our writing and speaking and encouraging and nagging, we had never taken the time to prepare fully for evacuation.

We have procrastinated about scanning our official papers!

Flash drive holds copies of important papers
The answer to important papers

The data from more than half the items listed above would fit easily on a couple of flash drives!

So, that’s why you see that photo of me at the top of the page, scanning what is actually my mother’s birth certificate! I’m using our all-in-one printer. Even a  modest multi-function printer can do a reasonable job as a scanner.

Of course, it will take hours to scan EVERYTHING using this printer/scanner.

So, I’m actually going to take it step by step. (I’ll be leaving the filled file boxes stacked in the hall, just in case another emergency arises!)

  1. First I need to come up with the labeling system I want to use to be able to find things later. (Not too hard. I’ll use the same file names I have in my computer.)
  2. I’ll start with documents that would be difficult or impossible to recreate, like that birth certificate, or photos.
  3. Documents that exist in some government or commercial file somewhere (like property tax records) will be a lower priority.

Of course, I could also scan documents using a smart phone. Depending on what version of phone you have, you can get an app that will allow you to scan documents into your phone, send to your computer or store in the cloud (DropBox, OneDrive, Evernote). Some of these apps are free; some cost a few dollars. Depending on what you need, you can adjust for size and clarity, combine multiple pages into one document, convert text into editable files, etc. This would work really well for scanning on the go, of course.

If scanning each document one at a time gets too onerous, I’ll likely invest in a higher-speed document scanner. (In the past we used a desktop scanner for business receipts. It scanned well but became outdated and as our business needs changed it wasn’t worth it for us to upgrade.) A full-featured desk-top scanner that can handle multiple pages at a time, with documents of different sizes and shapes, may cost $200-$400; the “mobile” models (about the size of a short box of tinfoil – the documents feed through one at a time) cost less than $100. Before you buy, make sure to find out if you are required to purchase a monthly subscription for the software and/or the digital storage as part of the deal.

Of course, you can also consider using a professional document scanning service. Many options are available. Some services scan, store, or shred. Some certify. Some can convert scanned documents to searchable pdfs for ease of retrieval. Photo retouching may also be available. It all depends on the number and condition of your documents, and your concerns for privacy.

In my case, images of my documents will end up in my computer, copied on a flash drive, backed up on our back-up drives, and . . .

I’ll also file these digital documents somewhere in the cloud!

We’ve prepared before for evacuation from potential flooding, but we had plenty of time to do it. This last week, once the order came down, we would have had only minutes to get things organized and out the door.

Yes, that go-bag is the first step. But taking care of other “loose ends” is also part of preparing for an evacuation.

Boxes packed for evacuation
Still in the hall . . .

This has been a valuable lesson for us. I hope it’s useful for you, too. I’ll let you know how the scanning goes.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. These are the boxes I mentioned. As you can see, they’ve been used before. We always have a few empty ones on hand!

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