Hurricane 2020: How to prepare your electronic devices and your data | Column

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has some tips for protecting the electronics and data you rely on all the time.
For the latest updates from the Tampa Bay Times this hurricane season, check out:
For the latest updates from the Tampa Bay Times this hurricane season, check out: [ RON BORRESEN | Times ]
Published May 30, 2020

As Florida residents, many of us are familiar with the steps to prepare our homes and the supplies needed for our hurricane kits. However, many forget the importance of securing electronic devices and digital information for hurricane season.

Think about the electronic devices you use at home and in the office: These may include a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, television or security system. These technologies help us receive the latest news, speak to our loved ones and call for help. The data inside these devices is used to operate businesses, monitor properties and store important records. Without question, it’s much more difficult to return to a normal home and work life after a storm has passed if these technologies have failed and if critical documents have been lost.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

Don’t leave your data and devices to chance. The following tips can help you secure your electronic devices and digital information for hurricane season:

1. Schedule your personal and workplace data and devices to be backed up regularly. Hurricane season should not be your cue to prepare data and devices for a disaster, as anything could happen to your home or office throughout the year. However, the start of hurricane season can be a reminder to check that automatic backups are regularly scheduled and working properly. This is extremely important for those who own a business and who may rely on the files and data saved on a computer to operate that business after the storm has passed.

Sarah Vitale is a senior planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Sarah Vitale is a senior planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [ Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council ]

2. Scan important paperwork and documents into a digital format. This can be done using a scanner, a handheld camera, or with a free app on your cell phone that digitizes documents using the phone’s camera (such as TurboScan).

3. Take before and after photos and videos of your home, business, furniture and valuables. These will be invaluable if an insurance claim needs to be made.

4. Once your key information is saved digitally, back up your data and files to an external hard drive or USB flash drive. When updated frequently, these backup drives become a portable copy of the data in your computer or device. When the call is made to evacuate, don’t forget to take your backup drives with you.

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5. Back up your data and files to a cloud-based server. Uploading your information to the “cloud” provides an added layer of protection in case something happens to your phone, computer or backup drives. With cloud-based protection, your information is secured online and can be easily restored to the original device or to a replacement device.

6. After everything is backed up digitally, it’s wise to store all important paperwork and documents and keepsakes in a fire-safe, waterproof container that’s easily portable. This could involve such important items as birth certificates and passports, or irreplaceable keepsakes like family photo albums.

7. If your area is prone to flooding, place electronic devices in high and dry locations away from windows. Water is an obvious enemy of electronic technology. Even the smallest amount of water can ruin your device.

8. Make sure electronic devices are unplugged during a storm. Power outages and lightning strikes can occur and cause major damage to devices, including computers, servers and televisions. Charge portable battery packs before the storm so you can avoid having to plug in any devices.

9. Limit the use of electronics until the storm has passed and power is stabilized. It will be tempting to turn on your phone or computer to check for internet access and any news on the storm’s path. Don’t give in. It’s important to turn off and unplug devices to prevent power surge damage and battery drain. You may need to make an emergency call during or after the storm, so you need to conserve your battery life.

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10. You may be thinking, “If I can’t use my device, how will I get the news?” Your hurricane kit should contain a battery-powered radio with plenty of extra batteries. This will allow you to tune in to radio broadcasts for storm tracking and important safety updates from your county’s Emergency Management office and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

For more disaster-preparedness tips, visit to download your copy of the All-Hazards Disaster Planning Guide and Evacuation Map.

Sarah Vitale, AICP, is a senior planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Protect your home, business, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR KIT: The gear you need to stay safe from the storm — and COVID-19

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind