Hurricane 2021: Protect your data, documents and photos

Identify your most important items and use backups. There’s more than one way to store things digitally.
For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check
For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE | Times and Shutterstock ]
Published May 24, 2021|Updated Aug. 25, 2021

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your property, possessions and business requires more than standing in line for plywood at Lowe’s or putting away your lawn furniture.

It means assembling and protecting your most important documents and photos and creating several backups of your most important data files.

Related: NOAA is latest to forecast an active hurricane season in 2021

Checklist time

The first step is figuring out what you need to protect, and doing so well before an evacuation is imminent. Create a checklist of the important documents — personal, medical, financial and property — that you need to preserve and protect.

You should also gather the most important physical copies of your family and personal photos.

Below are suggestions for what to preserve and how. You’ll want to store these records two ways: Physically and digitally.

One word: plastics

Store physical copies of documents, photos and digital storage devices in waterproof containers or bags. But don’t just use Tupperware. Buy bags and bins that are sturdy and waterproof. Ziploc bags work but they’re cheap and disposable. Think about waterproof and fireproof bags, cases and organizers.

The most important storage device you’ll carry with you is your smartphone. Make sure everyone has a waterproof pouch to keep their device in, especially ones that come with neck straps.

Related: 2021 hurricane forecast: 17 storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major ones

If you have a waterproof, fireproof safe, leave it at home. Imagine how hard it would be to drag that heavy box into a shelter — and how obvious it would be. Keep valuable documents and data in a smaller, lighter container, one that will be more discreet whether you’re staying in someone’s home or a school gym.

Preserve new, old media

Treat photos, videos and movies like those important documents. You want to store them online and preserve some physical copies.

While most of your photos may already be stored online, some older ones may exist physically only. Those can be scanned, but losing the originals would hurt right?

Again, choose a sturdy waterproof container. Figure out in advance which physical photo albums, photos, negatives, videos and old home movie reels you want to preserve. Make a list of the photos hanging around your home that you’ll need to grab during an evacuation.

And don’t forget, you may not have cell service when your insurance adjuster arrives. Filing a claim will be a lot easier if you keep physical photos of your home, furniture and belongings with you.

Digital storage

Storing documents and photos digitally is one of the most important — and thanks to cloud storage services, one of the easiest — ways to get ready for a hurricane.

Use physical storage devices, such as flash drives or external hard drives, and cloud data storage services, that way you can backup your backups.

The great thing about physical storage is that the devices are cheaper and smaller than ever, so it’s not a hassle to keep several ready. You could leave one at home (unplugged, in a safe place), in a safety deposit box or with relatives, and take one with you.

The cloud

Cloud storage is like an external hard drive, but on the Internet. It’s being backed up somewhere else, so you don’t need to worry about losing the data if your home or business is damaged.

Having a smartphone already gives one access to such services. Apple iPhones are backed up via iCloud and Android phones use Google Drive.

You can also access cloud storage from your laptop or desktop. Along with iCloud and Google Drive, there’s also DropBox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive. They all offer a certain amount of free storage and charge monthly or annual rates for more hard drive space, but most won’t need that much storage.

You don’t need a scanner to digitize every document, either. There are iOS and Android apps that can take a photo of documents and turn them into PDFs. The photos you take with your phone should be automatically backed up in the cloud (ask a knowledgeable person to double-check your phone settings for you.)

Think about backing up your cloud backup by using two or more services (since they’re free) just in case something goes wrong with one service.

One more thing

Keep enough cash on hand to get by for at least seven days after a storm. Power and communications will be down after a severe storm. Don’t count on credit cards or mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Venmo working or banks being open.

• • •

Preservation checklist

Personal records

  • Birth certificates (especially for young children), marriage licenses
  • Social Security cards
  • Driver’s licensees, passports, military ID, any form of identification
  • Citizenship paperwork, green cards
  • Disability documents
  • Health insurance cards, coronavirus vaccination card, Immunization records
  • Prescriptions
  • Medical records needed for immediate treatment
  • Printed contact information for family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, insurance providers, medical providers and subcontractors.
  • Any hard-to-replace documents

Financial and property records

  • Credit card numbers, PIN numbers, credit statements
  • Bank account numbers, checks, account statements
  • Deeds, lease or rental agreements
  • Investment, retirement account records
  • Property insurance policies
  • Tax records
  • Wills
  • Vehicle registrations and proof of insurance
  • Physical and digital photos of property and possessions (digital images stored on a flash drive or portable hard drive)

• • •

2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you

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