Hurricane 2023: Protect your data and documents using your phone

Make recovery easier: Use your phone to photograph possessions, scan and store records and save everything to the cloud.
Hurricanes threaten to blow away or waterlog personal effects and documents, so you have to take steps to protect them.
Hurricanes threaten to blow away or waterlog personal effects and documents, so you have to take steps to protect them. [ MAX CHESNES | Times ]
Published May 28

The key to saving your most important possessions from a major storm fits in your pocket.

Smartphones have changed the hurricane prep game. You can use them to take photos of your possessions for your insurer; scan and store copies of your important financial and medical records; save your most prized photos; and, afterward, take notes and photos of any damage.

All that information can be saved via an online cloud storage service, so even a lost or damaged phone won’t prevent you from filing insurance claims and starting your recovery.

You’ll still want to take some physical possessions with you during an evacuation, but phones can lighten that load.

One thing your phone may not be able to do after a storm is pay for anything. Power and communications could be down. Don’t count on credit cards, mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Venmo or banks being open. Keep enough cash on hand (and hidden) to get by for at least seven days after a storm.

Here’s a quick guide to preserving your stuff.

Create a checklist

  • Create a list of the important documents — business, financial, personal, property and medical — that you need to preserve and protect.
  • Don’t forget your kids’ records, and any older relatives’ who need help.
  • The same goes for your business records. Scan and save digital copies of everything.
  • Do the same for your photos. While our phones have become our cameras in recent years, you probably have old family photos, VHS tapes, etc., that need to be digitized. Do it now. Even if you have to use your phone to photograph an older photo, it’s better than nothing.
  • Figure out which records should be stored digitally and which you need to take with you. The safest bet is to scan and save everything in the cloud, even the records and photo albums you’ll take with you.
  • Make a checklist in advance of your most important physical possessions — paper records, photo albums, framed photos, home movies, etc. — so you know what to grab when it’s time to evacuate. Don’t leave it to memory.

Protect your possessions

  • Photograph your home and businesses and everything inside — furniture, computers, TVs, anything you collect or value — before a storm, so that you can document everything in case you have to file a claim.
  • Store physical copies of documents, photos and digital storage devices in sturdy, waterproof containers or bags. Think hard plastic containers with locking lids. There are also waterproof and fireproof bags. Garbage and sandwich bags will fail.
  • Don’t try to drag that heavy, waterproof, fireproof safe into a shelter. Scan the documents inside and leave it hidden at home — but not on the floor, in case it floods. That’s also why you shouldn’t leave photo albums, a bottom drawer of files, books, etc., on the floor.
  • Make sure everyone in your household has a waterproof pouch to keep their smartphone safe and dry. They’ll need extra charging cables and chargers, especially if you evacuate.
  • Your phone is also your best tool after a storm. Use it to photograph and document damage to your home, business, vehicles and everything else after the storm.

How to go digital

  • Cloud storage is like an external hard drive, but on the internet. If you lose your home computer or phone, your data is still preserved somewhere away from the storm.
  • Having a smartphone means you already have access to such services. Apple iPhones are backed up via iCloud and Android phones use Google.
  • Cloud storage can also be accessed from a laptop, desktop or tablet. Along with iCloud and Google Drive, there’s also Amazon Cloud Drive, DropBox and Microsoft’s OneDrive. They all offer free storage, but you can pay for more space if needed.
  • You can use an all-in-one printer to scan every document and save it as a PDF. There are also iOS and Android apps that can take a photo of documents and turn them into PDFs.
  • Make sure your phone is automatically backing up the photos you take in the cloud (ask a knowledgeable person to double-check your phone settings or Google it.)
  • Think about using two or more cloud services to back up your data, records and photos, just in case.
  • You could still back up your data the old-fashioned way by storing more copies on external hard drives and thumb drives. You could take them with you; leave extra backups at home (unplugged) in a safe, dry place; put them in a safety deposit box or mail them to a relative or friend. Those devices can be password-protected.

Preservation checklist

A guide to the records you should try to save.

Personal records

  • Any hard-to-replace documents
  • Birth certificates, marriage licenses
  • Citizenship paperwork, green cards
  • COVID-19 vaccination cards
  • Disability documents
  • Driver’s licenses, passports, military ID, any forms of identification
  • Health insurance cards
  • Immunization records
  • Medical records (especially for chronic conditions)
  • Prescriptions (paper copies, too, just in case)
  • Printed contact information (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, insurance providers, medical providers and subcontractors)
  • Social Security cards.

Financial and property records

  • Bank account numbers, checks, account statements
  • Credit card numbers, credit statements, customer service numbers
  • Deeds, leases or rental agreements
  • Health care surrogate document, signed and witnessed
  • Investment, retirement account records
  • Power of attorney document, notarized
  • Property insurance policies
  • Tax records
  • Vehicle registrations, titles, proof of insurance
  • Wills.

• • •

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