Mayday! Mayday!

When heard over a radio, it’s a call for help. The term “MayDay” generally means some kind of disaster. I find it interesting that May Day – the day – is traditionally the day that cultural institutions and archives set aside to review and adjust their disaster plans. Here in Florida, the month of May is the time to review our personal disaster plans and prepare for hurricane season which begins the first of June.

In addition to checking our disaster supplies (batteries, non-perishable food, water, etc.) I also use May to review my digital disaster plan. Here are some of the things I review:

  • Data backups. I am set up for automatic backups, but it’s time to make sure any new data folders or other content is included.
  • Blog backups. Since I use WordPress, I use their export feature and download a complete copy of my sites every quarter.
  • Image backups. I have a Flickr Pro account ($50/year) which includes auto-uploading all new images on my desktop and mobile devices. It serves as my off-site backup for photos and scanned images. Those images are also stored on my desktop and an external hard drive.
  • Security check. I use 1Password to manage passwords and other personal data. It includes a security audit to let me know it’s time to update old passwords. The new Watchtower feature identifies the sites that have known vulnerabilities so I can change the passwords at those sites.
  • Power check. We use surge protectors and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices to protect our electronics. Now’s a good time to check them and replace older ones no longer operating at full capacity.

You may not have the threat of hurricane season to worry about, but there are plenty of disasters just waiting to destroy your research and historical documents. Make May Day your call to review your own disaster plan and insure your archives are also protected.

This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated with current information.

What’s your plan?

It’s been a rough winter for many of us and the spring storms are just getting started. From floods to tornadoes to fires, the wild weather and other disasters can happen at any time. In my part of the world, hurricane season is little over a month away. It’s second nature for me to keep the pantry stocked with canned foods and bottled water, but that’s just one part of my disaster plan.

  • How will you contact family and friends immediately after a disaster?
  • How do you protect your family treasures – photos, letters, heirlooms, artwork, etc.?
  • Do you live in an evacuation area? If so, do you know your evacuation routes?
  • Is your important financial and insurance information somewhere you can get to it after the disaster?
  • Does everyone in your family know what they need to do before, during and after a disaster?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a long-term power outage?

Most disasters don’t give us time to prepare. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place even when you think there’s little chance you’ll need it. At, you’ll find help for building your disaster plan. Family Tree Magazine has several good articles for family historians on disaster planning and recovery. If you haven’t double-checked your data backup system, now would be a good time. And, an off-site backup system (Mozy or Carbonite) or storage service (Dropbox, MobileMe, Flickr, etc.) can insure those precious photos and documents you’ve digitized aren’t lost in the rubble.

Because it’s always with you, your smartphone could be a good place to keep important contact and account information. Look for an app like 1Password, SplashID or RoboForm that encrypts your data in case your phone is lost or stolen and, make sure you lock down your phone with a secure password if you’re keeping this kind of information on it.

During and after a disaster, communications systems are often damaged or overwhelmed with traffic. If you can’t get a voice call through, try texting. Is your phone set up to post to Twitter? One text message can tell all your followers (your family is following you, right?) that you’re okay. Make plans with your family on who to contact and how during emergencies.

Speaking of Twitter . . . Do your local emergency management agencies use Twitter for updates? If so, follow them. Check to see which local news organizations post weather alerts and other useful information and follow them too. On the Mobile tab in your Twitter settings you can set your phone up to receive tweets only from selected users. Just click the little phone icon on a user’s profile page or your followers page to activate that user. Get familiar with the Twitter commands for use in texting. They could come in handy during an emergency.

Finally, while you’re reviewing and updating your emergency plan, take a minute and hit the donation button at the Salvation Army, Red Cross or your favorite charity to help them help those caught up in this year’s disasters.

Planning for Disaster

In my world hurricanes are a fact of life and spring cleaning also means making room for the stock of non-perishable foods that are added to the pantry in late spring. In my lifetime many storms have paid a visit but only three of them caused major damage and even then my homes survived with only minor issues. Except for the cold, I’m quite familiar with many of the problems facing the people who were in Sandy’s path but one of the most heart-breaking scenes I saw in the aftermath of that storm was an elderly woman pulling a soggy and shredded photo out of the debris piled up in a marsh near her home. It was her mother’s wedding photo and a precious treasure. How many other precious photos will never be seen again?

Planning for disaster doesn’t just mean stocking up on water and food in time for hurricane season. It’s an everyday process that makes sure your most precious things are protected at all times. This means making sure your family knows how to get out of the house in case of fire, how to communicate in an emergency and where to meet if the family gets separated. It also means knowing what your insurance policy covers and who to contact. It means taking important papers with you if you evacuate. It means having off-site storage for digital copies of important papers and precious photos/documents.

It means planning for disaster must be part of your everyday routine.

You’ll find lots of helpful disaster planning information at and the Red Cross.