I like redundancy, and I hate clutter. I also love organizing things. So, it makes sense for me to keep backup copies of important documents digitally. I keep a USB drive with important documents, like copies of IDs and immunizations. It’s very convenient having everything in one place.
This took me weeks to sort out, scan, and organize. If you have a family, it will take even longer. It has saved my bacon several times. I have lost documents, and many times I’ve needed to send immunization records or proof of a certification. Think of it as your digital bug out bag. You can take it a step farther and include important family photos or other media.
Keep a copy away from your home, like in a safety deposit box, your place of employment, or at a trusted friend or family member’s place. You should keep a copy at home for your own convenience, but if your house should be lost to a fire or natural disaster, so will your back up data.
Create Digital Files of Your Documents
If you aren’t able to scan items as PDFs, you could take photos with your phone and keep those. You could even email them to yourself or store them in Google drive for a quick back up. There is no reason you can’t make paper copies, I just like how small the thumb drive is.
The downside is, it can be lost. Unless you protected your data somehow, it can be accessed by whoever finds it. I haven’t been able to find something as simple as a password protected USB drive. (I am not tech savvy, so proceed with caution). There are two simple (and free) options to secure data on a thumb drive. Those are BitLocker and VeraCrypt.
BitLocker is an encryption feature included with Microsoft Windows. It’s very easy to use. Insert your flash drive, right click, turn on BitLocker. Print your back up key or store it somewhere safe. Think of a good secure password. Now when you insert your thumb drive it will say “Access Denied.” You will have to enter your password to access the files in the drive. If you have a windows machine, it should already be installed.
The second solution I have found is called VeraCrypt. This is the “new version” of the well liked TrueCrypt program, and using it feels exactly the same. VeraCrypt is a free, open source encryption software. It’s pretty intuitive and easy to use. You can encrypt a partition of your drive, or the entire thing. You can make a hidden drive, which is a partition within a partition that looks like random data. Make a “traveler” or portable disk, that has an executable file on it. That way, whatever computer you are using doesn’t need to have VeraCrypt installed, it can just run off the executable on your flash drive. The downside is you must have administrator privileges on whatever computer that may be. There is a ton of information in the forums on the VeraCrypt website.
I can’t really speak to the quality of these encryption features, because I don’t know what they’re talking about when I research it. I just don’t have the background knowledge to understand what things like “AES encryption algorithm with 256-bit key” mean. They both appear to be robust and well liked among people much more educated in this area than I am. I’m not trying to keep the NSA or FBI (hi, guys!) out of my thumb drive, I’m just trying to deter Joe Schmo on the street from stealing my shit if it should fall out of my pocket. If you’re technologically inept, like me, the simplest way to protect your digital data may be a good hiding spot or a robust safe.
Micro SD Cards – Huge Memory and Tiny Size
If your tablet or phone can read a microSD card, storing your information here would make it accessible on the go. Plus, they’re tiny and will fit nearly anywhere, even in a hollowed out “spy” coin. You should have the option to encrypt your SD card with your phone.
You must keep your information updated. In each document name, I include the day I scanned it, and the expiration date. Its makes for a long file name, but I can tell at a glance when something needs to be replaced. For example, a driver’s license could be named: “DriversLicense_03.01.16_Exp03.02.2022”.
Consider keeping the drive with a spare credit card or cash. In the event something awful happens (like losing your home) it’ll help you get by the first few days. More likely, it’ll save you from thumbing through a bunch of papers for that one random thing you thought you’d never need. If you need to email something, it’s already in PDF format so you can fire it off ASAP.
Before you submit a lengthy application or document, I recommend scanning it and keeping a digital copy before you send it. Before I was allowed to attend my Physician Assistant program, I had to complete a twenty-two page immunization packet. Over the span of 6 months, it took hours of tracking down old records and many trips to see my doctor to complete. Even after having an RN look it over, I had to go back and fix things once it had been submitted. It was a colossal pain.
One of the students submitted their packet, which we were told was sitting on a stack on the top of a desk. A pipe in the ceiling burst overnight, ruining it. The student had to go back and start over. Not the end of the world, but a real pain in the ass. I made sure I had a good quality PDF of that packet before I sent it out of my care, in case I had to reprint.
What to Save in a Digital Bug Out Bag
Here is a sample list of items you may want to keep on your back up drive. It’s not an exhaustive list, as all our needs are different. Hopefully it will jog your memory or serve as a starting point.
- Any certifications or certificates, for example: CPR, SCUBA, Hunter Safety, etc.
- Amateur radio license and list of handles, repeaters, frequencies, etc.
- The deed to your home
- Apartment lease
- Life insurance information
- Locations of caches
- Transcripts or Degrees
- A list of your employment history, dates, supervisors, and their contact info (helpful for background checks)
- Your resume or CV
- A history of previous addresses and dates (This has made my life much easier when applying for background checks)
- Driver’s license
- Any other IDs, like your work ID, firefighter ID, University ID, etc.
- Concealed Carry License
- Birth certificate
- Passport or Passport card
- Social Security card
- Tax information
- Dental Records and panoramic X-rays
- Medical insurance cards
- Immunization records (If you keep this handy for your kids, they will thank you one day)
- Medical history including conditions, identifying marks, medicines, primary care providers, allergies, etc.
- Hunting or fishing license
- Photos of your house or valuables for insurance purposes
- Your family’s Disaster plan information
- State or County Disaster plan information
- A list of your firearms’ serial numbers
- Any reference information (I have a PDF of “Survival and Austere Medicine”)
- Vehicle title
- Car insurance
- Vehicle registration
- NFA forms for suppressors, SBRs, or SBSs
- Last will & testament, a living will, or power of attorney
- Adoption papers
- Marriage license or divorce papers
- Death certificates
- Green card or naturalization documents
- Mortgage papers
- Bank information (statements, account numbers, debit or credit card numbers)
- Retirement Account info
- Investment Account info
- Government benefit info
- Military ID, DD214, or other information
- Alimony or child support information
- Appraisals of property
- Student loan info
- Vet records or microchip information for pets
- Pet vaccination records
- Emergency contacts addresses and phone numbers
- Photos of family members and pets
- Any lengthy projects you wish to keep a backup of (ie: Master’s Thesis)
- Important receipts
- Maintenance records
- Personal article insurance policy information
Having a digital bug out bag is a low-cost, lightweight, and smart asset to have should you run into an unexpected, catastrophe where you won’t have time to grab all of the important documents and information you need.