In Hurricane Katrina and the Canberra bush fires, three of my clients lost everything. I was able to send replacement copies of my reports, plus the genealogical data and certificates that accompanied their requests - but many professional genealogists do not keep client files for very long.
During the past month, five Australia States have been affected by catastrophic floods, and an 'inland tsunami' destroyed one small town. Several other towns were hastily evacuated by helicopter. 75% of Queensland (an area larger than Texas) has been declared a Disaster Area. Now three cyclones (one potentially a Category 5) are expected to cross the coast in Queensland and Western Australia within five days. Severe weather events are becoming more frequent, and they are occurring in areas that have not traditionally been at risk. If you live in an area where bush fires, cyclones, hurricanes or tornadoes are common, you may be ready. The rest of us? Maybe not.
In the recent floods, electricity and mobile phone towers went out very early in some areas. Many people could not be warned to evacuate because they did not have a standard (non-cordless) telephone or a battery-operated radio. (Let that be a lessen to us all!) In pouring rain, with flood waters approaching Brisbane, I helped a friend prepare to move some of her belongings to storage on high ground. She has 10,000 books. Where to start packing?! That story had a happy ending, but it certainly made me think.
I live a long way from the river, but a major flood extends into large creeks, which could flow back into the small creek behind my house. If local heavy rain had continued, creeks would have been full before the flood peak arrived, and I might have had water through my house. As a precaution, I loaded the car with important personal and business documents, family history folders and notebooks, photos, laptop computer, data backups, mobile phone and charger, torch, radio, spare batteries, clothes, toiletries, medications, sheets, towel, pillow, blanket, and some food and water. Inside the house I lifted as many things as possible onto benches and tables.
It turned out to be total overkill, but it was good practice. For future reference, I have made a list (in order of priority) of other things that I would try to save if I had time. High on my list would be irreplaceable mementos from my travels (handcrafted wooden and pottery miniatures) and the beautiful beefwood fruit bowl, magazine rack, picture frames, coffee tables and book cases that my father made from timber he felled on the grazing property where I grew up.
Many Web sites have advice on disaster preparedness. As a family historian, I have some additional comments:
- Think about what is stored where. Should items in lower shelves and drawers be moved higher?
- If you only had minutes to grab books, could you find the ones you treasure most?
- Some disasters wipe out an entire town. Store one electronic backup locally and another much further away, preferably interstate.
- If you have a free account with Google, Yahoo, Hotmail etc, send yourself emails with important files attached, and save them there. You can retrieve them from any computer with Internet access (eg, at a library).
- Upload a GEDCOM file to Rootsweb's WorldConnect (free). You can download it if you need it.
- Various Web sites (eg, State Library of Qld) have advice on salvaging items damaged by water. Print a copy and store it in your Emergency Evacuation Kit (with some freezer bags).
- If your computer is submerged, it may still be possible to retrieve data from the hard drive.
- Read Geneabloggers' guides to data backup and disaster recovery plans.