What I Learned From a Traumatic Experience: How to Store Important Documents

by Leigh Milligan, Head Editor, INALJ Wisconsin
previously published 9/12/13

What I Learned From a Traumatic Experience: How to Store Important Documents

leigh.milliganAround 9 PM on July 26, 2013, I suffered from the most traumatic experience of my life. My apartment was destroyed in a fire that destroyed 48 other apartments along with my own.  While I made it out safe with my fiancé and my cat, I lost everything I own except for the clothes on my back. You can read the news story here.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been thinking of how to put together the pieces of my life that were lost in the rubble that was once my home. I was also contemplating what to write for my next INALJ blog post since that deadline was coming up. I was trying to figure out what I could share with the library community in terms of what I learned from this experience.

And then it hit me: because of this fire, I lost everything I own. And, I do mean everything. I’m part of the Library 2.0 generation, so all of my documents, library work, projects etc., were saved on my computer, which was backed up on my iPhone and then on my external hard drive. Never did I think I would be in a situation where I would lose all three to water damage from the fire hoses. I was in the process of applying to the ALA Emerging Leaders class of 2013, I had last year’s application saved and was going to expand on that and make my application so much bigger and better. By losing all of my personal and professional documents, I was not able to apply to the Emerging Leaders program this year, which was devastating because I felt like I have improved on a lot of my leadership skills in libraries this year.

So with all that being said I would like to share with you different precautions you can take in storing important documents in the case of a natural or man-made disasters, such as a fire.

Here are some different ways to store information electronically:

  • E-mailing yourself documents: after you write a document, update a resume, etc. send a copy to yourself via e-mail. This is the simplest way store information and all e-mail accounts can do this. It’s great for small documents, but not so great for multiple documents, large files.
  • Cloud Storage: Cloud services are online servers with which you can store various files externally. For iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, get an iCloud account. iCloud stores your music, photos, apps, contacts, calendars, and more, and wirelessly pushes them to your iOS devices and your computers. iCloud is integrated with your apps, so everything happens automatically. And, you can store all sorts of file types. Windows also offers a similar service called Sky Drive.
  • Google Drive/Google Docs: I live by Google Docs. It was an absolute live saver in terms of all my INALJ Head Editor information. I keep track of my assistants and all the INALJ I post each day using a Google Doc. I chose it for this because it is the word processor that seems the most compatible with WordPress formatting.  I saved all my INALJ information here instead of my hard drive and I still have all of it. Google Docs is free to anyone, as long as you create a Google account, which is also free! And the file storage limit is 15 GB on Google Drive, which I think is a great number, considering it’s free! And, more space can be purchased. I am a big fan of Google Docs as I can log into my Gmail and easily access my documents at the same time and it makes file sharing easy as well.  It is also mobile device friendly. You can find more information here
  • Flickr/Photobucket – These services allow you to post photos online, but unlike Facebook or Twitter, Flickr and Photobucket retain the full resolution files. These are great places to store photos for library projects and photos being taken on the job.   

And, for physical storage, there was one thing I did not do and I have been told to do: Get a fire safe! You can get all types of fire safes in all price ranges and sizes at Home Depot. Here are a couple things I am planning on putting in my new fire safe. You can put anything in a fire safe depending on what size you choose. I am listing the couple that makes sense for my career as an informational professional:

  • My external hard drive
  • My important personal documents such a birth certificate, SS card, passport, copies of important signed documents.
  • A copy of my resume. I lost my resume my saving in to all three formats that were destroyed. If I ever want to update it, I will have to write it from scratch. To save myself the time and stress, I will put a copy of it in the fire safe.
  • A copy of my favorite book since books are not water damage friendly!

  5 comments for “What I Learned From a Traumatic Experience: How to Store Important Documents

  1. June 27, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing your awful experience so that we, too, could learn from it. Sorry this happened to you.

  2. September 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Wow, what a brave post to write — and something that not very many people (myself included) have thought about or prepared for. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Puerto Rico to Wyoming editors
    September 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks for your feedback and kind words! I will definitely be looking into Carbonite.

    -Leigh Milligan

  4. September 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I’m so sorry for what happened to you and all those other families! I have experienced this on a much smaller scale with a car fire. Very frightening. I want to second the recommendation for Carbonite. What I love about it is that I no longer have to use a flash drive to transfer documents between home and work/school… as long as you have an internet connection, it is super simple to access all your files form anywhere.

  5. Raquel Mendelow
    September 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Leigh, I am awfully sorry about your experience! May you never have such a tragedy like that happen ever again. What I use to back up all my files, photos, etc. is Carbonite. It has worked wonders for me this past year.

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