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Data Storage for Preppers

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from valknut79. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


On October 21, 2016, the internet broke. Netflix, Twitter, Paypal, and more were all hacked, and it took most of the day for representatives from the many major companies affected to find, fix and implement the problems. For most people, this was a minor disruption to their day. To my teenage daughter, the SHTF situation we’ve all been waiting for was occurring right then and there. She instantly lost at least half of her ability to communicate and find news, she lost her entire source of entertainment, and she lost the ability to pay for anything online, even if temporarily.

I think it’s safe to say that we could all live without Twitter. Netflix is a great modern convenience, but we could live without that too. What would happen, though, if we lost Wikipedia? I know that I reference Wikipedia at least twice a day, whether it’s for random historical trivia, information I need for work, or items of interest I’m using to plan my next prepping project. To lose access to what I consider to be the major source for all accumulated human knowledge would be a major blow. News recently broke that the Turkish government is preventing it’s citizens from accessing Wikipedia.

The outage I referenced earlier was one of the largest in the short history of the internet, and it was, fortunately, quite temporary, lasting around 12 hours. What if it affected your personal PC? The infamous computer hijacks and ransomware that have been plaguing PC users for the past few years often destroy and corrupt enough of your internal data that it cannot be recovered. What if it were permanent? That could be an EMP attack or a CME that wipes out all power, or it could be a targeted hack that we can’t figure out how to solve, or something else entirely. What happens if our government passes laws similar to those already in place in Turkey and many Asian countries which prohibits access to sites which they have decided contain information they don’t want shared?

I don’t have all the answers to these problems, but I know one potential solution – Local Data Backup. Most amateur computer owners have one or more PCs, with probably only one or two copies of their most important data – resumes, scans of birth certificates and other legal documents, family photos and more. The true solution is to have many copies of your important data stored locally, updated frequently, and maintained in a Faraday cage in case of an EMP attack.

To start, you’ll want a high-capacity data external storage device. I would recommend at least 8 terabytes of storage space per unit, and multiple drives if possible. You should also have at least one or two flash drives that store at least small parts of this information. This should run you about $200. That, and an older computer or tablet with a USB cord and an internet connection should be all you need for this invaluable project. I’ve heard some preppers who prefer to maintain optical discs with information on them, but a number of the solutions I want to implement will require files that are larger than the storage capacity of a single DVD or CD. You’d also have to consider storage space – all those discs and the disc drive itself will take up more space than a single external drive.

Personal Data comes first

The chances of any computer contracting a virus or a worm while you’re surfing the internet (yes, even you Apple people) is significantly higher than the chances of an EMP attack happening in next few weeks. It’s important to have a copy of your birth certificates and other important documents, including copies of social security cards, recent pictures of your immediate family, address and phone contact information, and other information available for bug-out situations, and it’s valuable to have that data stored in a variety of locations, including on your external hard drive. It is also highly recommended that you maintain a copy of receipts or warranty’s for major appliances, and pictures of each of the rooms in your house. It is possible that, in the event of a major flood or fire, that you could use these items to help increase the amount of money you can get back from home insurance as proof of at least some of the major items you’re keeping in each area of your house.

Second, survival. One of the first tricks that preppers learn when getting involved in the lifestyle of preparedness is that it’s possible to download a wide variety of “prepper manuals” online, including military survival PDFs and other documents. You could even save valuable web pages and articles for offline viewing. I have printed many materials to put in a binder, but again, that takes valuable storage space, and could be easily destroyed in a fire or a flood. My digital copies of data, so long as they remain well-protected in their Faraday cage, are safe from most dangers.

Next is the broad category of “items of personal importance” which could include almost anything that you find important to keep around. What’s in my collection? Family photos & videos take up a large bulk of my storage space. A simple feed scanner that you can purchase on Amazon for about $100 will allow you to scan and store thousands upon thousands of photos onto your external drive, where they are well-protected from flood damage and fading due to aging, and where you can easily gift them to another relative to open up more storage space under your stairs for prepping supplies. All of my wife’s hard work on our family tree is now scanned and preserved in it’s own folder as well for the next generation to continue the work, as are my grandfather’s old diaries we’ve been left. I also keep a local copy of any digital media I own, which is everything from digital copies of Disney movies that come for free with the Blu-Rays I’ve purchased for my kids, to those new music albums that I’ve bought as MP3s because it was cheaper and more convenient than buying the disc. I’ve got downloaded digital copies of my Audible collection, and a few Kindle books as well. Essentially, if I’ve paid money for it, I have a copy of it on my external drive that I can download and access forever, even if these host companies go out of business or lock my accounts.

Additional data to backup

Finally, you can do what I’ve done and keep a localized backup copy of Wikipedia and other sources of world knowledge. Many of these archive sites allow anyone to download a full copy of the entire site, and with a Wiki reader, it’s possible to maintain a version of Wikipedia which does not require the internet to search. In addition, you can also download a few other collections for posterity , including a huge collection of out-of-copyright novels from Project Gutenberg that could keep you reading for your entire lifetime without having to purchase a new book.

I believe that maintaining at least a bare-bones minimum of these documents and files is essential regardless of whether you take the steps necessary to protect this data from an EMP. For that, a Faraday cage – an enclosure completely surrounded by metal on all sides – is important. There have been thousands of people before me who have discussed the creation of such a device, so I’ll leave them to it. Suffice it to say that if an EMP occurs, it is widely assumed that almost all electronic equipment that is not protected is in jeopardy. That means that if you are taking the time to store data, you also need to store some kind of old computer or laptop capable of accessing the data, and a backup copy of installation files for programs you can use to read them. That means that you want a PDF reader installed, as well as programs that will allow you to view photos and videos, and if you have movies or audio-books tied to a service like Audible, you’ll need to have those installed.

Is this doable for Preppers?

The value of a project like this is in the details. First, it preserves a large amount of your family’s history, making it more accessible for younger, computer-savvy members of your family to learn about and carry on the knowledge we have as a modern society and many of the traditions that you hold dear. Second, this is a great way to make more space in your life (for prepping supplies, or whatever else you want to have). I was able to re-gift fifteen banker’s boxes worth of photos, VHS tapes, diaries, CD-ROMs and floppy discs full of data and combine them into one external hard drive, and I purchased a second drive to send to a distant relative overseas as a holiday gift that meant the world to him. Finally, I truly believe that with cloud computing, government regulations on access to information, and an ever-increasing life-or-death reliance on technology, there will come a time when the freedom of the internet and our personal data will be under attack. Having at least a portion of that knowledge stored in a metal trash can in your garage where Big Brother can’t find it might make all the difference.

Is this an expensive project? Yes, it certainly can be. A good quality hard drive along with a backup copy of a computer and a Faraday cage could cost a pretty penny. There’s no doubt that this is a long and difficult project as well. Even with a fairly fast feeder scanner for photos and small documents, but with searching and downloading times for files, and figuring out how to store this data for ease of use, it took me the better part of all Winter and Spring to make this a reality. How much of this would be useful in a true SHTF situation? Potentially quite a lot, potentially not at all. The information on that Wikipedia backup might be invaluable, but you may also not have the electrical power to access the data. As a project that has so many qualifications, this is likely not applicable to all preppers, but for those who have enough backup water filters, have installed their solar panels, and have too many boxes of old photos you can’t get rid of, this is a great project to start this year to help not only modernize but also to help prepare.

16 Comments

  1. John Hertig

    May 1, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Hard drives have been known to crash now and again, so having everything on one drive is a bit of a risk. Better would be to split things up among multiple drive, and best would be to have at least two copies (on different disks) of each piece of information.

    FYI, Costco now has 256Gb flash drives by SanDisk.

    In your Faraday cage, have your drives, a laptop computer with at least one battery (not installed), and a folding solar panel with appropriate charging system for the laptop. Note that it is optimal to be able to charge the battery “directly”, as the solar panel generates DC, and the battery is charged with DC, and converting DC to AC and AC back to DC (which is what you would do if using the charger built into the laptop) introduces significant losses into the process.

  2. Scog Scogmiester

    May 2, 2017 at 2:44 am

    Ive had many a hdd for backing things up and many of them have broken or been corupted so not useable anymore so my solution now is 100 gig bluray discs emp does effect them and they are a few pounds each ideal to store all your data on and then put your laptop and solar charger into your faraday cage

  3. Johndough

    May 2, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Depending on how much data you plan on backing up, you can get a USB thumb drive(s) for cheap, with an assortment of different storage capacities…some as large as 128GB or larger. The benefits are that they’re a smaller than cd/dvd/blu-ray, and they have no moving mechanical components. They can still fail, but if you follow the rule of having multiple backups, and off site backups then you will be fine. Redundancy is the key.

    A solid state external USB drive is another option. No moving or mechanical parts. Kind of pricey compared to mechanical drives, and storage capacity is smaller as well.

    Another option that I love, and I am currently transitioning to is Micro SD cards. Often used as removable storage for cell phones and other mobile devices, their benefit is size and storage capacity. They are about the same size as a dime (close to same thickness too) yet can still store 128GB+ of data. They’re super lightweight, and can be hid or fit anywhere. There are Micro SD to USB adaptors, micro SD to SD adaptors, or you can inset one into your phone and use a USB cable to access your files from your spare PC. One of my backups is on the Micro SD card in my daily use cell phone.

    • BobW

      May 3, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      I also prefer flash drives and SD/Micro-SD cards. The challenge with microSD is that they need a device to interface. You’ll need a few of those laying around as well, and now the package is at least as bulky as just using some of the new, super compact thumb drives.

      I have a super compact thumb drive with a metal exterior. This little guy is rugged, and stores 8gb. Obviously that isn’t a fraction of the size of the newest models, but its strong metal body ensures that it continues to be used regularly.

      The best part of the flash drive/thumb drives is that they do not need any extra interface to get to the data, like blue-ray disks, CDs/DVDs, floppy disks, etc. Even external HDs, which are awesome still generally require external power to access, further straining meager battery back-up sources.

  4. Lower Tones

    May 4, 2017 at 3:41 am

    Wkipedia? You actually admit to “referencing” dickipedia? That great bastion of knowledge, where people everywhere contribute to it’s pages. Oh my.

  5. overit

    May 4, 2017 at 8:16 am

    all good points for E storage
    remembering the new printer inks run at the hint of moisture and fade badly so copied papers and pictures might not have the lifespan you think they will. new cheap paper also degrades badly. not like old heavy quality paper for lasting.
    the old style 4drawer filing cabinets are all metal from floor to top..and while theyre heavy theyre also pretty much giveaways nowdays
    I used em for all my electrical n pc storage, cds cables and bits. instant faraday cage;-)
    and for food..theyre the ONLY utterly mouseproof items ive found.theyre sadly NOT weevil/moth proof.
    re wiki
    yeah..well i prefer the old books. and the ency brittanicas are being thrown away, leatherbound editions people paid thousands and now?
    tip treasures;-)
    yeah heavy and space takers, but i do NOT plan to be moving, therefore keeping them safely stored is worth it.

  6. W.T. Hatch

    May 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Today, one of the most secure and safest ways to back-up ones files by use of a Cloud Drive. There are many different organizations that offer different sizes of free space with additional space available for a nominal fee. I currently use Amazon Drive which gives me plenty of space to hold photos and documents and as Prime member and Kindle owner, I get loads of free storage space. Your data is secure and is available from any location you have an internet connection.

    I also use a RAD drive for photo storage. It consist of 2 – 1 Terabit drives that mirror each other. If one fails, the other has copies of the data. And as this article states, external drives are also good for backing-up data. However, it is always a good idea to keep several drives of the same information with one off location. But 8 terabits seems extreme for an individual unless you have mega data to backup. Even with several hundred thousand photos, I am using only 2.5 terabits.

    IMHO: Having just completed college, none of my professors would ever accept any reference to Wikipedia. Even though the information is a usually of good quality, it is not reputable since it can be edited by anyone. With that in mind, if I need a some quick answer to cover a basic question, I do find Wikipedia a decent source.

    • BobW

      May 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      The idea of prepping data is about having access to your data without the internet, or grid power, so predicating your data back up on access to one cloud or another is failure in the making. Also, the cloud is not in any way secure. They will tell you it is, but many agencies, and those uninhibited by law can easily access your thoughtfully preserved cloud backups.

      • W.T. Hatch

        May 16, 2017 at 4:07 pm

        If the internet is made unobtainable so will any other device mentioned here. They are all electronic devices that an EMP would promptly put out of service. With that said, a RAD drive, as I mentioned, is another form of secure data backup. But with any backup a copy must be stored off site in secure location. Which means virtually the same as you say, what would be a safe off site location that is not uninhibited by law and easily accessible if the many agencies have a will to obtain it?

    • John Hertig

      May 6, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      An EMP, or any grid down scenario means the Cloud will be unavailable at least until the situation is resolved, if ever, and there is a good chance the contents will be gone forever.

      • W.T. Hatch

        May 16, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        And a hard drive, flash drive, or any other electronic storage device would be safe over the cloud? Sorry, not so. The only form of data storage that is safe is a CD or DVD since these are burned into the material. So the cloud is just as viable as any of the others mentioned here and sorry to BobW but they are as secure as your computer or any other device you may sometime connect to the internet.
        If like most normal people you rely on the internet, since you are here commenting, for much of your prepper information. Therefore you may have been hacked and have a tracking cookie installed right this minute and not know it.
        The cloud companies like Amazon or Adobe have the most secure systems available, at least many times more secure than when you log on here to comment.

        • John Hertig

          May 16, 2017 at 6:38 pm

          Yes, a hard drive, etc, would be safe(r) than the cloud, assuming proper storage in a Faraday Cage.

          A CD or DVD may not fear an EMP, but you still need the equipment to read them or they are useless, and that equipment is at risk. So including the storage media in with the reader in appropriate storage is the least unsafe (and most convenient) way to go.

          • W.T. Hatch

            May 16, 2017 at 7:26 pm

            If the computer is plugged in, it is gone. Unless I am missing

            something, one needs a computer to run a hard drive or a USB port on the computer to read a flash drive?
            So, how is that safer?
            But in reality, this is a precarious situation anyway.

            http://futurescience.com/emp.html

            http://www.futurescience.com/emp/EMP-myths.html

            • John Hertig

              May 17, 2017 at 12:14 am

              Yes, one needs a computer to run a hard drive or USB. Of course, you also need a computer to get the data off a CD or DVD.

              If the computer is plugged in, it is gone. If it is sitting out on a counter, it is probably gone. If it is sealed in a good “Faraday Cage”, then there is a good chance it is ok.

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