When the worst case happens — could you recover?

Photo posted to Twitter by @OttawaFirePIO.

Three years ago, my home burned to the ground. It’s still a gaping hole in the earth, right where the popular cafe The Daily Grind stood, on a busy commercial street in a metropolitan city. I didn’t expect this to happen — no one ever does. But it’s the kind of worst-case disaster you need to plan for.

I thought I was prepared. I was hyper tech-savvy and conscientious of the importance of my data. But I was also privacy-conscious. I didn’t want the entire history of my adult life to be the property of some monolithic corporation. By most standards, I had an excellent backup plan in place. I had at least four copies of my most important data — one on a desktop, one on a laptop, one on an external drive, and one on a network-attached storage microserver inside a locked steel box in my bedroom — the kind security camera DVRs are kept in to prevent access.

In 95% of circumstances, I would have been sufficiently protected. All it took was one fairly common slip up, and one catastrophic disaster, for my thorough and expensive preparations to be undone. You see, all four copies of my data just happened to be in my apartment that day it burnt to the ground. That was rarely the case. My external backup drive usually sat on my desk at work, and my laptop was usually in my backpack. They were both in my backpack that day — I was planning to do a new synchronization — and in a careless rush to get to work I’d left it at home.

And that’s all it took to undo an elaborate, borderline paranoid backup scenario. One point of weakness ( not surprisingly, a human one ) and one conceptual flaw ( not automating the transmission of a copy offsite) meant that all that time and effort amounted to nothing. It was only a few weeks after the disaster itself that I realized this, and in some ways it felt even crueler than the trauma of the moment.

Photo credit to Chloé Fedio/CBC.

This post probably wasn’t what you were expecting. I’m not going to prescribe to you a specific strategy or regimen — though I have lots of thoughts and perspective to offer if you’d like advice about your own plans. I thought it more important to tell a story anyone could relate to, if only to emphasize that no matter how smart or knowledgeable you are, you shouldn’t plan on your own infallibility.

I’m a committed humanist (okay, maybe a transhumanist), but part of appreciating humanity involves understanding where we excel and where we fail. Routine is one area where computers have us beat, quite easily — so take advantage of that to take the pressure off yourself to be the crux-point of your crucial data’s protection. There’s nothing that feels worse than being the architect of your own misfortune.

Though not all backups are created equal, there are many good options, both paid and free. That doesn’t mean you should trust your scheduled backup service, but let it do the heavy lifting. Systems are not infallible either — just more consistent. Check in regularly to verify that it’s doing what it’s supposed to (put it in your schedule!). But you’ll rest much easier knowing that the brunt of this burden, at least, is not all on you.

My data was by no means the most crucial thing I lost that day, and like most people I had parts of it duplicated amongst various online services. But when disaster strikes, the last thing you want to be worried about is whether your data is lost too. It’s one thing when it’s your own — at least you’ve only let down yourself. If you’re responsible, in any way, for the well-being of dozens or hundreds or thousands of people in your community — letting them down is something you want to ensure you’ll never experience.

Autumn Corvus, Director of GoodTech Services Inc

Written by

Founder of GoodTech — a comprehensive ‘tech & design’ company committed to empowering progressives with the right tools and talent to fuel the good they do.

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