Four Letters Re: Preparedness for Digital Doomsday

Hello Mr. Rawles,
The article by David W. on data storage raised excellent points, and is sure to get people thinking about an often-overlooked subject..

For the prepper on a budget, there are a number of avenues to secure your data that won’t break the bank. While it may be impractical to have several NEW laptops in your stash of supplies, there are plenty of good, used laptops available that will fit the bill nicely. You don’t need a powerhouse just to read your survival documents, and having one or more spares means fewer eggs in one basket. I’ll focus on laptops as the item to stock, due to their low power consumption and compact size. A laptop is a lot more practical to shield against EMP and store compared to a desktop PC, so you are more likely to accomplish the task.

When you purchase your used laptop, have your computer friend (you have one, right?) perform a clean install of your favorite Operating System after wiping the hard drive, to ensure you have a clean system. Apply all the updates, and install a standard set of programs. My standard “laptop for storage” installation has the free OpenOffice suite for word processing and spreadsheet documents, and the free utilities Acrobat Reader or Foxit Reader for PDFs. You might find that your computer friend is open to barter, thus minimizing a potentially expensive activity. I would personally fall over myself to help someone for a fresh Pumpkin Pie or six pack of quality Root Beer.

Once the machine is set up for general use, store it away in EMP-proof packaging as discussed previously on SurvivalBlog.

You may wish to save all of your data, as David W. proposed using several excellent methods. In the case of just storing a laptop to review your survival information, you might get away with just using USB memory sticks, a.k.a. Flash Drives. These will also receive the EMP protection treatment. The storage method you choose will be determined by the amount of space your files take up. If you are just storing a copy of all your SHTF reference documents (saved in PDF form for portability) you might only need a 4 or 8 Gigabyte flash drive per stored laptop. Flash drives are inexpensive enough that you could keep extras in your bug out bags, vehicle, cache, key chain, and retreat. Redundancy is important here too. You can have five copies of your docs at home, and if your house burns down, there goes all your data. Mail flash drive copies of your survival docs to friends or family members for your own safekeeping, as well as quietly providing others with vital information if the SHTF.

If your plans include bugging out or having another secure location in case your retreat is overrun, having a stored laptop with all your reference material could be a lifesaving decision. A copy of your critical reference docs on a key chain might be just as useful as a multi-tool in the right circumstances. Remember, half of knowledge is knowing where to find knowledge. – J.T.C.

Dear James,
Thank you for posting David W’s article “Preparing for Digital Doomsday”. There are two important issues which need to be added to the topic.

1. Conventional hard disks, floppy disks, and magnetic tape all suffer from the same vulnerability — they will lose their data over time even under the best of circumstances. This isn’t a manufacturing defect but
physics. All of these media record data by forcing the microscopic magnetic domains to line up in one of two orientations to signify a ‘1’ or a ‘0’.

Over time, these microscopic domains become randomized through entropy. When this happens, the data is lost. In the case of a hard disk, this is delayed by the data being re-written after it is read. However, if the computer is not used and the data is not re-written, even the data on a hard disk will eventually be lost.

2. It was report a few years back that a large store of information that NASA had gathered from early space probes was “lost” because they no longer had the machines to read the old tapes. The tape machines used to read and write the tapes had become obsolete and were scrapped. No one had given a thought to the data created with these machines, and there no longer exists any off-the-shelf solution for reading them.

The magnetic media problem can be easily solved by using write once CD-ROMs or DVDs. They are simple, cheap, and do not suffer from the magnetic domain problem. The downside to CDs/DVDs is the second issue: will there be machines later that can read them? The only way to address that problem is to keep aware of changing technology and the quantity of data that must be retained. When there is a new, non-magnetic technology, you will need to upgrade and transfer all of the data you need to keep. Best Regards, – Bear in the Sierra


A couple of minor points:

Netbooks: cost comparative to laptops, and they have a long battery life (lower power CPUs). I’ve not tried, but they could probably be maintained with a photovoltaic panel. There is a wee one with the
[PV] panel built in
. Netbooks are about half the footprint of a typical laptop. Consider using SD chips for small form-factor storage.

Archiving the blog: Are you accounting for the noise ratio? I mean, it’s a great site, but not everything written is required. 🙂

I’m putting together a family album using Lulu Press this year. I took the first eight years of marriage and three kids and putting the best shots. That should make for a rugged alternative to ye olde photo

Also consider the options shown here. – Ben


James Wesley:
This was a very good article to get people thinking about their digital security preparedness. A couple of other thoughts. Assuming power goes down, the internet will also go down with it. Local backups will be imperative, as anything you have stored remote via network will not be accessible. In the event of EMP, any local computers, hard drives and disc readers (i.e. CD-ROM or DVD) will be at risk, as well. The best backup will be on archival CD-ROM and DVD. These are impervious to EMP and remote access problems. Archival means what it says; these are special discs designed with a gold backing, the CDs should last up to 300 years, the DVDs up to 100 years. The cheaper aluminum discs you buy in bulk at your local electronics store will not last anywhere near as long (i.e. 3-10 years).

If you have valuable digital items that are irreplaceable, i.e. family photos, documents or business records, they should be archived regularly. You should keep multiple sets of back ups and store them off site or in secure, fire and water proof underground storage. Just as you would “cache” supplies in different places, you should cache your data. I send discs with non-confidential data to my relatives in 3 or 4 places around the country — this increases the odds of survival of the data.

Be very careful when you handle the discs, as finger prints, labels and non-archival marking pens can damage the surface. Note: the shiny back of the disc is where the data is written. The clear side is thick to prevent scratches from obscuring the data because the laser focuses at the back where the pits are written, not on the surface that can be scratched. Other than handling by the edges or center hole, discs should be stored in Tyvek sleeves or a jewel case in a cool (40-68F) environment. I recommend waterproof storage boxes, as well.

At some point after TSHTF, the consumers and businesses that remain will want to be able to read these 12 centimeter standard discs, so there is a very good chance you will be able to obtain a way to read them. – CK