Disaster Preparedness for Writers

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Disaster Preparedness

As I write this, we’re staring down the barrel of Hurricane Florence. No one knows yet for sure which way she’ll go. It could be good for us, terrible for us, or somewhere in between. In any case, I’ve been working through my disaster preparedness plan, getting ready to bug out if necessary.

While many things in a disaster plan apply to everyone (extra food, water, batteries, pet supplies, etc.), there are some extra things writers need to consider so you can get back to work faster. Here are some thoughts from someone who’s been through few disaster rodeos and survived.

Know your hazards and plan accordingly.

Of course, not everyone lives in hurricane country, but most people live in an area prone to some form of natural disaster. It could be tornadoes, fire, volcanos, floods, whatever. There’s plenty of pain to go around.

Know what hazards your area is most likely to face and plan accordingly. If it’s floods, you’ll need lots of waterproof containers and high shelves. If it’s tornadoes, a heavy safe bolted to the floor might be useful, or a tornado-proof safe room for you and your important items. Areas prone to fires may need a heavy duty fire safe. And so on. Knowing what you’re likely to face is the first part of any disaster preparedness plan.

Backup your data.

You should be doing this anyway. Often. But if you don’t do it regularly, at least make sure you do it before a disaster hits. Use a drive you can take with you (or protect in a safe, for example), or an online cloud service. If you use a free online service, you may not get enough space to backup your entire hard drive, so pick the most important documents and send them to the cloud. Paid services will likely give you enough space to store an entire hard drive. They’re not that expensive and can really save your butt in an emergency.

Also make sure you back up anything else you need like pictures to accompany your work, contracts, spreadsheets for accounting, client files, etc.

Take pictures of your equipment.

You’ll want to take pictures of everything you own to make it easier for your insurance to replace your items. As a writer, pay special attention to the tools of your trade like computers, printers, cameras, etc. Note models and serial numbers so your insurer can replace like with like.

Protect your paper.

While many things have gone digital, most writers I know still have heaps of important paper lying around. Make sure you can protect it. That may mean waterproof containers, fireproof safes, or crush-resistant file boxes or safes.

Check your insurance.

Most things writers use are covered under a standard homeowner’s/renter’s policy, but if you have anything special or especially valuable, have it added to your policy. Without a special rider, your insurance may decline to pay for that super expensive camera or laptop that you use.

If you use a separate area like a she-shed or detached office for your writing, make sure it’s on your policy, as well.

Also, if you live in a flood-prone area, get flood insurance. Insurers won’t pay for floods without a special policy. (I’m not from earthquake or fire country, but I suspect there are such exclusions in those areas, as well. Check, and adjust accordingly.)

Keep client information handy.

It may already be stored on your backup, but make sure you have the information for your clients/contacts handy. There may be no power or internet and the phone may be the only way to let your clients know that you’re offline and unable to work.

It’s also helpful to communicate in advance if you have notice of the coming disaster. Let clients/publishers know that doom is inbound and that you may not be able to meet deadlines. Give them a chance to make other arrangements instead of simply disappearing.

Charge everything.

Charge your laptop, phone, camera batteries, and anything else you need for work before disaster strikes. It won’t last forever, and in an extended outage you could still be screwed. But you may be able to get by for a few days with judicious use of your electronics.

Understand that the internet may be dead.

Many of us depend on the internet for everything, both personal and work related. But in a big disaster, you have to understand that it may not be available. You may have no power, your cell phone may run out of juice (or towers may be down) and you can’t recharge it, cable lines may be damaged, and you may not be able to travel to a place that does have internet. You could be offline for days.

Think about your daily workflow and ask yourself, “How would I do this without online access? Can I do this without online access?” Then plan accordingly. If internet is critical, you may have to give some thought to evacuating to an area that won’t be affected. How will you contact clients? Do you have your insurance information stored somewhere other than on the insurer’s website? Do you have access to your work locally, instead or relying on a cloud service? Can you access passwords without an online service?

If you need online access for everything, it’s going to take you much longer to recover and get back to work. Figure out how to go old-school if you need to.

The most important thing, though, is to protect your safety. Work is work and everything can be fixed, even if it takes a while. But you cannot replace your life, so do whatever you need to to do stay safe, first, then worry about your work. Making a plan ahead of time can make these considerations much easier to deal with, though, than when you’re staring disaster in the face.

(Photo courtesy of Comfreak)

2 thoughts on “Disaster Preparedness for Writers

  1. mirkabreen

    Excellent post, Jennifer. I live on an overdue earthquake fault, so I’ve done most of the above. But you listed a couple I hadn’t.


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