Incident And Disaster Information Document
If you got caught in an incident or disaster and got incapacitated, do your loved ones then have access to an incident and disaster information document so they can take care of things? What if a disaster destroys your house or forces you to flee to another state, do you then have access to all your information? Of your doctor, lawyer, insurance companies, investment company, your bank?
A pretty simple question that everyone I’ve asked it the past week had to answer with a no. Not one of them had somehow gathered all their important information in a single, easy to access and known place. Shamefully I had to admit that neither had I. Time to act.
How and Where To Store Your Personal Information
The whole reason for gathering every bit of information into a single document is so that you can give others access to it and that you yourself have access to it at all times as well. To accomplish that you need to:
- Gather all your information into one single document.
- Encrypt that document so only the key holders can open it.
- Upload that encrypted document to an online service.
- Inform the people you trust on the location of it.
- Keep a copy on a USB or SD card on your person.
Since you’ll be storing sensitive data in the file, like your social security number, bank accounts, passwords, phone numbers, locations of emergency supply caches, bug out locations and whatever else important you must encrypt that file. Now I know that lots of people have never dealt with encrypting files before and might shy away from that. But let me just say this then: Edward Snowden, NSA. Need I say more? You will have to get into the habit of encrypting your data. Especially the kind you don’t like to see on the local evening news. If you haven’ t familiarized yourself with encryption yet, start tonight.
Online services that lend themselves perfectly for storing and then sharing data on are plentiful, some services you may already know. These are the best services out there that I personally all use –yes all– :
- Google Drive Comes with 15 Gigabytes of free storage space. You can upload your file to it and than decide on a per person basis who you’ll grant access to using that persons email address.
- Dropbox Comes with 2 Gigabytes of free storage space. Just put your stuff in Dropbox and access it from your computers, phones, or tablets. Everything’s automatically private, so you control who sees what.
- Ubuntu One Comes with 5 Gigabytes of free storage space. Sharing with others is also a breeze.
- Box Comes with 10 Gigabytes of free storage space. Geared towards businesses, but excellent service for personal use as well.
Sharing information with others is something all these services do equally well. One might be a little easier or more intuitive then the other, but all are suited for the job. The free plans with these services do not have a time limit. So you could make use of ‘m till the end of time. All of them work on Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and Apple devices, and of course through the internet. So no matter your taste of operating system or device, you’ll get to your stuff!
Keeping Your Personal Information Private
When you use encrypting it can be perfectly secure to store all your personal data into a file. Even when that file is stolen by an adversarial identity bent on getting your stuff, you still have nothing to worry about. For example, if someone or some organisation would get their hands on my file it would take them between several hundreds of thousands to a few million years to crack my file. In other words, you should be more worried about getting abducted and tortured to give up your key then you should be about someone breaking it. For real.
Is encryption difficult? For you and me it’s no more difficult than it is to use a new piece of good software. That’s it. You don’t have to know about algorithms, hashing and salting or anything like that. All you need to know is what software to use to encrypt and decrypt files, and that’s it.
You should know a little about the concept of encryption and signing data though, just so you feel comfortable with what you’re doing. You should start reading here about PGP. PGP is often used for signing, encrypting, and decrypting texts, e-mails, files, directories, and whole disk partitions and to increase the security of e-mail communications.
update: when writing this article I used Truecrypt. This is no longer a safe option as development has been discontinued. Please do not follow the below advice on using Truecrypt. I’ve removed all links to it from the text. I’ll be checking out what the best replacement is and report back on that in a separate article.
I myself like to use Truecrypt, a free, open-source disk encryption software for Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. I used Truecrypt to create an encrypted file on my SD card, called a Standard Truecrypt volume. That file then thanks to Truecrypt acts, crazy as it sounds, as a hard drive. So it shows up in Windows Explorer, or for you Ubuntu folks in Nautilus, as a disk that you can drag and drop files to and from like you’re used to. Difference being, all the files you drop onto it, are immediately encrypted and protected against prying eyes. If you only have time to do the minimum necessary to protect your data, read about Truecrypt and start using it.
This is what I did. I downloaded Truecrypt for Linux and Windows. I installed it on my machines and then, using the beginners guide, created a Standard Truecrypt volume and stored that on my SD card. On the card that Standard Truecrypt volume looks like a normal text file, that doesn’t do anything if you try to open it. I made the volume a little smaller then the size of the SD card. That then allowed me to use the space that was left over to store the Truecrypt program for both Linux and Windows. Now if I find myself sitting behind a pc or laptop that doesn’t have Truecrypt installed on it, I have the option to install it from the SD card and then use it to retrieve the data on the Standard Truecrypt volume that’s also on that same SD card. Awesome stuff huh?
Now to make it available via the internet I uploaded the Windows and Linux installers plus the Standard Truecrypt volume to a dedicated folder on all four data services I mentioned before. That way my data is always there for me or someone else with the key, completely protected and accessible.
What Information Should You Gather?
Finally! We’re getting to the actual ‘Incident And Disaster Information Document’ itself. It’s a bit of a long read, I know, but all the preceding stuff is also very important. There isn’t much good in compiling a master file if you can’t access and protect it, right?
A couple of years ago Lifehacker published an article about creating an emergency document that was, as most of their articles, pretty good. I took the example document they published with it and tweaked it just a little bit to fit our purpose. So thanks to www.lifehacker.com for providing the basis of this Incident And Disaster Information Document.
You can download my Incident And Disaster Information Document template right here (or click to zipped folder) and start using it right away.
Please, if you run into a snag, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Leave your question in the comments and I will answer to the best of my knowledge.
Thanks for reading this far! If you liked this article please consider giving it a G+ / Like or sharing it. Thank you so much, till next time, Kain.