Jim Benedict recently wrote (at http://goo.gl/115Zh) about the Southern Alberta flooding disaster. The flood displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core of communities throughout southern Alberta. Jim wrote, "I live in Calgary, and some of you may have heard or read the news of our Southern Alberta flooding disaster. Canmore, High River, Calgary and other communities experienced the highest river flooding levels, ever. Several riverside residential areas were overwhelmed by flooding, filling basements and main floor areas with sticky, smelly, horrible river mud. Many family heirlooms, photos and computers have been wiped out, gone forever."
A few days ago a horrible train explosion destroyed most of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Once we got past the news that 15 people lost their lives in the explosion, we also learned that Lac-Mégantic’s history literally went up in smoke. The town's archives had been housed at the library, including: baptism records that came over with colonists from France in the 17th century, local politicians’ correspondence, and documents related to the various social clubs in town. All of this disappeared within seconds. Ironically, those archival records were scheduled to be moved to a bigger facility in the same town with better access and better climate control. However, the new facility was destroyed at the same time as the library. The explosion also destroyed many homes, and we can only guess at the family heirlooms that were lost. Pictures are available at http://goo.gl/HTt6F.
Yesterday, flood waters inundated much of
Toronto, shutting down the city’s subway system and flooding homes
across the metropolitan area. It also caused massive power outages.
This was in an area not known for major flooding. The 126
millimeters of rain recorded at Pearson Airport yesterday beat the
previous record set by 1954’s Hurricane Hazel. Basements were
flooded almost everywhere, and there was no electricity to run the
pumps. At least one building collapsed in the city’s west end on
Tuesday afternoon, apparently as a result of Monday's heavy
flooding. I haven't heard any reports of archives that have been
flooded in the Toronto flood. However, I can guess that many
families lost papers, photographs, and keepsakes in their flooded
All this raises the question, "What can each of us do in case we face similar disasters?" The answer will vary from one family to another, but certain action items appear to be necessary for everyone.
First, make sure you have adequate homeowner/tenant insurance. (Many homeowner policies do not cover flooding.) Keep a grab-and-go kit in case you are forced to leave your home in a hurry due to flood, fire, tornado, and other sudden emergencies. The grab-and-go kit should include key contact numbers, documentation, and medications. You need to create a family emergency plan now, including plans for where you might be able to stay if forced to leave your home. Then make sure all family members know that plan, especially your children and elderly family members.
Of course, you also will want to protect family documents, pictures, your children's school records and awards, a wedding dress, and more. Keeping those items in a grab-and-go kit is probably not practical. However, the family emergency plan probably should include a plan to quickly retrieve those items from danger and quickly move them off-site, if time permits.
If the emergency occurs when you are not home, a family emergency plan will not be able to save family documents, photographs, and keepsakes. I'd suggest making duplicates of all items wherever possible, then storing the duplicates off-site. Paper photocopies are desirable, although not always possible if you have a large collection. Whether you have photocopies or not, you should also create scanned digital images of the documents and photographs, then save those digital copies in the cloud or at a relative's house far removed from potential disaster. In other words, don't save them at a relative's house across town where the duplicates could be destroyed by the same disaster that you may experience. Instead, pick a more distant location or store more than one copy at more than one location.
The loss of family heirlooms, such as furniture, clothing, dishes, and similar materials is especially tragic. No digital photograph will ever replace "the real thing." Nonetheless, a digital image will be better than nothing. It will also be especially valuable when filing insurance claims. Take lots of digital photographs of all your treasured possessions, whether heirlooms or not. Also, store those digital photographs off site, preferably in multiple locations.
Surviving a disaster that destroys your home is always going to be traumatic. Few of us are truly prepared for such calamities. However, a bit of planning now can help preserve some of the things that you value most.