How to be Prepared for when a Natural Disaster Strikes – Save Your Family Treasures

archives cloud services consulting digital backup disaster planning disaster recovery family archives family photos family treasures history natural disaster photographs photos Apr 30, 2021

The last few weeks have been full of deadly natural disasters across the United States. There was Hurricane Harvey, we’re bracing for Hurricane Irma, and my home state of Oregon is on fire.

When you listen to the accounts of devastation you hear the universal grief over loss of life, loss of home, and loss of family treasures. While loss of life isn’t always in our control, and loss of home can partially be recovered through insurance or other avenues, it’s the loss of family treasures that is perhaps the easiest to prevent and the hardest to recover. Now is a good time to prepare for when a natural disaster strikes, and below I provide suggestions and resources on how to do it.

The two most common disasters to prepare for are fire and water. In either scenario you will most likely need to evacuate your home. If you have the luxury of time to prepare for a disaster, you can use these tips to be ready for evacuation:

  • Purchase a waterproof and fireproof box for all important papers and keepsakes
  • Keep all important personal and financial information in one location for quick retrieval
  • Place heirloom jewelry in one pouch, or string on a necklace
  • Digitize important documents and photographs, store digital copies using a free cloud service such as Google Docs and Photo, or Dropbox
  • Predetermine which family heirlooms you will want to take with you (if possible), and place these items in one container or location
  • Keep items that you want to take with you to a minimal amount as you won’t know what your evacuation conditions are until the moment of disaster

In order to know what’s important to you, you may need to review and organize your family treasures. If you’re the family archivist or historian in charge, then this task is most likely left up to you. If you need help on where and how to get started, I can help. You can view my family history services via my website Or if you prefer to DIY, I recommend picking up Margot Note’s book, Creating Family Archives: How to Preserve Your Papers and Photographs.

For more information to help you prepare your family treasures for a natural disaster, please refer to the Society of American Archivists’ Disaster Planning Resources. For an app to have at the ready on your smart phone (and doesn’t require active wifi once installed) is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Emergency Response and Salvage App. For more resources to prepare for and recover family treasures from a natural disaster, please the Smithsonian Institution’s Response and Recovery Resources page.

For post-disaster recovery of family treasures involving water, please see this FEMA fact sheet for help salvaging water damaged items.

For post-disaster recovery of family treasures involving fire, please see this FEMA fact sheet for help salvaging fire damaged items.

If you have any questions on how to get started or how to recover, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me questions. I provide a free 30 minute consult call, or you’re welcome to email me: [email protected].

Be safe out there,

Rachael Cristine

Image courtesy of Don Graham, via Flickr’s Creative Commons (, and follows the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License: Image downloaded for use September 2017, and was not purposefully altered.

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