At 4:31 am on January 17, 1994, the earth shook under the Los Angeles metropolitan area, centered underneath the LA community of Reseda (although the nearby district where I grew up, Northridge, was immortalized in the earthquake’s name). Countless buildings were damaged, lives were lost, vast amounts of personal possessions were destroyed or disappeared. Among them was a piece of paper in a binder in a Northridge apartment.
Some years later, I wanted to try making my deceased grandmother’s beloved honey cake, which she would bring to just about every family gathering in the 1970s and which was always a big hit. I didn’t have the recipe, however, and it turned out that along with just about everything my mother owned, that family recipe had been lost in the Northridge earthquake. I contacted other relatives to find out who had it, only to learn to my distress that nobody else did. It was gone for good!
I’ve tried many honey cake recipes since then, and while some are pretty good, I have never found one that came close to the dark, rich honey cake of my youth.
That experience was a wake-up call for me, that not only are we at risk of losing expensive artwork, jewelry, or musical instruments, or irreplaceable personal items like photos, we risk losing beloved recipes and other miscellaneous bits of text in a disaster. After that, I made photocopies (it was the 1990s) of each of my favorite recipes that were on index cards or that were in cookbooks that I felt may not be easily replaceable, as well as any appraisals and other important documents that I had in my files, and kept the copies in a folder at work.
Later (in the 2000s), I scanned all of those documents and included them in the regular back-ups of my laptop computer’s hard disk. I back up my computer both at home and work, since I bring it back and forth, so these recipes along with my photos, music, contacts/calendars, and other digital documents were backed up in two places.
A couple of years ago, I pushed it up even one more notch and started keeping an alias of that recipe folder in Dropbox. Now, in addition to being on my computer’s hard disk and backed up to external hard drives in two places, it’s also on the Dropbox servers and on my smartphone. As an added benefit, if I’m in the grocery store and suddenly decide that I want to make one of these recipes, I have the ingredient list right on my phone; so I’ve added many of my other recipes that might be easy to replace but are still handy to have with me.
What else should you back up? How about insurance info, birth certificates, or poems or stories that you’ve written? Here’s a caveat though. It’s tempting these days, and perhaps wise, to back up some of this to “the cloud,” and this has the advantage that even if your home and work both perish in a Godzilla attack, the data is safe on some server somewhere in the world. However, as company after company announces that they’ve been hacked and personal information has been accessed, I am nervous about backing up private information to the cloud, and this is something that you’ll have to determine for yourself.
I just made a honey cake from a newspaper recipe a couple of evenings ago and it was pretty good, although not as good as my grandmother’s. In fact, as I write this article, I’ve got another one in the oven, from a recipe in the Joy of Cooking, and we’ll see how it is but I’m already bracing for disappointment. I may never taste that awesome honey cake again, but at least I know that all of my other precious recipes are safe for the future, and I hope you will take home a lesson from this experience as well: not backing up whatever is important to you is a recipe for disaster.
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Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.