Video Files and Hurricane Sandy Devastation: A Reminder to Backup

Losing a difficult project or files from your operating system or hard drive is painful – but if the lost files are personal memories: your old baby pictures or video files of your kids long grown now, the loss is a most heart-wrenching experience. Watch the news coverage of people sifting through the rubble of their once happy homes, and they don't lament the loss of the new TV, cozy couch, or trendy dishes: they break down over the photographic, celluloid, taped or digital memories now gone forever.

25 years ago, every video, photo, filmstrip and negative I owned was destroyed in a devastating event that still haunts me. Watching the news now, I think of all the people in the path of Hurricane Sandy and the devastating fires on Breezy Point in Queens and wonder if they've lost all as I did. The images of New York and surrounding areas on fire, under water and without power are sad and scary reminders that backing up is an important step in protecting all of your files, not just photo or video.

Be Redundant
To best protect your photo and videos files in your operating system, you actually need redundant systems that you back up on a regular basis and that you also don't store in the same place. And have a good media management system for storing files. Here at Videomaker, we backup our files on a weekly basis, and keep copies at the office and off-site. This is one of the easiest and safest ways. If our office catches fire because I dialed in a 5 minute microwave dish to cook for 50 minutes [True story!], we would still be able to operate with the backup system.

Safe from Harm
Another way to protect your files is in a waterproof-fireproof enclosure such as one from ioSafe. You can get  fireproof-waterproof 3TB hard drive starting at about $300.00. Not just fire or water protection, ioSafe also has crush-proof and other systems designed for the unexpected and they offer guaranteed protection for users of the hard drive. If the system fails, the company promises to do the expensive data recovery necessary to retrieve them.

Options for a Backup Plan
While none of us expect disaster of such magnitude as the fires or floods from Hurricane Sandy, at the very least one should have a good storage system and at least back up their system on a regular basis and you have many options from CD or DVD to hard drive and cloud storage online.

Main Drive: Start with a good file management system. Create a copy folder of your essential data on your main drive, if you have room. This not only gives you a second copy but is your copy-to folder for transferring to DVDs, Blu-ray or other media, so you don't accidentally jeopardize your main folder. Another pain-free transfer option is with a device like the Clickfree Transformer we reviewed. Plug one end into your computer and the other into your backup drive and the Clickfree Transformer scans your system for data that needs backing up – and it will only back up new files, not stuff you've already covered.

CDs and DVDs: Although some question the future longevity of discs, DVD is still the cheapest and easiest way to store large amount of video files. Create at least 2 copies of your photo or video files on DVDs, label them "A" and "B", and store the "A" in a safe cool dry place and the "B" discs off-site.

External Hard Drive: an external hard drive connects to your computer via a USB connection and they can hold a terabyte or more for a relatively cheap price nowadays (some under $100). What's also nice is the size: some can fit in the palm of your hand. When disaster strikes, grab that puppy and head out the door!

Online Backup Services: Backing up files for video editors is even more crucial than the average user because video is a space hog – one can never have enough space! As anyone who has spent more than an hour sitting in the editor's seat knows, editing is labor-intensive.  Losing your files is painful, losing all the time re-creating your project is even more painful. Online services (often called Cloud Storage) are easy to use, and unlike burning to DVDs, you can store them at full uncompressed resolution. Buffalo's CloudStor saves your photo and video files as well as offers you cloud storage that you can share with others. There are a variety of sites that allow you to backup your data and depending on the size of your files, some even for free!

A word of caution, though. Even though we call it "The Cloud" this is a network if giant servers on that live right here on Earth, right? So what if THEIR building gets flooded out? Burns down? Or the company goes out of business? They are physical machines, which means they are susceptible to natural disaster. Storing data only in the cloud is not a redundant backup solution – in other words, use it, but don't put all your eggs in this basket alone.

Transferring Files
One of the biggest questions we get at Videomaker is "how do I transfer this format to that format", and that question often follows with "and what type of file storage can last forever and will still be around?" Of course, if we could predict that, we would have stopped the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD war before it got out of hand.

Film to video. Laser discs vs videotape. VHS vs Beta – who knows what will be around forever? Primera Technology has a DVD system called "Millenniata" that they say will last a millennium. Given the time, that obviously hasn't been proved, but it's a start. And, yes, you do need to consider a system that won't be redundant 10 years from now. The best bet is to try to make clean copies to whatever system you decide to follow, and investigate in the best quality that will let you transfer uncompressed footage. (Example: When I left the TV news business, I transferred many of my favorite work from Professional Beta to VHS, knowing I wouldn't have access to Beta tape decks, but … VHS? Down-sizing quality isn't smart, but sometimes it's your only option.)

Historical Files
Speaking of VHS, if you have memories on VHS – dub it now! The degradation quality of that video becomes apparent quickly – it really has only a few years' life-span and videotape breaks down every time you play it. Older tapes lose their protective coating, which can flake off into your VCR every time its played, perhaps rendering the VCR unusable over time, too. We discovered  Rescue Your Videotapes! from Magix where you can transfer VHS and S-VHS, along with 8mm, Hi8 and Betamax video files to DVD. And it's easy to do. Pinnacle Systems has Dazzle DVD Video Creator Plus and Video Transfer to take videos from VHS to DVD easily.

Keep that old Camera, Deck or Film Projector!
If you ARE saving files on any system – miniDV, DVD, film, Hi8, etc. make sure you keep at least one working camera or deck to do the transfer with!

A Clean Machine
Although these next tips won't save your files from fire, flood or other disasters, they will help you keep you system running efficiently and allow you to back up your files without the headache of scrambling to find space, or even find the files! Videomaker features backing up your system stories often and below are a few tips to keeping your system safe as possible:

Kill Your Background Apps: Things that are running in the background all the time that don't need to be there like instant messaging.

Dedicate your System to be for Editing only: With the new movement of downsizing workspace, home space and jobs, it's difficult to have a single computer dedicated to editing only. But if that computer is your livelihood it needs to be impregnable. Keeping it uncorrupted, undefiled and unsullied will help prevent creepies like malware from invading your system. Try not to hook it up to the internet, either, except when you need to go online to update your editing apps or operating systems. You DO know about Microsoft's monthly "First Tuesday Update" – right? And for goodness sake – DON'T let your children play online games on it! Kid laptops and tablets are cheap nowadays – your rebuild and restart isn't!
    The goal of a dedicated system is to protect it from acquiring all of the random junk it tends to acquire when people aren't paying close attention. It is possible to run a healthy computer for both video editing and other purposes, but it requires more forethought and care.

Get a RAID for Your System: Consider getting a RAID for your video editing computer and storing video files there and not on your main drive. A separate video drive gives you the luxury of cleaning up the drives between projects, and backing up to another for an added measure of security.

Stick to a Regular System Maintenance Program:: An occasional defrag is a good thing to do, but not as important as it used to be. driver and software updates are as important as ever. Check online for critical software and driver patches and updates regularly. Your computer's hard drive is the most likely of all components to fail without warning, rendering your data unrecoverable without spending a high price for data recovery.

Videomaker Forums: Many of the Videomaker forums have loads of suggestions from our members for file transferring, storage, creating redundant systems and how to keep your video files from disappearing into the netherworld. Check them out. 

Remember: no backup is completely fool proof, but the more you can protect your files – especially the photo and video files that you can never replace, then you need to stop playing in the dark! The best way to remember to back them up is to set a daily, weekly or monthly schedule and follow it every time.

Even though the video camera became more accessible to consumers about 25 years ago, few people were able to make great video memories due to the cost and low quality of those cameras. But I was a TV news shooter, I had access to the big professional cameras since 1979 and my family was lucky to have most special events captured and edited on professional beta videotape system. In my mind, I can still see the photo of my then 6-year-old son in a Spiderman costume I crafted. I can still hear the roar of the crowd in the video when he pitched a perfect game in the local junior world series. Gone. All gone.

A few weeks ago, I lamented the old analog days in an opinion piece I wrote, but, really, we're lucky to have such backup abilities now. I've been slowly transferring what old video and photos I managed to dig up from family and friends onto a special hard drive to preserve my family history. I then save these to a second backup drive. Hopefully, neither rain nor fire nor drive failure should keep me from losing my precious memories again!

Jennifer O'Rourke, Videomaker's managing editor.

Photo courtesy of bigstockphoto

Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

Related Content