Thumb drives for disaster preparedness

Tam and Uncle both mentioned someone raising the idea of including electronics in you bug out kit.  Me being me, I figured I’d throw in my two cents.  Especially since, while I wasn’t one of those hit by the little bit of rain here in Nashville last year, I did have to quickly evacuate in the middle of the night a few years ago due to an apartment fire that took out my entire building.  I was fortunate enough to escape with my wallet, car keys, and money, but that was largely because they were still in the pants next to my bed.  A few of the other folks weren’t as lucky and had a bit harder time dealing with the rescue workers (and I’m assuming everyone else) when they were asked for identification.

I would highly encourage everyone to carry a USB thumb drive with scans of important documents on it.  I will say that you don’t have to buy a high capacity one or one that’s been “ruggedized.”  I’ve been carrying a 1GB Sandisk MicroCruiser that I bought back when that was the high capacity size.  It’s been riding on my key chain ever since and has taken a pretty good beating because of it.  I check it periodically to make sure it still works, and so far, so good.

Here’s what I have on mine and would recommend having on yours: a folder encrypted using TrueCrypt that contains scans of my birth certificate, SS card, driver’s license, and other important documents or information (some include a text file with bank account info, etc), a portable copy of TrueCrypt  to access the folder, and portable copies of OpenOffice and Foxit (PDF viewer) from  As long as I have access to a computer running Windows with an open USB drive, I’m good to go.

Oh, and notice I said “have on me,” not “ready to go” or “in my bug out bag.”  I learned in the fire, that I only had time to grab a couple things (including pants and shoes) before I had to get out due to smoke.  I failed to find my cellphone because my girlfriend moved it a foot from where I had put it when I went to bed.

9 comments to Thumb drives for disaster preparedness

  • a leap at the wheel

    In a perfect world, you should also have all of those things somewhere on your harddrive so that your automatic, offsite backup will back it up offsite, automatically.

    Having it on your phone wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

  • It occurred to me that I have a 16GB miniSD chip in my phone. It wouldn’t be too hard to stash a few compressed files on it. You’d have to have a card reader to get to them, though. I have a USB adapter that accepts MiniSD, but that makes another thing to have on you at the time. Even a regular size card reader could be stored in a wallet, though.

  • It’s really not too tough to carry an entire operating system on your USB drive. Check out Puppy Linux, which is close enough to WinXP that most people can learn it easy.

    You can try it out on a CDrom first before creating a bootable USB stick with it.

    I have a bootable toolbox on mine since I’m a sysadmin, search-fu “UBCD” for what I used, add Back|Track, Puppy, and a few other toys to round things out.

    • Oddball

      My particular favorite flavor of the moment is Mint Linux, but that’s one of those personal preference things that has lead to epic flame wars. I will say that I like that there is still a few flavors out there that are interested in tiny footprints. Mint is smaller than the distro it’s based on (Ubuntu) and can easily be run on a DVD or flash drive, but still not quite as tiny as Puppy.

      Haven’t played with BackTrack, but I think I’ve heard of it from a few of my IT security friends. I will say that UBCD has been indispensable for me in the past and should be a required tool for IT pros.

      • puppy is what I’d rather boot instead of windows XP. It’s lightweight and can run completely in RAM, so if it can do the job I pick it for older hardware. There are other distros that are lighter, but this has a very nice GUI that is not scary to linux n00bs. If a larger distro will work for you, go for it. I have Ubuntu 10.4 LTS on my stick, but that’s mostly for doing installations. It will run as a live CD, but usually Parted Magic or Puppy will work better and faster.

  • I also thought of a micro linux distribution. If you have a bootable USB with a full lightweight operating system, as long as you have access to a computer that could be made to work, you’d have your information. I was thinking of Minimal Ubuntu with IceboxWM, but I haven’t tried Puppy Linux. I’m just getting started down the Linux rabbithole, so I would take his word over mine.

  • […] and Oddball have thoughts on USB drives for bugging out. are apps that run from a USB drive. […]

  • I’ve been playing around with a multi-boot USB OS loader, called YUMI ( With the price of 16gb drives down to less than a 20, I keep one with a number of different operating systems and special programs for computer repair. Time to throw my important documents on it as well.

    One question is, what do you guys use for electronic document storage? I would love to come up with a simple way to organize all my bills, ect, but filing systems make me shudder.

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