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Things You Wouldn’t Think to Put in a Gun Safe: Backup Hard Drives and Electronics

Things You Wouldn’t Think to Put in a Gun Safe: Backup Hard Drives and Electronics

One disadvantage of living in an increasingly digital world, with “automatic” data storage and backup, is that fewer people are concerned about keeping local, redundant hard drive backups of their personal data, documents, images, and movies. Think about it: if you’re like the majority of people today, your phone is your primary camera and video recorder, as well as your calendar/personal daily planner, notepad, entertainment device, and more.

While the increasing spread of “cloud” backup systems has helped many people feel more at ease about potentially losing their irreplaceable photos, memories, documents, legal forms, etc., there are a lot of good reasons to supplement your online cloud backup with redundant hard drive backup devices stored in a quality, certified fire-resistant safe.

In this article:

  • How to prevent fire and other damage to sensitive electronics and hard drives
  • Why you shouldn’t rely solely on “cloud” data backups and storage
  • Benefits of backup hard drives and RAID arrays
  • What safes and protective measures are most effective at keeping electronics and backup HDs protected from fire and electromagnetic harm?

Let’s go over some important considerations when working toward keeping all your electronic (and physical) documents, photos, records, and memories safe from prying eyes and physical harm.

Watch These Liberty Safe Fire Survival Stories

Advantages and limitations of cloud backup of your files

Software, systems, and apps like Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive make it easy and nearly invisible to automatically backup your phone, save your documents and files, and keep copies of your photos and videos with minimal or no effort. However, there are some potential negatives to all this ease and convenience.

One downside of this nearly effortless cloud-based backup system is that many people aren’t aware of how it actually works and the potential limitations of relying on “automatic cloud backup.” Unfortunately, many people today live in blissful ignorance of where and how their data is being used and exploited and assume that “someone will take care of it” if they lose their phone, tablet, laptop, or computer to theft, fire, damage, or cyberattack.

However, just like anything else online, your cloud data and backup is strikingly vulnerable to hackers, scammers, techno-terrorists (yep, it’s a thing), and other threats. All that needs to happen for your irreplaceable photos, videos, data, records, documents, personal information, etc. to be stolen, erased, destroyed, or infected with viruses and other malware is for some bad actor to want to do it bad enough.

There have been multiple, significant data breaches of very high-profile, secure online and physical data centers, and you have likely been notified more than once that your personal information has been potentially exposed to cybercriminals. Remember, these are companies and organizations with billion-dollar data security systems and processes in place, and the bad guys still make it through with shocking regularity.

What’s more, though cloud data is typically stored in multiple locations, it’s still ultimately stored on physical servers and hard drives somewhere, all of which are potentially vulnerable to economic, technological, or physical threats. Even big corporations can and do fail, and when they do, their systems and assets are vulnerable or even lost forever.

So, while keeping a copy of your files and photos and records online via cloud backup is not necessarily a bad idea (and can be a big help if your physical hard drive backups fail, which they can do), you should be aware of the limitations and potential downsides, and should not be relying exclusively on the cloud to keep your precious memories and files secure from damage or loss.

External magnetic (HDD) and solid-state (SSD) backup devices

Before “the cloud,” people lived in constant fear of the internal hard drive failing on their desktop or laptop computer, tablet, phone, or other device and leaving them without any way to recover their precious photos, data, and memories. This was a real and relatively frequent problem, and a lot of people still mourn the permanent loss of digital photos, videos, files, records, etc. during this period. There were (and still are) companies that specialize in recovering data and files from damaged or failed hard drives, so that should tell you that nothing is guaranteed.

As external hard drive backup devices started to become more available and affordable, wise people began to keep multiple backups of all their important files.

Since everyone is shooting videos and pics in ultra-high-resolution lately, even a 1-2TB (terabyte) external backup drive may not be enough for all your files and records. So we recommend you keep at least 2 external hard drives, and back your files up on a regular schedule. Just like anything else, external hard drives can and do fail, so be sure to have a backup of your backup.

External hard drives are very reasonably priced today but they are still resistant to magnetic damage, shock, and environmental factors than some other options. So it’s a good idea to have more than one backup system in place.

Magnetic hard disk drive (HDD) vs solid-state drive (SSD) external HD backups

For the past half-century, the magnetic hard drive has been the standard way for computers and similar memory devices to store information, but the SSD is gaining in popularity. Magnetic drive systems are generally reliable and inexpensive and are still the cheapest way to get a lot of memory capacity for a computer, laptop, or external HD backup. However, there are some limitations unique to this type of hard drive.

Disadvantages of magnetic HDDs:

  • Magnetic drives use moving parts, plates, and/or disks and are therefore susceptible to damage from shock, impact, and strong magnetic fields, and even mechanical wear
  • Magnetic HDDs use more power and create more heat
  • HDDs are noisier and slower to “boot up” and use than solid-state drives
  • In general, HDDs are bulkier and take up more space than the top-line SSDs

Advantages of magnetic HDDs:

  • Cheaper, reliable, proven system. You can usually get “more storage” for less money when choosing an HDD
  • Magnetic HDD drives can be overwritten exponentially more times than SSDs, so if you’re running a RAID array or continually backing up new files over and over, a magnetic HDD may still be your best choice

Disadvantages of Solid State Drives (SSDs):

  • SSD backups are generally more expensive than magnetic HDDs,
  • SSDs are more vulnerable to abrupt power loss and electromagnetic fields
  • SSDs can be overwritten much less than HDDs, as noted above

Advantages of SSD backups:

  • SSDs use less power and generate less heat
  • Solid State Drives are quite a bit faster in read-write speed than magnetic systems
  • SSDs have no moving parts and are less susceptible to damage by shock or use
  • SSDs are also generally much more compact than magnetic drives, which can be an important consideration when you’re storing one (or several) inside your safe with limited capacity

We recommend keeping at least one redundant hard drive backup in your safe, meaning a backup to your backup. Perhaps you might maintain one or two external hard drive backups, and one solid-state with as much memory capacity as you can afford.

Consider a RAID array for daily/weekly backup

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (or Independent Disks, depending on whom you ask). This is a system for backing up data using multiple hard drives linked together that act as backups for each other, and at less expense than buying one hard drive that has a large enough storage capacity for all your data, pics, videos, documents, records, and info.

A RAID array may not be the right choice for everyone, but if you have a lot of important data, documents, pics, and records to back up regularly, it might bear looking into. As noted above, cloud backups can be compromised and external HD backup drives can fail. The old adage, “two is one, and one is none,” applies to hard drive backups with great relevance. If you only back up your precious memories, files, and records onto one external hard drive, or to the cloud you’re taking a great risk.

Since multiple high-TB backup hard drives can get pretty expensive, a RAID array made up of 2 or 3 (or more) smaller hard drives can be both a cost-saving measure and a way to keep multiple redundant copies of your data in case one goes down.

You can do a daily or weekly backup to your RAID array and then remove it to your humidity- and temperature-controlled safe or other fire-resistant container and this will help provide peace of mind if/when your cloud and external HD backups are compromised or fail. The RAID setup is a bit more complicated to understand and to run, and may not be for all users. However, if you’re “computer savvy” it’s a good idea and can be added to your redundant data backup system strategy, and you can get a very effective and reliable system for relatively low money.

For those interested, here’s a good how-to article on building a RAID array for $45 per TB.

Storing valuable electronics and backup hard drives in your safe helps protect you from damage and theft

One of the best ways to keep your backup hard drives and other valuable electronics is to start storing them in your humidity-controlled safe with UL-listed security and certified fire protection that is as high as you can afford. (Liberty has a wide array of top-level security and fire-rated safes.) And then keep your safe stored in a temperature-controlled location with additional security features (like inside your home).

When discussing what temperatures an electronic device can survive before failing, It’s impossible to predict, as there are simply too many variables and types of devices. However, the solder commonly used in the majority of electronic components melts at around 360º F, so you definitely want to work toward keeping the temperature inside your safe as low as possible for as long as possible.

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can also accelerate damage to any mechanical or electronic device, and this includes your electronics and backup hard drives. As temperatures fluctuate, components and housings expand and contract, becoming brittle over time. If there’s significant moisture in the air, condensation can develop, and the resulting corrosion can harm sensitive computer motherboards, circuits, and chips.

An EVA-DRY renewable safe dehumidifier from Liberty can work wonders in humid environments to stabilize the humidity levels for your sensitive electronics and backup hard drives. And if you store firearms and other valuables in your safe, of course, will benefit from a stable, humidity-controlled environment that helps prevent mold, rust, and corrosion.

A safe with a solid fire rating is an absolute must for protecting your electronics and HD backups

Home fires can reach 1500-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on how soon the fire department can arrive and put out the fire, your safe may have to withstand minutes or even hours in a literal inferno.

A good home safe from Liberty not only helps protect your electronics and valuables from humidity and theft, but from fire as well. Liberty Safe has a wide variety of options with varying levels of security, fire protection, and pricing. Naturally, if you want the ultimate protection from theft and fire, Liberty’s Presidential safe is the way to go. The Presidential series offers a certified fire protection rating of an incredible 2.5 hours at 1200º F, which can make the difference in protecting your backup hard drives and other sensitive electronics.

Our Lincoln model has a certified fire protection rating of 110 minutes at 1200º F, and even Liberty’s most budget-friendly Centurion line of safes has 30 minutes of certified fire protection at 1200º F for the 12 and 18 models, and 40 minutes of protection for the 24 model.

In addition to the layers of fireboard and our Palusol™ expanding door seal (see below), Liberty Safe installs a Cool Pocket in the bottom section of the door panels to keep documents up to 50 degrees cooler during a fire. Additional cool pockets are available for a very low price, so you can add additional layers of heat protection for your electronics, backup drives, important documents, and more while keeping them secure inside your safe. For the price, there’s nothing better than adding more levels of fire protection.

Expanding Palusol door seals can help protect hard drives and electronics from water damage as well as fire

All of Liberty’s fire-protection-rated safes come with Palusol™ heat-activated door seals that expand to several times their original size to fill any gaps in the door-to-frame space and help protect the interior contents against smoke and heat. A bonus feature is this sealing action can also help protect your valuables from water damage as well. If you’ve ever seen the damage that can result from a house fire, you know that the copious amounts of water necessary to put out a house fire can sometimes cause as much damage as the fire and smoke.

You should look for a fire-resistant safe that comes equipped with high-quality, expanding door seals because your important electronics can be destroyed nearly instantly if too much water gets inside.

Liberty Safe offers optional EMP-resistant safe locks

An Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) is a popular tool of James Bond and Mission Impossible villains, and for this reason is very misunderstood. However, EMPs do present a potential threat to all electronic devices and may result from a solar flare or from a nuclear explosion, among other things.

While the exact effects of, and methods of prevention against, EMPs are still being argued by experts, it’s clear that if you’re storing your valuables, documents, personal records, and electronic devices/hard drive backups in your safe, you want your safe to be able to reliably open after exposure to electromagnetic energy.

Luckily, Liberty offers optional electronic dial locks that are independently tested and proven to be EMP resistant. If potential EMP threats are a concern you worry about, you will definitely want to consider these locks for your safe.

When you invest in a certified fire-resistant, UL-listed Liberty safe and keep your sensitive electronics and computer backup devices properly secured inside, you’re adding security and peace of mind.

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