Guest Post by Jori Hamilton
We have all reaped immense benefits as a result of the digital age. There have been systemic changes, offering greater access to information, and closer connections with people across the globe. We also enjoy the advantages of the seemingly minor developments. Our devices help us capture family moments and instantly share them with distant relatives.
That said, it can’t be denied that we’ve become dependent upon these technological advances. If we take the time to look at how many essential daily tasks are dictated by access the internet or even electricity, it can reveal areas of vulnerability. We have benefited from the conveniences of technology, but has this also left us open to danger?
This dependence paints a pretty grim picture if we stop to consider how we might be affected in the event of a disaster. Nuclear winter, widespread cyber attacks, and climate change could each result in the restriction of access to and use of our digital infrastructure. When planning for emergency situations, it’s useful to look at the pros and cons of this digital dependence, and how we can best prepare accordingly.
Contemporary digital culture has heralded some great advantages when it comes to our finances. We have been able to enjoy immediate access to our bank accounts and investments at any time of the day or night, and undertake transactions when it is convenient to us. Blockchain technology — the record-keeping system originally behind Bitcoin — has emerged to provide a variety of security benefits. In terms of your finances, it provides a largely tamperproof record of transactions, and requires significant computational power to join a blockchain network. FinTech advances mean we can allow ourselves to be dependent upon technology, because we are able to trust it with our valuable resources.
The primary downside to trusting all your finances to a digitally-reliant system is all access to your funds could cease in the event of a disaster. Without widespread connection to electrical grids and data-sharing networks, card transactions cannot be processed, and gaining access to cash via ATMs would be unlikely. We are becoming a cashless society, but this could find us also without any finances during a disaster. By allowing ourselves to become technologically dependent, we may risk our economic downfall by something as simple as loss of data.
While it is smart to have a certain amount of emergency cash safely tucked away, the best preparation is likely to be self sufficiency. It may be the case that, when disaster strikes, society is not in a position to return to normal relatively swiftly. Learn how to be less dependent on the current infrastructure, and educating yourself on food growth and foraging. Skills which allow you to survive without money will help you and your family until services are restored.
One of the great boons of our current technological age is the incredible advances in smart, portable devices. Smartphones and tablets have helped ensure that we have access to a vast amount of information when we need it, wherever we are in the world, a concept that was still science fiction 30 years ago. In many of the emergency situations we face, smart devices can give us access to potential solutions, first aid procedures, and even connect us directly with emergency services. Whether we are lost in the relative wilderness, or looking for hospital, the GPS receivers in our devices can help us access help.
The obvious con to our device dependence in the event of a disaster is that we may not have access to networks. The quick and easy access to information we’ve become reliant upon will suddenly cease to be available. Many of us have no skill with traditional maps and often don’t commit information to memory because our devices do this for us — take that away and we may find ourselves crippled. Beyond this, threats may come in the form of cyber terrorism; unscrupulous actors may gain control of our digital devices. It may be the case that looters will steal your hardware during a natural disaster, thereby having access to your personal data. We cannot assume that device security is foolproof — in an extreme example, there have been reports of unauthorised users gaining access to smart guns.
Obtaining alternative communication devices is an important preparatory step. Emergency radios can help you reach out for assistance and stay abreast of developments. These should have a hand-crank or solar charging option. Taking preventative steps against cyber attacks can also help minimize potential damage. Regularly update your passwords, reduce personal information kept online, properly secure your wireless network. It’s also imperative to take a proactive approach to old device destruction. Wiped hard drives and phones can still be reformatted to retrieve information; you can prevent serious consequences by destroying your old devices.
Data and Records
The cloud is a huge advantage in the storing and sharing of information. Businesses can operate in multiple locations without having to physically distribute their data sets, patient records can be immediately accessed by emergency healthcare providers. As a society, big data is proving helpful in multiple fields like social work. Agencies can identify at-risk young people and connect with communities. On an individual level, we can store our important documents — such as insurance materials, or passport scans — and access them wherever we are on the planet.
However, this dependence could also leave you vulnerable during a natural disaster. During a catastrophic event, you simply won’t have access to your records stored on the cloud. Without a functioning grid, everything that is being stored will be irretrievable. There is even the danger that this loss of access may be permanent. This cloud dependence could also be problematic in that agencies coordinating aid may not have immediate access to required information.
In terms of individual preparation, the most obvious step is to ensure that you have hard copies of all essential documents. Birth certificates, important medical information, even bank statements should all be stored in a waterproof, easily accessible place. Your emergency planning approach should reflect the backup rule of three. Have at least three copies of your data, store these on a minimum of two media, and ensure that one copy of these is stored off site.
The digital world we inhabit has opened up so much excitement for us all. At the same time, our push to discover new uses for technology has resulted in us becoming largely dependent upon it — from financial transactions, to the sharing of information. Thorough, practical preparation is useful for any emergency situation, and this goes for our use of technology too. We must ensure that we keep backups, educate ourselves on self sufficiency, and take a responsible approach to our devices. In this way we can enjoy the fruits of our digital advances, while bolstering against potential vulnerabilities.