Got Disaster? Your On-Hand Technology Can See You Through

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We saw quite a run of major disruptions recently and broke the record for billion-dollar natural disasters in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So how can lawyers better use technology to cope in a time of emergency?

Lawyers have never excelled at disaster recovery, but there’s no question that cheap hard drives and online backup services make it easier than ever to protect your data.

And while disaster recovery is vital, let’s move beyond that and look at how technology can assist in more fundamental ways—safety, communications and perhaps even survival—in difficult times. By using some simple, inexpensive or free tools and making better use of technology, you can put yourself in a better position if disaster strikes:

Electricity dependence. A few years ago, storms knocked out the power at our house for four days in one case and six days in another. I remember feeling like an electricity vampire as I tapped into outlets wherever I could find them to recharge my phone, laptop and other devices. I now always carry a small travel extension cord in my backpack. Having extra batteries and chargers, especially solar or crank-powered chargers, can make a world of difference. And you can also change the power settings on your laptop or smartphone to conserve what juice you do have.

SMS. In a disaster, making cellphone calls can become all but impossible as systems get overloaded. People have found that you can usually get a text (SMS) message out even when you can’t call. Think immediately of texts rather than calls to get in touch.

Smartphones and apps. Your smartphone can become a mini-survival kit. From simple flashlight apps and police scanners to first aid manuals and GPS tracking apps, your smartphone can be turned into a versatile tool chest. As an example, the state of Louisiana has created an app called Get a Game Plan that provides extensive details, contact information and other resources. Of course, your smartphone can also give you a way to access the Internet and email when home or work networks are out.

Twitter and social media. Someone recently described Twitter as, simultaneously, the best source of accurate news, inaccurate news and inappropriate humor during an emergency. Social media have played vital roles, from Haiti to Joplin, in getting information and assistance to those who need it. Twitter’s search tools can help you get a sense of what is happening in your area. By posting on Facebook or other social media, you can provide information about resources, problems and local news. By posting pictures of downed power lines or other dangers, you might help authorities to redirect priorities.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of data backup and disaster recovery. However, in a real disaster, our concerns are more personal, more visceral and more immediate than just our data. With a little preparation and some thoughtful and inexpensive additions to your technology toolkit, you can be prepared for the seemingly more common emergencies we have been seeing lately.

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer. is his website and the home of his blog.

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