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So Aunty, So What?

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Protecting what’s precious to us

I USED to think my house was safe from floods. And actually, I still do. After all, it is a good two metres higher than the road which slopes gently towards a big drain across from my property.

But then, many Penangites probably thought their homes were safe too. They never expected typhoon-like winds and heavy rain that lasted 15 hours and floods that rose three to four metres, affecting even places like Kek Lok Si Temple, situated on high ground.

Those who had experienced flooding before in their homes took precautions but still could not save many items as the water rose higher than they thought possible.

And so if the unexpected, the unimaginable were to happen and rain pours down on my part of Selangor for more than 15 hours, will my two-metre wall be able to hold back flood waters from gushing into my house?

Much as I shudder at the thought of a mud-filled house, damaged cars, furniture and electrical items, all these items can be repaired or replaced and most documents like identity cards, passports and even birth certificates can be reissued.

But they will not be the same as the originals. And that is what I fear losing most, together with handwritten letters and my photos taken with old-fashioned cameras which, to me, are irreplaceable.

So what can we do to prepare against disasters, be it an earthquake, fire or flood that can destroy our homes and belongings?

Plenty, say the experts.

As Luke Armstrong writes in restorationmasterfinder.com, “as long as you (and your family) are safe and sound, getting back on your feet is just a matter of perseverance and time”.

But the better prepared you are for such an unfortunate event, the faster you will be able to rebuild your life. To do that, the best bet is to ensure the safety of your documents.

“If you have all the required documents, you can easily establish your identity, file an insurance claim, and recover or replace most of your material possessions,” adds Armstrong.

These documents include birth certificates, ICs, passports, marriage certificates, driving licences, insurance policies, proof of ownership for property, vehicles, and other major purchases, wills and financial records like income tax returns, stocks and other investments and credit card details.

And where do we keep them?

Well, some we carry in our wallets and purses – ICs, driving licence and credit cards – but the rest has to be stored somewhere.

A recommended solution is to put them into a file and lock it in a fire and waterproof safe. To deter thieves, the safe should be bolted onto the floor.

Or the file can be in a carry case which you can grab and run with when disaster strikes. I have some of my papers in such a bag but I now realise I need to add other documents like the insurance policies, fixed deposit certificates and documents belonging to my mother and late father, which have immense sentimental value.

A popular piece of advice now is to go digital and scan all documents and store them on an external hard drive, USB and in the cloud.

As for photographs, those taken with our handphones can be stored digitally too. But what do I do about the many hundreds of printed photos and their negatives that are kept in numerous albums and boxes tucked away on my shelves?

I could of course scan them and upload to thumb drives and FB but it would take me a long time to get it done. And I still want to keep those prints safe, as well as my parents’ photo collection dating back to the 1940s and Dad’s diaries.

My family and I realised how precious these photos were when we were preparing a PowerPoint on Dad’s life for his funeral.

Being able to flip through the photo albums, to take out individual pictures and hold them in our hands and often finding captions on the back in Dad’s neat handwriting that told us who were in the shots, where and when they were taken, gave us a powerful physical and emotional connection to his past.

And it was possible to do so without the need of a power source or having to log in to a device to view those photos.

I had that same feeling when I looked through and held Dad’s documents, like his yellowed and tattered birth and marriage certificates and school records.

They may not be the Magna Carta or the Federation of Malaya Agreement but, to me, they have the same value and gravitas of being originals and not copies.

Still, I will scan these old and newer documents and seal them in ziploc bags and keep them in a safe deposit box. That at least should protect them from fire and flood.

My problem is with those diaries and hundreds of photographs, as I don’t think I can buy a home safe or rent a safe deposit box big enough to store them.

All I can think of is to ziploc them too and put them in waterproof plastic containers and place them at the highest point of my house.

And hope I never have to experience the misery of trying to salvage them from a disaster.

As Aunty was writing this, Bastille’s song, “Things We Lost in the Fire”, kept playing in her head, especially that last line: Flames – they licked the walls, tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore. Feedback welcome to aunty@thestar.com.my .