Digital preparedness key as hurricane season begins

Published 7:32 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

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With hurricane season underway, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and Virginia Department of Emergency Management encourage people in the commonwealth to get ready now by setting up a “digital preparedness kit” to help stormproof their electronic devices and digital information.

“When it comes to preparing for hurricane season, you may not necessarily think about digitization or protecting your computers, smart phones and other electronics,” said Chief Information of the Commonwealth Robert Osmond. “However, technology is a critical response and recovery tool, allowing you to stay connected and have access to life-saving and life-sustaining information before, during and after a disaster.”

 Preparing your digital devices and assets is just as essential to hurricane readiness as strengthening your home and gathering emergency supplies, said State Coordinator of Emergency Management Shawn Talmadge. 

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“When a disaster strikes, you must have several ways to receive warnings, alerts and updates, including Wireless Emergency Alerts, weather apps, verified government agency social media accounts and other digital communications,” Talmadge said. “Identifying those trusted and reliable sources beforehand will help keep you informed, safe and protected from misinformation and disinformation when it matters the most.”

Here are the steps to take right now to safeguard data and devices:

  • Make sure electronics are backed up on a regular basis.
  • Scan important paperwork, documents and sentimental items such as photos into a digital format. People can do this by using a scanner, a handheld camera or with an app on a mobile device.
  • Once your key information has been saved digitally, back up data and files to an external hard drive, USB drive or a cloud-based server.

Officials encourage everyone to take physical steps to prepare devices ahead of time:

  • Make sure to keep all of electronics charged up, so they’re ready to go prior to any type of emergency; 
  • If an individual residents in an area prone to flooding, elevate electronic devices to a high and dry place, away from windows.
  • Unplug them to protect them from power outages and lightning strikes.
  • In the event of power outages, have a portable charger ready to recharge devices.

“One more area to watch out for when it comes to putting your digital preparedness kit together is cybersecurity. Phishing and other scams can increase after a disaster,” said Chief Information Security Officer of the Commonwealth Michael Watson. “That’s why it’s so important to access only known websites and social media accounts, such as those of VDEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, when you’re looking for updates and information. You’ll also need to maintain the security of your back-up systems. Make sure you choose a tool with strong security features such as data encryption, password protection and secure data centers. These are all great ways to thwart bad actors and hackers who want to take advantage of the chaos that happens around a disaster.”

More preparedness tips are available on the VITA and VDEM websites.