What’s wrong with fireproof safes?

There is nothing really wrong with a fireproof home safe. They are well designed to prevent paper products from reaching a temperature that will destroy or ruin them. However, they will not prevent computer data that you have backed up to CDs, DVDs, or even flash drives from being destroyed. They also won’t protect slides and photo negatives.

The problem is that we may not understand the fire resistant or fire resistant ratings that are assigned to safes. There are three basic classifications for fireproof safes by Underwriters Laboratories. If a safe is rated for 1 hour, it must maintain internal temperatures below the specified rating for the entire hour.

UL 350: The safe must maintain the interior temperature below 350 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s below the normal temperature for most paper products to burn, char, or become useless.

UL 150 is the rating for tapes, cartridges, microfiche, and microfilm. In addition to keeping the interior at 150 degrees or below, the humidity should be below 85%.

UL 125 is the standard for diskettes. In this case, the temperature cannot exceed 125°F and 80% humidity. Moisture and water damage are important if you intend to protect electronic devices like flash drives.

Test your own data media

If you doubt the necessity of having a top-rated fireproof safe for home or office to protect your data, then you can try this simple test.

Find a couple of photo negatives or slides and a print or two that don’t interest you. Get two old CDs or DVDs with some data on them. Put one of the CDs in a jewelry box.

Preheat your kitchen oven to 200 degrees and turn it off so the elements don’t ignite. The radiant heat could be higher and cause the plastic to melt even if the air temperature is only 200 degrees. Place the CD in the case and the other CD on a piece of paper and place them in your oven. Wait a few minutes and you can see the CD curl in the case. Obviously, the data will never be recovered from it. Remove the other CD being careful not to bend it. When it cools down, you can put it on your computer and see if the data is intact. Sometimes it will be fine.

Now preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Don’t set it to 350 in case your oven thermostat isn’t accurate. When the oven has reached the correct temperature, turn it off. Insert your photos, slides, and negatives into a sheet of paper. Put your good CD back in the oven on a sheet of paper as well.

You will notice that a negative will almost immediately roll up and be destroyed. Images will curl a bit and most likely be slightly discolored. The images will eventually flatten again, but there will be no hope for slides or negatives.

The CD will remain flat but the data will be gone. You will probably be able to see bubbles in the plastic on the recording side of the CD.

Alternatives

Here are three alternatives if you want your data to be protected.

Get a fireproof media safe. It will protect your images, slides, negatives, CDs and DVDs. As shown above, a UL 125-rated fireproof safe will protect your data from heat and moisture. While a typical home fire safe can protect the data contents for a few minutes, the probability that the data will be safe for more than 15 minutes is extremely low.

Benefits of a fireproof safe:

  • The ability to quickly back up to a flash drive and immediately store your data each night after backing up.
  • The data is available whether you have Internet access or not.
  • You do not have to pay monthly or annual fees to have your safe.

Disadvantages of a fireproof safe:

  • The biggest drawback to a fireproof safe is the initial cost. They are not cheap.

Use an online backup system. This is a very effective way of ensuring that your data is secure. Well, as safe as you can hope when you use another company to hold your data. If you don’t have a lot of data, you can find free services on the web.

Benefits of using online backup:

  • Your data is saved in a completely different location.
  • In many cases, your data can be encrypted for added security.

Disadvantage of:

  • You may need to use special software. Software changes over time and so do encryption methods.
  • You may find yourself converting your data or even moving it around when a business goes out of business.
  • There are annual fees when you have a lot of data and that will cost you more over time than a fireproof safe.
  • You cannot store some software DVDs purchased online. They often require the original DVD to reinstall the software.
  • Uploading your nightly backup to the Internet is not as fast as saving it to a flash drive.

Rent a safe deposit box at your local bank.

Benefits of a safe deposit box:

  • You have maximum protection.
  • It has off-site data protection.

Disadvantages of a safe:

  • Limited access to your data. It’s not there when you need it and you can’t secure it every night.
  • The deposit boxes are really small. You can store a lot of data on a DVD, but you can’t put a lot of slides and negatives on one.
  • The costs of a deposit box vary greatly, but it will also cost more over time than a fire safe.

Conclusion

Evaluate your situation. If you don’t have a lot of data, online backup may be the best option. If you have a large amount of data and have purchased a lot of software packages, then your best bet is a fireproof media safe for the home or office. Whatever you do, don’t get caught with a fire in your home or office and find out you’ve lost your data.

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