Before 2012 we had one physical backup setup through our network server. Had we still had that in place this year, we would have lost almost 25,000 files of almost 300,000 (almost 10% of our files); about 45GB of data from our 551GB. This happened in Dean’s trip to Washington DC, the end of March this year (2017), for the National Council of Investigation and Security Services. After his return from that trip, we left for the World Association of Detectives meeting in Florida. There was no time to manually recover these.
In late 2012 we decided to do some traveling by RV and began to plan for that – space and functionality were a premium, and we would be working the entire time of our travels, which lasted until early 2015. Just prior to this we began using individual external hard drives for our data. The original purpose of using external hard drives was to make the transition from an old PC to a new PC easier with our files. For the new PC it was simply a matter of installing and updating the programs and applications, then plugging in the external hard drive with all the data and files mapped to the applications. The transition could be done with minimal down time. This also made business travel easier – instead of copying necessary files to a flash drive, we could simply take a laptop and the external drive – working without interruption. But, cloud back up did not include external drives, and that was a problem. As a result, we would copy all important files to the PC hard drive weekly for cloud back up through Carbonite. That was time consuming, but necessary.
In early 2012 Carbonite began to also include external hard drives – if you chose a personal account, and not the business account. This still makes no sense – not including external drives in a multi-computer business account – so be sure and choose your cloud backup plan carefully to ensure it includes all devices and files. We have looked at many – Carbonite was the best in process and also the most cost-effective, a win-win; others simply did not compare.
In addition to the external hard drives and Carbonite backup, we took the following steps:
- Personal desktop PCs would not work due to space and limited power (RVs have a 20 to 50-amp limit; desktop PCs, or laser printers will trip the circuits). We went to fully functional laptops with smaller footprints and smaller internal hard drives – used only for installed programs and applications.
- Inkjet printer with scanning. Faxing was not necessary, as we have long used an email based faxing service (below).
- Expanded our DropBox accounts to include automatic backup of our phone photographs and videos, and some redundant backup of active case files and client sharing. We also changed our accounting backup files to DropBox. DropBox is also backed up to our external hard drives – this creates a full cycle of redundancy for very important files.
Backup, Backup, Backup!
Just like the three rules of real estate, these are the three rules of protecting your work product! Having a good, reliable and redundant backup protocol will do more than ensure the integrity of your data, it will also guide you in becoming more paperless and improve efficiency.
Start With Paperless
Our agency began going paperless at a time when there were multiple different file types to scan (the only option to digitize files) and save to – ‘alacrity’ files were the first kind, and we still have those files – dating back to at least 1996. For years the standard has been PDF, Portable Document Format. Just as it states – PDF is a universal file format, and the read only programs are free to download; and creating a PDF is simple through several methods.
We do keep store receipts, mostly for warranties and possible returns or refunds – receipts for a year take up a very small envelope with our tax folder. All other records are saved, converted or scanned to PDF – if it cannot be saved or converted, such as an online document, it is scanned. Every personal and business file is done so. Those are stored on our personal hard drives, a universal hard drive, and in Carbonite; some on two cloud platforms – Carbonite and DropBox. You simply can’t back up paper files stored in a cabinet – potentially loss to a natural disaster, mold or simply aging.
Develop Your Backup Plan
Once you have started the paperless process – and it takes a plan and consistency to become easier and routine – its time to develop your backup plan. The larger your office and case work, the more planning. Our plan is based on just the two of us.
As previously mentioned, using the DropBox application, all DropBox files are also synced to our external hard drives. This gives our most important files automated and redundant backup. What’s on DropBox is on our external drives, and what is on our external drives is on Carbonite. Even if we don’t take our external drives in our travels, we have options.
What needs backed up? Everything! What needs redundant back up? Active case files and accounting files should top the list. Inactive case files can be saved to a separate, preferably offsite, external backup drive. Some recommend having a new external backup drive every year.
Once the process is setup, most is automated through syncing. So long as you work from a drive that is constantly backed up, you do not have to manually do so. But, do check your backups often – failures happen. Also, external hard drives can and do fail – and can be user caused to fail.
Its More Than Backup – Its Instant File Access
As a mobile society, and profession, we need instant access to current files. A cloud backup service, such as Carbonite, lets you restore lost or corrupted files via online access. This same service also provides the ability to access files remotely, without having a remote service on your office PC or copying to a laptop or flash drive for travel. In 1996 Dean was innovative in having wireless access from any location – he could instantly access and share information for and with clients within minutes – not hours or days. Today, probably every professional has this capability from their smart phone; 20 years ago this was not possible without some creativity. So started our agency’s ability to stay ahead through technology.
Of course, most of this is reliant on having Internet access – through wi-fi or a mobile hotspot – and these are not always available, or secure. We strongly recommend working from physical files from a hard drive or flash drive; and relying on a cloud service in an emergency.
Our Recent Lessons
Are your files safe?
Anything can happen at any time - to you or your files. Our files are hours - weeks to months - of our time intensive work for clients. Without them reports are unwritten, hours and expenses not invoiced, and business can come to a halt. Losing files can cost hours and days of time in recovery – time itself which is lost and unrecoverable. If any investigator is no longer able to work a file – temporary due to a planned vacation or unexpected injury, possibly planned retirement or unplanned termination – the files still need to be available.
This commentary, which we hope you find useful, started from recent experiences – what could have been potentially devastating. The files we lost, which we introduced in this commentary as a series of numbers, were all current case files. Our accounting files were safe. Losing active case files was not good. How did this happen? Although we are uncertain – a series of events lead us to the conclusion that Dean did not ‘Safely Remove’ his working external hard drive from the laptop.
In flight to the NCISS meeting, Dean was working on current case reports – one in particular with a deadline; a very important expert case report of about 30 pages, which was a completed draft on the plane. Once at the hotel, when it was time to print and begin the proofing process, the case file folder was gone from the drive. Soon it became apparent many files were missing, and none were redundant saved to DropBox. Several files were recovered from Carbonite and also the laptop recovery process for the draft report (FYI – have your Word documents auto-saved every two minutes).
Upon returning home, and before leaving for the WAD meeting the next day, Carbonite was contacted to recover the files. Carbonite offers an additional service of sending any files on a physical external hard drive. Depending on the subscription type, there may be a fee. The drive is either returned, or can be purchased. Files can be recovered from as far back as 30 days, including files deleted or altered. For us, we chose to have the full backup on a physical drive delivered and restored; we also kept the drive to make sure we have all files. From this, we compared files and learned the extent of our data loss, introduced in this article. We have fully, and quickly, fully recovered 100% of our files without any loss to the data. We did lose a few hours in doing so; however, our protocols saved not only data – but time.
As careful and experienced as we are over the last two decades of data backup and recovery, a few hard lessons were learned. The following suggestions are not automatic with cloud services – you must set them up specifically to do so. Pay close attention to what is backed up and synced.
- When you travel and use a different computer from your desktop, first save all of your files directly to the computer and then copy them to the external drive for safe backup.
- Flash drives are temporary and portable – they do not backup to a cloud service, external hard drives can be designated to and should be.
- Make sure all case and accounting files are first on a secure cloud service (such as DropBox) that syncs to and from your PC external hard drive.
- Make sure your external hard drive is included in our cloud backup service (such as Carbonite).
Other Time Savers
Time is money! Visit this article on our blog at www.deathcasereview.com/afi-llc-blog/time-is-money-multi-tasking-is-time-recovered!
- DropBox - http://dropbox.privateinvestigations.org
- Right Inbox for Gmail - www.rightinbox.com
- Desktop Texting - www.MySMS.com
- Ring Central Faxing - http://fax.privateinvestigations.org
- Ring Central VOIP - http://ringcentral.privateinvestigations.org
- Toll-Free Numbers - http://kall8.privateinvestigations.org (PIs - contact our office for more uses)
- Split View - www.splitview.com
We hope our experiences – good and recently bad – help you improve your productivity, back up protocols, and being paperless; these all lead to more efficiency in your work and improve productivity. Doing so frees up more personal and productive – billable – time.
If you have any questions on these processes – and any suggestions to improve them – please contact us any time. We love to hear, and learn, from our friends and colleagues.
"We speak for the deceased. To them we owe the truth." AFI-LLC intro video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgsvtbSk8fg
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI and Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI
Board Chairman / Past President, National Council of Investigation & Security Services (www.NCISS.org)
Colorado Licensed Private Investigators (PI2.050 and PI2.019)
Cheyenne WY Licensed Private Investigators & Security (31146)
Board Certified Legal Investigator / Expert Consultant (national)
Board Certified Criminal Defense Investigators
Certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations / former Deputy Coroners
Associates in Forensic Investigations, LLC
A Rocky Mountain West Agency
Expert Consultants and Legal Investigators
Personal Injury, Negligence & Death in Civil, Criminal and Probate Litigation
www.DeathCaseReview.com ~ beersda@DeathCaseReview.com
CO - (970) 480-7793 Office / TXT and (970) 480-7794 Fax
WY - (307) 222-0136 Office / TXT and (307) 222-0138 Fax
'Quaero Indicium' - To Find The Evidence
Keep informed - visit and 'Like' us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/4N6Associates and our agency blog at www.MedicolegalPI.com
Listen to Facts & Forensics at www.GIMG.tv
On-Demand Distance Learning at www.InvestigativeCourses.com
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI and Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI are both Certified Criminal Defense Investigators, and Certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations to include as forensic autopsy assistants; together they co-developed 'Death Investigation for Private Investigators' distance learning and continuing education at www.MedicolegalDeathInvestigations.com. Dean is a Certified Legal Investigator and formed their agency in 1987 with focus on general investigations, as well as individual locates, backgrounds and assets & liabilities. Karen began in 1996, gaining knowledge and experience in the same areas. Since 2008 they have primarily provided legal investigations and expert consultations in personal injury, negligence and death in civil, criminal and probate litigation.