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How to Store and Protect Flash Drives

For many, flash drives are a key component of their survival strategy. They can be used to store scans of family photos, important documents such as life insurance policies, home insurance policies, and medical records. Additionally, flash drives can be used to store key information for survival stores and emergency contacts.

Ideally, flash drives should be stored in climate-controlled dry conditions in a static bag inside a locking drive case. It is also recommended that the container be fireproof.

I recommend using anti-static bubble bags inside a locking fireproof safe. Of course, your level of protection depends on how important the info is on the drives.

This article will discuss what should be stored on a flash drive, how long they last, and how to keep drives safe for longer-term storage.

What Should Be Stored on a Flash Drive

The flash drive is a perfect way to store copies of important documents. While hard copies of documents should also be kept in a fireproof gun safe or a safe deposit box, there may be situations where returning to a disaster site to recover papers may not be possible, or the hard copies may be destroyed despite efforts to protect them.

Flash drives should ideally be made in duplicate and stored in separate places to help ensure that important records and information can not be lost or destroyed in a single disaster. Documents and papers that should be included in digital storage include a wide array of documents and memorabilia that will be unique for each person and each situation.

  • Health insurance documents and medical and dental records
  • Home insurance documents
  • Drivers licenses
  • Social security cards
  • Marriage certificates
  • Birth and adoption documents
  • Gun licenses and permits
  • Banking, investment, and retirement account documents

Many people also find it reassuring to have scans of family photos, school records, immunization records, and other documents that would be difficult to replace if they were destroyed. Additionally, having digital copies of these documents would be immensely helpful in a survival situation where documentation could be vital.

Flash drives are not designed for long-term storage. They are designed for file transfer and short-term storage. When they are used less often, they can be used for longer-term file storage, but they should not be viewed as a safe, permanent home for sensitive information. 

The small size makes them ideal for transporting vital life information and documentation, but the data may become corrupted, so they should be checked and replaced frequently. Retrieve flash drives periodically, such as once or twice a year, and plug them into a laptop to make sure that all files can still be retrieved. If it is glitchy or some information seems to be corrupted, then the flash drive should be replaced immediately.

Storing Flash Drives at Home

Three Flash Drives on a Stump

Considering that flash drives, like this one, can store up to two terabytes of information all in a single compact unit, utmost care should be taken to protect the unit from loss, theft, and degradation, especially in a survival situation where the flash drives are in an uncontrolled environment.

Covering the USB connector is important because it keeps dust and other debris from collecting on the drive connectors. Dirt and residue can keep the drive from making contact with the inside of the computer’s USB port. While these connections can be cleaned, it is best to keep the connectors in good shape to start with so that information can be recovered when needed.

If flash drive connectors get dusty, they can be blown clean with a canned air duster. If the contacts are dull with corrosion or debris, this can be wiped off with a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol will dissolve the contamination and evaporate. Do not use water to clean electronics.

Flash drives are made to be quite robust, but they are vulnerable to shock, RFID intrusion, and may break if they are smashed or stepped on accidentally. To avoid this risk, flash drives should be stored properly to avoid destruction. How carefully they need to be stored depends on the circumstances for their use and if they are used often or placed in long-term storage.

  • Static bags- Flash drives should be tucked into static bags at a minimum when being used for longer-term storage. This will protect them from possible electrical destruction. They can be placed together in a single larger static bag, but many people find it more convenient to use a small zipper static bag for each drive. I actually prefer to double up on protection and use anti-static bubble bags, like these found on Amazon.
  • Hard case- For everyday storage, the flash drives should be stored in static bags and zipped inside a hard case. This protects them from electrical destruction and breakage if they are subjected to a hard impact. Hard cases can be made of hard vinyl or metal. If metal is desired, then a Faraday box is a great option. 
  • Faraday cage- A Faraday cage is a grounded conductive metal enclosure that allows electricity to pass around the objects inside without conducting the electricity inside. A Faraday box keeps items inside protected from things like an EMP or RFID intrusion. The metal exterior adds additional impact protection.
  • Fire safe- Flash drives with vital information should also be kept safe from house fires. This means keeping them in a fireproof safe. This can be as simple as a small 1-hour fire safe up to a large 3-hour vault which also houses guns, precious metals, and hard copies of important family papers.
  • Choose locking drive cases- No matter where the drives are stored, the case that they are stored in should have a password, number lock, tumbler lock, or fingerprint scanner. Since these drives are full of the most important personal information, they should not be easy to get to.

Pro Tip: It may not be possible to gather items quickly from a fire safe or to return to a fire safe to retrieve items that have been left. For this reason, it is wise to keep a set safely inside of a safe and a second set in a bug-out bag or stored at a separate location such as a prepared safety shelter. Additionally, it is wise to keep a high-quality set with encrypted documents in a safety deposit box.

General Storage Conditions for Flash Drives

All electronics, including flash drives, should be kept in climate-controlled or mild conditions. These include a dark, dry, and cool climate. Consistent exposure to humidity or extreme temperatures will decrease its lifespan significantly. It is relatively simple to keep drives safe from moisture and excessive temperature because of their small size.

  • Keep drives indoors in neutral temperatures as much as possible. 
  • Do not leave drives inside a hot car or storage unit. If a flash drive is left to get overheated, place it in the shade or a cool place, and do not attempt to use it until it has cooled down.
  • Do not leave drives where they can experience freezing temperatures. Freezing temperatures will not likely cause the unit to fail, but it may not function until it reaches a warmer temperature.

Many people have drives stored in places where they may experience less-than-ideal temperature swings. This is sometimes necessary so that the items stored on the drives will be accessible when they are needed. In this case, the drives should be checked for integrity and replaced more often so that the documents will be available at a moment’s notice.

A good long or short-term storage for many flash drives is a flash drive case. It is easily organized, very portable, and keeps the flash drive safe from contaminants and light weather. Those who carry purses or messenger bags can keep flash drives protected in a Faraday case or bag, or a static bag and tucked in a pocket or the lining of the bag. They will know that drives are accessible at all times and safely stored.

Keeping flash drives in a safe is the best way to extend their shelf life because they will be rarely accessed and kept in dark, dry conditions. The addition of dehumidifiers and oxygen absorbers inside the safe can keep the memory chip from oxidation and degradation. This type of protection can add many years to the standard 10-year shelf life. 

Pro Tip: When placing a flash drive inside of a static bag, it is a good idea to add an oxygen absorber (Amazon Recommendation) and a silica pack inside the static bag with the drive. Once sealed up, this will help to protect the drive from oxidation and moisture. Replace the silica pack and oxygen absorber every time the drive is checked for data integrity.

Expected Lifespan of a Flash Drive

Depending on the use and care of a flash drive, they are expected to last about 10 years. The memory will likely be saved far past this time, but the internal memory chip can only be used a certain number of times, around 10,000 to 100,000 write/erase cycles as a rough estimate. A 10-year lifespan assumes normal or expected use patterns.

True lifespan will depend on wear and tear, how well the unit is protected in storage, how often the flash drive is used, and the quality of the flash drive. 2.0 and 3.0 flash drives generally have the same lifespan, although 3.0 may last slightly longer due to better technology and a faster-powered device. 

Faster data transfer means the device will not need to be plugged into the computer as long for each use. The less amount of time the flash drive stays plugged into the computer, the longer lifespan it will have. This also means that once the drive is loaded with documents, it should be stored and only accessed occasionally. Do not use the same drive for simple file transfers.

  • Regardless of best practices, the flash drive will wear out. Even drives in good storage should be checked for data integrity periodically. 
  • Flash drives are affordable, so they can and should be replaced before the expected lifespan is up, considering the importance of the information that is stored on the drive. Older drives can be erased and repartitioned for daily file transfer use and music storage.
  • Each generation of flash drives are faster and more efficient. Information should be transferred to newer technology as it becomes available. This helps to ensure that information will be retrievable when it is needed.
  • Information should not be stored only on flash drives. The most reliable storage is a computer hard drive. Small-sized solid-state external hard drives are the best way to store information safely. These can be found with rugged cases and should be the primary storage space for information with multiple flash drives as backup copies.

Flash drive storage should be viewed as a backup for more secure and reliable file storage on solid-state external hard drives. Additionally, they should be a backup for original documents that have been stored in a safe location. Ideally, the original documents should be sealed with other valuable real property in a TL-rated safe or vault. 

Flash Drive Storage Options

There are very secure ways to store flash drives for at home, on the run, or for daily use. Good survivalists know to use multiple storage methods and keep copies in secure places where they can not be easily found by bad actors but can be safely retrieved when needed.

  • This Flash Drive Storage Case can hold 10 flash drives in a zippered neoprene case. While this case is not locking, it can be easily tucked inside a static bag and stored in a locking safe. The neoprene offers some weather protection and padding against impact. 
  • Here is a USB Flash Drive Case that is made to hold everything. Made from shockproof EVA, it can keep 44 flash drives and at least nine SD cards safe in a zippered hard case. This can be kept sealed inside of a static bag and stored in a fire-safe or vault. This is also a good option for a locked bug-out location storage. 
  • Locking portable safe storage is great for storage in a briefcase, inside a vehicle, or for general home storage. This Vaultz Locking Deluxe Tablet and Laptop Case is a secure and convenient portable safe for daily use or storage in a bug-out bag.
  • A quick-access biometric gun safe is another great way to keep flash drives safe. They can be stored alone or along with firearms in static bags. This IntactXD-900 Quick Access Biometric Gun Safe can be accessed quickly or grabbed and stashed when needed. 
  • This Tenamic Portable Safe Box is a combination lockbox that is a very affordable way to store flash drives, SD cards, and important cards, as well as pistols. This can be stashed in a vehicle, a large bug-out bag, or stored in a locked bug-out location. 
  • A Faraday box is necessary for those who are very wary of EMP destruction of digital information. A static bag may protect flash drives to some extent, but a good Faraday pouch or box helps to keep them safe. This TICONN Faraday Box does not lock, but it can store a lot of flash drives as well as cell phones, hard drives, and other electronics.
  • This Faraday Bag For Laptops protects electronics that are placed inside from EMP destruction as well as RFID intrusion. It does not lock, but it can be used in conjunction with locking protection to keep items inside very safe. Silica packets and oxygen absorbers can be used inside the pouch for maximum environmental control.
  • Faraday Defense Bags come in a variety of sizes. Ultra-thick and multi-layered, these static bags have zipper tops and can be used to protect sensitive electronics from EMP and RFID. They should be combined with locking protection. 

Bottom Line

There is no single solution that works perfectly for every person in every situation. Most people find that they feel the most peace of mind when they employ several strategies to ensure that digital information is encrypted, protected, and stored. Most have some copies stored in permanent or semi-permanent locations, and other copies carried on their person or stored in a place that is quick and easy to access.

Flash drives often have a hole in the case that is used for attachment to a lanyard, badge, or similar personal attachment. This attachment is commonly used for flash drive storage, but it is not recommended that this be used for a flash drive that contains such sensitive information as photos and sensitive paperwork, and passwords. Lanyard storage is fine for work papers and regular file-transfer uses but is not secure storage for important flash drives.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out How to Store Electronic Components | Keep Them Safe & Organized.