Are Fireproof Safes Really Safe?
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Years ago, even before scanning was a thing, I purchased a fireproof safe for documents and photos that I wanted to keep accessible but safe in case of a tragedy like a fire or flood. I was proud of myself for being proactive and and not procrastinating until it was too late. Over the years, as my husband and I accumulated more and more valuable documents, we purchased more safes and now I think we have four scattered around our house (to at least make it harder for would-be thieves to find them all). We keep things like our kids' birth certificates and Social Security cards, multiple insurance policies, valuable old coins, and emergency cash (that may have been back from Y2K when all the banks were going to implode and we'd become an all-cash society overnight). The safes are small enough to carry if, in the event of a fire, we'd have enough time to grab certain items before we flee. But, then again, if I know the safes are fireproof, I'd probably opt to grab items that aren't fireproof like my children and pets and come back for the supposedly unharmed safes after the fire department has left. So I sleep well at night knowing I'm prepared.
But then some of the worst wildfires in history hit California and people started realizing that their "fireproof" safes actually weren't fireproof. Apparently "fireproof" is more of a marketing term, rather than a certified designation. In fact, there is no regulation of the term fireproof and manufacturers tend to use varying standards for claiming that their safes are fireproof. This means that the valuables in your fireproof safe may not be a safe as you thought. And since you can not control the intensity or duration of a fire, nor the speed with which it is extinguished, it may be best to find an additional or alternative backup plan.
We already know that the best way to preserve print photos is to scan them. You can save all your scanned photos in any one of multiple cloud storage options that will be accessible from anywhere and completely unharmed from any earthy catastrophe. If you're not totally comfortable with the cloud yet, copy the scans onto a thumb drive or external hard drive and keep one copy at your office, or a relative or friend's house and one copy at home. But consider scanning all those important documents also. Granted, birth certificates, Social Security cards, and insurance policies can all be reissued if lost but wouldn't it be nice to have digital copies to refer to while you're waiting (and waiting) for the new ones to be reissued? Scanning won't really help protect old coins, bronzed baby shoes or cash (there are actually laws against scanning US currency), but even taking photos of theses types of valuables will help with any insurance claim after a fire or other tragedy.
A little bit of preparation now could make a horrible situation a little less painful. Don't wait until it's too late.
To get more information on why fireproof safes aren't always fireproof, click here.