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Clear: Securely Wipe Old Drives

You have rebuilt your photo archive. Now, you have a collection of hard drives, USB drives and CF/SD card that need to be addressed. To start, decide which drives stay and which should go. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. How old is the drive? The older the drive gets, the more likely it is to fail.
  2. How big is the drive? If you only shoot stills, field drives of 250-500GB might be worth keeping. If you shoot video, 1TB might be the cut off for mobile drives.
  3. How does the drive connect? If the drive USB2 or Firewire, it is old and sow by modern standards. It may be time to upgrade to USB3 or Thunderbolt.

The same principles apply to USB drives and CF/SD cards. Take this opportunity to evaluate your field drives and upgrade where it makes sense.

The Workflow

Clear The Keepers

Now that you established a set of stay/go guidelines, go through the WIPE box and pull out all of your keepers. One by one, connect them to your workstation and delete all of the files on the drives. Do not go through the trouble of erasing them. When you write new files to these drives, the old data will be over-written.

Resist the temptation to leave media on these drives. If you have gone through all of the prior steps, you now have at least three clean, organized copies of that media. You do not need another copy. Take it from a recovering pack rat; keeping the original files around will only create confusion down the road.

Once all keeper drives have been cleared, put them in a safe place in your office or studio to await their return to the field rotation.

Wipe The Rest

Before disposing of the rest of the drives in the WIPE box, securely wipe the drives of data. Do not skip this step, especially if the drive contained any sensitive personal information in addition to your media. In the right hands, data that has been deleted, but not wiped, can be restored. With rising rates of identity theft, why take the risk?

You do not need any special software to wipe your drives; your Macintosh already has everything you need. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Connect the drive to be wiped to your Computer.
  2. Press Command-Space Bar to bring up Spotlight Search.
  3. Type Disk Utility and press Return to launch.
  4. When Disk Utility launches, select the drive to be wiped from the left pane. Be sure to select the drive partition and not the drive itself.
  5. Click on the Erase tab in the right pane.
  6. Select the Format for the new partition.
  7. Name the drive something like WIPED. If you have more than one drive to wipe, use an iterative number at the end (e.g. WIPED_01). If you have a lot of drives laying around, this naming convention will help you keep track of them.
  8. Click Security Options and select the option that makes you most comfortable. Read more about the available options here. I recommend the DOE Compliant (3 Pass) option to handle most situations.
  9. Close the Security Options window.
  10. Click Erase.

Depending on the size of the drive, a DOE-Compliant wipe will take 2-6 hours to finish. Start the wipe at the beginning or end of your workday and let it run in the background.

When the wipe is complete, the drive should automatically show up on your computer as a new drive. Occasionally, the stress of the wipe process will cause a drive to fail and it will not mount.

If you are processing a lot of old drives, it is helpful to mark the drives as working or dead. This can be as simple as an X with a sharpie in dead drives. I have kids, so I invested in cheap stickers: smiley faces for working drives and skulls for dead drives.

As you process each drive, move it from the WIPE box to the CLEAR box. Within the CLEAR box, keep working and dead drives in separate stacks. Work through the drives until the WIPE box is empty.

Dispose of The Drives

Now that you have all of your drives cleared, you have a couple of options for disposal.

  1. Tech Recycling: Do not throw the hard drives, USB drives of CF/SD cards in the trash. Most electronics contain materials that can and should be recycled. Disposal in landfills can leach toxic chemicals from electronics into the land and water.

    The technology industry is well aware of this fact and most major cities have electronics recycling facilities that will take your old equipment and dispose of it safely. Big chains like Best Buy and Office Depot offer this service as well.

    If you choose tech recycling and remain concerned about data recovery, consider drilling the drives, which will make them inoperable.

  2. Hacker Space: Another option is donating old drives to a local hacker space. They can use older, working drives in all sorts of projects. Some will use dead drives to teach people how hard drive technology works.

    In my experience, most legit hacker spaces are full of ethical, decent people. But, by definition, those folks are almost always very tech-savvy. So, if you are concerned about data security, particularly with working drives, you might run a DOD Compliant (7 pass) wipe instead of DOE Compliant (3 Pass).

Wrapping Up

You have crossed the finish line. You have consolidated your photo catalog, made archives of it and safely and securely disposed of aging hard drives. It has take some time, but the end result should have you feeling pretty good.

Savor that feeling. Then, renew your commitment to being disciplined in your approach to Digital Asset Management (DAM). It will keep your work and your workflow safe and sane. And, do you really want to go through all of this trouble again?

At the beginning of this series, I committed to putting this whole thing together in a free ebook. The first draft of that manuscript is complete. But, I need your help complete it. If you have any notes on this process, please leave them in the comments on this, the final post. My goal is to find and correct any problems or inaccuracies to make the ebook as clear, concise and useful as possible.

Thanks for taking the time to read this series and make comments as needed. I hope you found it useful.

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