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flooding and computers

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – When disasters strike, individuals and businesses all too often lose important computer files. Jonathan Davis, director of information technology for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said equipment can be replaced, but data may be lost forever.

Before Storm

“It is important to back up your data and store the backup someplace besides your home or business,” Davis said. “This will reduce your stress after a disaster and enable a quicker return to normal operations.”

People can use external hard drives or storage devices to save duplicate copies of important files, documents and photos. Davis suggests if people are using external hard drives or removable media such as thumb drives, CDs or DVDs, they should consider making a duplicate set and sending one to a friend or family member who live far enough away that the same weather event is not likely to impact both people.

Cloud storage is an increasingly popular option, especially for larger files. When data is stored in the cloud, it is stored remotely and is available to users over the Internet. Cloud storage is available through websites such as www.dropbox.comor www.google.com/drive.

“One advantage of a cloud storage system is that you can retrieve your data from any location that has internet access,” he said.  “Be sure to read and understand the terms of service for the cloud storage system you use. If you’re dealing with files that belong to a business, be sure to follow the business’s policies and software licenses.”

It is important to understand who owns that data once it is posted to the cloud company’s server and what measures will be taken if the company goes out of business or if something happens to the person who uploaded the files.

One quick and simple way to protect important documents or photos is to e-mail files to yourself as soon as they become irreplaceable.

Another option is to take a photograph of important documents (insurance, banking, personal) with your cell phone, allowing you to access them rapidly when needed.

Equipment Tips

  • Charge laptops, tablets, cell phones and cameras before the electricity goes out.
  • If there is time to evacuate personal belongings during an emergency, take backup devices, laptops, tablets or desktop computers, as well as all equipment chargers.
  • Computer equipment, including monitors, keyboards and mice, are easier to replace and can be left for last.
    • Take paper out of printers.
    • If it is too big to take with you, put it in a heavy-duty plastic bag and close it tightly.
    • Place it on a table or some other higher location less susceptible to flooding.
    • Do not leave them on the floor.Floodwaters after a hurricane generally cause the most damage to electronics.
  • Unplug everything from power before you leave the building.

Tracking Storm with Technology

Davis said people should use the technology available to them to keep up with news and information about approaching storms.

“Use weather or storm-tracking apps for smartphones and tablets to monitor the storm’s progress,” Davis said.

Subscribe to text alerts from local emergency management agencies or news outlets. Weather radios and commercial television and radio are good sources for warnings before storms arrive and to let you know when the danger has passed.

Social media can be a valuable information source during disasters. Twitter feeds from local news and weather sources can provide important information specific to your community.

He said it’s important that people use the tools that provide the best information source for their area.

“You may find using multiple approaches work best for you. For example, you may want to supplement the information you get from a weather app and Twitter with a dedicated NOAA weather radio.”

After the Storm

Text messages are the best way to communicate with loved ones in or out of a disaster area. If cell phone towers are overloaded, a short text has a better chance of getting through than a phone call. Four letters–IMOK–will tell people the most important message–that you and your family are fine.

Invest in either a solar charger or a battery-operated charger to keep devices powered.

Turning electronic equipment on after it has gotten wet is a sure way to ruin it permanently. If your devices get waterlogged, open them as much as you can and let them dry out for at least 72 hours. The biggest mistake people make is turning equipment on too soon after it has gotten wet. If the equipment has gotten saltwater in it, then the data on it is most likely irretrievable.

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