Hurricanes cause billions of dollars in damage each year, including damage to computers. Unfortunately, computers can be much harder to replace if lost than other electronics because of the data contained on their hard drives and time spent tweaking and overclocking them. With hurricane season looming in the days ahead, I decided to write a guide to help people protect their computers and data during a natural disaster.
Part I: Backing Up Data And Things to Have
Hurricane season or not, you should always be backing up your data. Whether you plan on riding out the storm (a bad idea) or evacuating to another location, you should have a backup of your computer data either on an external hard drive or optical media such as CD-Rs or a DVD. Be sure to keep your data in a very safe place, such as a water proof safe. Never leave your backup by your computer.
Next, you should have the following things to make life after the storm easier:
1. Phone numbers for insurance, computer or computer parts companies, and phone numbers for all local ISPs (including dial-up and satellite).
Having your insurance phone number and phone numbers for your computer company will help get your computer replaced faster if it is damaged. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to have phone numbers and even access disks for all of your local ISPs! After Katrina, the Internet was the only way many people could contact the outside world. As fate would have it, my broadband was down for 3 weeks and none of the other broadband ISPs would except new orders due to the storm, leaving me with my old friend Dial Up, whom I thought I had buried 8 years ago. Your best bet is to use a satellite ISP as they have no equipment that can be destroyed by a hurricane and cause an outage.
2. Back ups of all your file, have all application and game discs, CD keys, drivers, and operating system discs on hand.
3. Photos of your computer as well as proof of what parts are inside.
In the event your quad SLI rig is destroyed, you don’t want your insurance company to replace it with something of a significantly lesser value, do you? It’s very easy for people to claim “I had this, this, and this and it all cost me $3000 last month.” after their 3 year old Athlon XP rig is destroyed. As a result, your insurance company may be hesitant to replace your expensive computer parts unless you can prove you own them. Also know to what extent your insurance (including flood insurance) will replace damaged property. While some policies will cover the replacement cost of damaged property, some may only cover part of the damage cost. Also know what your deductible is.
4. Blog or Social Networking Profile
Social networking sites such as myspace were great after Katrina. Friends could find out where other friends had evacuated to simply by reading each others’ myspaces.
5. Generator and Gas
A generator can power many things, including home computers! Check with your local generator supplier about any local laws about generators, how to safely and properly set one up, and how well they will work with computers. Because generators provide unstable power, a battery backup UPS and a surge protector are a must. Do not count on gas to power your generator being available in the aftermath of the storm. It’s best to have a good supply of gas as well as a few empty gas containers on hand.
Part II: Evacuating with Your PC
Like any family members or pets you may have, your PC isn’t something to leave behind if you can avoid it. While your first priority should be getting out alive, you should consider bringing your PC with you if you can room in your car. You can’t count on your destination to have good computers, high speed Internet, or any entertaining activities though.
Being in another place during a hurricane is stressful. Between watching your home town being walloped on CNN and The Weather Channel, the people around you as well as yourself will be tense and worried. Having a nice computer to browse the web with and play Battlefield 2 is a sure entertainer. In fact, the Internet was the only place where I could get information about my very neighborhood after the storm! Local newspaper message boards were packed with evacuees from all over my area and had plenty of information about damage to share.
Even if you can’t bring your PC, at the very least bring your hard drive with you! If your home is looted in the aftermath of the storm, the last thing you want is your personal data in someone else’s hands. Be sure your hard drive is in an anti-static bag to avoid needless damage to it.
If taking a long road trip, you should probably place some sort of padding or foaming (even a blanket will work) around your computer or hard drive to protect it from the vibrations of the car. Don’t bring your monitor unless you have an LCD and there’s room for it.
Part III: Leaving Your PC at Home
If you don’t have room for your PC in your car, don’t plan on staying with it during the storm. There are several safeguards you can take to prevent unnecessary damage to your computer:
1. Cover any open parts of your computer case (such as fans and vents) with tape. Don’t use duct tape unless you want to risk taking paint off your case or a sticky mess.
2. Cover your computer with as many trash bags as you need. At least 2 trash bags per computer are recommended.
3. Consider how high your home is above sea level, the risk of flooding, and other factors. If you know your home could flood, you should put your computer on the second floor. But if you know your roof is weak and could easily blow off, don’t put it on the second floor! Find an enclosed space with no windows (such as a closet) as close to the center of your home as possible. If your computer case has a side window, make sure it’s facing towards the ground or against a wall. If you can, place other objects around your computer to offer it additional protection from blowing rain and flying debris.
Part IV: When the Worst Happens
In the event your PC becomes damaged during the storm, don’t fret. If the damage is from a fallen tree or a piece of flying debri, there is nothing you can do. If your computer becomes flooded, however, there are steps you can take to recover it.
Below is a basic guide on how to recover a flooded computer.
1. Do not turn on the computer! Make sure it is unplugged! While you may be anxious to see if your computer can run, don’t do it if you know it’s been exposed to water. You’ll just end up causing more damage if you do. Remember to keep your computer unplugged.
2. Remove components that work. If you can see a water line in your computer, take out all the components above it and put them in a safe place.
3. Let your computer dry. Let your computer dry for a week or so. One drop of water in a running computer could mean disaster.
4. Remove the CMOS battery and other parts.
5. Use a solution of 90% alcohol or more to wash the various components of your computer, including connectors. If necessary, use a paint brush to remove stubbon crud.
6. Let your computer dry completely.
If the above doesn’t work or you have data you can’t risk losing on your hard drive, consider professional computer recovery. Do not plan on salvaging the power supply, CMOS battery, the hard drive, optical drives, or any fans if they have been flooded. Also remember to take pictures of any damage to your computer before you attempt to fix it for insurance purposes.
Hopefully these tips will help people save their computers from hurricane related damage. A computer is a very useful tool that should be part of any good disaster supply kit. Trust me when I say it’s an important thing to have around. However, remember a computer is only a material possession. Like all material objects, they can be replaced. Human and animal life, however, cannot. Use good judgement when deciding whether or not to take your computer with you and while repairing it if it damaged.
Disclaimer: In no way is the author responsible for any actions you may take to save your computer from a hurricane or fix it after flooding. Any actions you choose regarding hurricanes and computers are taken at your own risk. For the sake of all, please use common sense during any natural disaster.