Protecting your business from disaster

The December ice storm and subsequent widespread power outages were a wake-up call for businesses without disaster preparedness plans.

As the energy grid failed, power surges and black outs played havoc with computers. Some computers were totally dead when the power came back. The good news is that those companies with disaster plans in place were able to resume operations. They emerged unscathed or with just minor damage.

A substantial power fluctuation or a surge – which occurred in some areas as the ice storm took down the grid – can corrupt a computer’s hard drive or ruin the power supply or motherboard. Even a minor fluctuation can cause errors in stored data.

Risks to your computers include not only storms, power fluctuations and blackouts, but flood, fire, theft and vandalism.

The value of the hardware is far exceeded by the value of the data stored on it. If the only copy of your valuable data is on a single computer, and that computer is damaged, you risk losing the data or incurring a major expense to recover it. If you do not have a backup, and the data cannot be recovered, there is a major productivity hit to rebuild your data compounded by the risk when proprietary or customer-sensitive data is exposed or gone.

To protect your computers from power fluctuations and surges, plug every computer into an “uninterruptible power supply” (UPS, or “battery backup”). A UPS protects the computer (and any other valuable electronics plugged into it) from power fluctuations and surges. It also gives you time to close files and programs, then shut down the computer. (For many programs, such as QuickBooks, if you don’t do an orderly shutdown, you can lose data.) For a printer or a PC with no valuable data, a power strip with surge protection may be adequate.

A sophisticated UPS works with special software to shut down your computer so no human interaction is necessary. (To find out which UPS to use, refer to

Back up your data

It is essential to back up your computers, particularly your servers. Popular backup methods include tape and removable hard drive. Even a USB “thumb drive” of your active files is better than nothing.

An on-site backup is the fastest way to recover data. But if you only have an onsite backup – such as tapes stored on a shelf – and a fire or flood destroys your server and the backup tapes, or a thief takes everything, you are out of luck.

An off-site backup is a smart way to make sure you have multiple, redundant copies of your data, and maintains access to your data if there is a regional disaster.

You would be surprised how often I find that a backup method isn’t working properly even though the business owner assumes all is well. It’s not uncommon for a system to appear to be backing up, when in reality it’s not. It is important to get daily reports from your backup software and to verify the backup with a periodic restore.

If your office is out of commission due to an emergency, you will need another place to work and replacement computers. If your server is hosted at a secure, remote location, you only need laptops and printers, and you don’t need to worry about restoring to a server.

Even if you have a generator for your office, never use it to run your computers. The frequency, voltage and stability are inadequate and can damage the computer.

Keep several off-site copies of vital contact lists for your employees, vendors and customers. Establish a decision-making and notification protocol.

Here are some quick tips to protect your computers in a disaster:

• Close all files and programs, shut down the operating system, and turn off the power.

• Unplug everything – the UPS, power strips and any devices.

• Cover the computers, printers and other devices with large, plastic trash bags. If they are on the floor (never a good idea anyway), put them up on tables or racks.

• Remove the latest backup media and any mobile devices such as laptops.

• When you remove the bags, inspect carefully for moisture inside. Wait 24 hours to power on the device until it is fully dry. Any moisture inside can cause permanent damage. Re-plug all surge bars and battery backups.

Mark Aronson of MLANS Inc., Londonderry, is a business technology expert with expertise in networks and security. He can be reached at 603-432-1603 or