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5 steps to protect your PC from the next disaster

(MoneyWatch) Natural disasters of epic proportion appear to be on the rise. Whatever the root cause, you should make sure that your personal and business data is protected from the next hurricane, flood, volcano eruption or Godzilla attack.

You've no doubt seen a lot of advice about how to prepare for (and recover from) such a disaster, but I thought I'd take a slightly different focus. Here are five easy things you can do to ensure you can preserve your data and keep working with little-to-no interruption through a natural catastrophe.

Store your data on a separate drive. First and foremost, this piece of advice is the tip that keeps on giving. While most people store everything on a single hard drive, it's a lot better to install Windows and programs on your first hard drive (the C drive) and install a second hard drive for everything else. Redirect your documents, pictures, music, and all other data to the D drive. That way, if you run into a serious Windows problem (or the C drive fails entirely), your data is safe on a separate drive. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that you can always remove the D drive and painlessly transplant it to another computer. That doesn't work nearly as well or as easily if your data is also your Windows boot drive.

Know how to remove a hard drive. If you store your data on a second drive, that means you can take the drive with you when you evacuate the office before the next flash flood occurs. So know how to do that. You'll need to shut down your PC, open the case, unplug the hard drive's power and data cables, and then slide it out of the drive bay. It's certainly not rocket science, but you should know how so you can do it quickly when your state governor is announcing a mandatory evacuation.

Have offsite backups. Definitely take the data drive with you -- both so you can (possibly) stick it in another PC somewhere and keep working without missing a beat and so it doesn't get damaged or stolen after you leave the office -- but an offsite backup ensures that if the worst happens, you'll still be able to recover your data afterwards. These days, an offsite backup doesn't necessarily mean locking a hard drive in a safe at an undisclosed location -- it's as simple as using an online backup service like Carbonite or Mozy.

Elevate your PCs. Look around your office -- where are all the computers? If you have desktop PCs, the mini-towers (where the hard drives are stored) are probably on the floor, under the desk. Pop quiz: In a flood, where will you find the most water? That's right, on the floor. I recommend moving PCs to higher ground, like on top of the desk. You can do that now and routinely keep PCs off the floor, or just do it in the run-up to a disaster. Either way, don't leave your computers on the floor during a wet emergency.

Migrate to the cloud. Want to be able to keep working without interruption through a disaster? Keep your data in the cloud. You can sever ties with your desktop hard drive entirely by storing files in Google Drive, for example, or you can use a service like Dropbox or SkyDrive, which mirrors data on your PC and the cloud. My favorite: Cubby, which lets you turn any random assortment of folders on your hard drive into cloud-backed cubbies. I can't fit all of my data online, but I know that all of my most critical and current projects are stored in Cubby, which gives me tremendous peace of mind. And I don't have to change my folder or filing structure one whit to do that.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Chris Nystrom

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