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Avoiding Data Disasters

Ernest Swaggerty pauses as he contemplates cleaning up what's left of his trailer in Irvington, Ala., in the wake of Hurricane Katrina Monday, Aug. 29, 2005.
AP Photo/Mobile Register
Disasters like Hurricane Katrina have been with us for a long time, but in today's world there are additional things to think about as people begin the recovery process. In addition to worrying about the well being of people, pets and the roof over their heads, they also have to think about sensitive electronic equipment, including computers and data stored on PC hard drives.

Disasters like these are also a good time to remind the rest of us about how to protect ourselves in the future. Even if you don't live in hurricane country, you still run the risk of another type of disaster, fire or just a run-of-the-mill power failure.

Even if your home or business wasn't damaged, there is a good chance that you lost power if you're in Katrina's path. If so, it's a good idea to unplug computers, TVs and other sensitive electronic equipment to avoid the risk of damage from a power surge when the power comes back on.

That's not to say that your equipment definitely will be damaged. More often than not there are no negative consequences to electronics when power comes back on, but it is a possibility. To help protect your equipment in the future, it's a good idea to use a surge protector, especially with computers, regardless of where you live.

If your equipment has gotten wet, take a moment to plan your recovery strategy before you plug anything back in. To begin with, don't plug in anything if it's even damp, let alone wet.

Make sure that any equipment that has been touched by water is completely dry before turning it on. That goes for battery-operated equipment as well as equipment that you plug in.

If the water damage was minor, it might work fine. Even if it's underwater, you might luck out. I once had a cell phone that went through the washing machine yet miraculously worked once it dried out. Had I turned it on when it was still wet, it would have almost certainly have been permanently damaged.

If your computer is completely underwater, there is a strong likelihood that your hard drive has been damaged. If you have a backup, you're going to be OK. If you don't have a backup, you might still be able to recover the data, but it will cost you.