Privacy & Security

How Can I Avoid, Prepare For, and Recover from PC and Technology Disasters?

April 18, 2009

in computer performance,data storage and recovery,privacy & security

by Gabe Goldberg

The best disaster is the one that doesn’t happen. Next best is one that doesn’t matter, because it was anticipated. Worse than that are events that require some recovery time, and worst of all are … well, real disasters.

The most common computer-related advice used to be backup, backup, backup (your data). And when DID you last backup your hard drive? But these days, that advice is equaled by urgent reminders to keep your computer and applications updated and patched against viruses, spyware, and the like.

For starters, develop a backup strategy that’s simple and as automatic as possible. Choose your backup media (CD/DVD, Web site, USB key, Ghost file, internal/external hard drive, etc.). Cloning data across PCs can reduce problem impact.

Backup variations include file-level, image backup, full/incremental, etc. If you don’t do full or image backups, protect application data — some apps store files in out-of-the-way locations.

Keep data separate from software. Back up software or patches you download. Remember that storage media deteriorates, and sometimes becomes obsolete (how many eight-track tapes have you seen lately?).

Keep multiple backup copies by rotating (using three or more) volumes or devices, labeling them with date and type of backup. Periodically test restoring files to ensure that your backup process is complete and works, and rotate backups offsite.

Store system and application CDs, patch CDs, etc. in a safe and organized place. Prepare emergency recovery disks for your operating system, applications, anti-virus, etc.

But there’s more to the story: problems affect different areas and vary in severity, but are less painful if you’ve planned for them. So consider what you use your computing equipment for, identify what you depend on (hardware, software, electricity, Internet connection, etc.), and decide what you’d do if various problems occur.

Even reliable power can fail, so it’s worth installing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to allow saving files and properly shutting down your computer. A generator — portable or built-in — reduces the effects of prolonged power outages.

ISP services can also fail, so it may be worth arranging backup Internet facilities.

Rehearse your plan, because it will take longer the first time, and a dry run can reveal false assumptions and missing steps.

Record changes to your hardware, software, and operating system to help understand and recover from problems. Investigate variations in PC behavior — they often reveal small problems that will grow worse. Use diagnostic tools to check PC health.

Print key files such as technical and family contacts, important contracts originated on the computer, ISP phone information, passwords, etc. If printing is critical, consider an extra printer — or agree with a neighbor to back each other up.

If your house is subject to flooding or heavy rain, consider putting basement equipment on pallets or rolling files to prevent water damage.

For easier recovery and repair, document your PC’s hardware/software/Internet configuration. Be especially thorough if someone else set up your PC. Print it and save it offsite. Label both ends of all cables and map your cable layout to simplify removal for

After congratulating yourself for being protected against these PC road hazards, plan to review, update, and test your plan six months from now. And check your insurance coverage of electronics. Disaster planning isn’t an event, it’s a process that never ends.

Gabe Goldberg (, a lifelong computer pro and technology communicator, has written three books and hundreds of articles for audiences including techies, baby boomers and senior citizens. He enjoys sharing tips and pointers that help people use and have fun with technology.

{ 1 comment }

Carlo 12.26.15 at 8:49 am

For a really simlpe chat program you can just use IRC.You can connect to a chat room (this can be private) and then connect directly to another user (this is called DCC) to transfer files. The nice thing about doing it this way is that the connection to the chat room is persistent. You don’t have to have both computers online at the same time. You can have one computer connect to the room and then wait (many IRC users leave it on for days or weeks) until the other user shows up.

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