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Fall Journal

Volume 30, Issue 3

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There are many common predators that can ravage your hard drive and endanger the crucial data it contains: power surges, head crashes, hardware malfunctions, candle wax.

Wait a minute. . . candle wax?

Yes, candle wax.

The destructive powers of candle wax were witnessed first hand by Kim Trager, owner of Snookers Sports Pub, 3520 B Wade Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina. But candle wax seeping into Trager's hard drive is only a small part of her much more fantastic story. It is a story that underscores the importance of preparing for disasters, and illustrates the carnage those disasters can unleash on your business, your computer equipment, and your computer data. It is a story that begins on September 5, 1996.

'It was on Thursday, September 5 that the hurricane hit,' Trager says. She pauses, then adds, 'Hurricane Fran.'
Not long after it stomped through the Bahamas, Hurricane Fran bludgeoned North Carolina with blinding rains and ripping winds that reached speeds of 115 miles per hour. Fran was so powerful that it would eventually churn its way as far northeast as Ontario, where it dumped more rain in 30 hours than that Canadian province normally gets in the entire month of September. All told, more than 20 North Carolina residents were killed by Hurricane Fran, and more than 30 North Carolina counties were declared disaster areas. The storm also inflicted considerable damage on countless area homes and businesses, including Trager's pub.

'They didn't expect the storm to come that far inland, so a lot of people were unprepared for the damage the storm caused,' Trager says. 'We are located in a strip mall, and some of the businesses had problems, and some of the businesses didn't. Snookers had water damage and we lost power for a week.'

Confronted by both water damage and a lack of electricity, Trager and her staff had a lot of work to do before Snookers would once again be fit to open its doors. Snookers, which first opened for business in 1989, is a popular Raleigh pub featuring a wide range of recreational activities, including pool tables, dart boards, video games and televisions. An especially important part of Snookers' business is its pool and dart leagues, which operate four nights a week, 52 weeks a year. These leagues are populated with many long-time Snookers regulars, several of whom volunteered to help Trager and her staff as they tried to rid the battered pub of the fallout from Hurricane Fran.

It was during a group clean-up session on the evening of Monday, September 9 that Snookers once again fell victim to a violent natural force. With electrical power still an unobtainable commodity, Trager and her co-workers had to devise another way to illuminate the darkened pub. They quickly improvised by blanketing Snookers' office with an army of lit candles and battery-powered lanterns. Using these light sources, Trager and her staff were able to take care of crucial business, both on paper and on computer. In an effort to light the main area of the pub, Trager and her helpers brought in a generator. Unfortunately, while Trager and company attempted to fire up the generator in the main room, another type of fire came to life in the back office.

'We started smelling smoke,' Trager says. 'Apparently, one of the candles we were using in the office fell onto some paper, setting off a fire. I guess the fire was particularly intense by the computer, because there was a lantern sitting on top of it and stockpiles of batteries sitting near it. The lantern melted into the plastic of the computer, and so did the wax. It was just a big mess.'

Trager and her co-workers battled the brutal blaze with fire extinguishers, snuffing out the flames before the fire department arrived. But the damage had already been done. Not only were the important papers that once populated the back office reduced to ash, Trager's dependable computer had been turned into a steaming mound of wax and plastic. Even worse, Trager's computer had trapped within it a critical piece of business data.

'In the computer's hard drive was the backup disk that had the mailing lists for all of the leagues that take place at Snookers, plus a bunch of business information from the last year. The league lists are vital to Snookers' business, so it was a lot of important information,' Trager says.

Trager's first move was to phone a local mom-and-pop computer repair shop to see if they could offer some help. After explaining the situation and describing the horrific state of her PC, Trager said the older gentleman who ran the shop refused to even look at the computer.

'He told me there was nothing he could do,' Trager says. 'But there was a younger guy that worked there who saw this as a challenge. He was able to dig his way into the computer and, amazingly enough, get out the hard drive. He then recommended that I call Ontrack to see if they could get the data back.'

Trager quickly phoned Ontrack Data Recovery, Inc., headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A leading provider of data recovery and protection software and service products, Ontrack told Trager to send in her damaged equipment, a Conner 2064 hard drive. The initial diagnosis revealed that the melted wax from the fire caused severe damage to the drive's internal mechanics. Although the situation looked grim, Ontrack engineers worked on the drive in a Class 100 clean room and finally recovered all of the data Trager needed, more than 72 megabytes worth.

'I was amazed they were able to get it back,' Trager says. 'They were calling me every other day with updates and making sure I knew what was going on.'

Despite Ontrack's ability to quickly recover her data, Trager had to wait nearly a month before her critical files could be returned. The long wait stemmed not from Ontrack's service, but from the length of time it took Trager's insurance company to pay for the damages related to the fire, and the damages incurred during Hurricane Fran. Between the two disasters, Snookers' renovation bill was in excess of $10,000.

Although it took a month to iron out the insurance issues, it only took Trager and her associates a week to get Snookers repaired, refurbished and ready for business following the double disaster. New ceiling tiles and light fixtures now adorn the bar and the office, as does a freshly scrubbed - and completely dry - floor. Also present at Snookers are a new computer and printer, safely housed in the well-lit back office. The pub's pool and dart leagues have also resumed, and the computer files that keep track of those leagues are on-line and up to date.

Having braved whirling winds and dripping wax in the course of five short days, Trager says she is grateful to emerge with her pub and its patrons intact. She also says she now realizes just how unpredictable the forces of nature can be, and how difficult it is to insulate yourself and your business from disasters.

'Hopefully, this was a 'just-once-in-a-lifetime' situation,' Trager says. 'All you can do is hope.'

While 'hope' might help, Trager says she is also following her two new disaster prevention rules:

'I keep my backup disks at home now,' Trager says with a laugh. 'And I never use candles in the office.'

Stuart Hanley is Ontrack's data recovery manager. Currently, he is the global director of data recovery operations.

This article adapted from Vol. 10#1.

Data Recovery Tips

Data Dos and Don'ts During Natural Disasters

Whether it be a twisting tornado, a ferocious fire or a flash flood, natural disasters are a volatile and unpredictable threat to your valuable computer data. When a natural disaster strikes, and your electronic information is at stake, there is only one safe and dependable option: pick up your phone and call for professional data recovery help. Data recovery experts can give your hardware the immediate and thorough cleaning it needs. What is more, they can successfully salvage data from media contaminated by water, smoke and fire.

In order to increase your chances for a complete data recovery following a natural disaster, it is imperative you do not attempt to clean or operate your damaged equipment. In fact, your chances for successful recovery are greatest if you leave your hardware in its corrupted state when sending it in for service. For instance, equipment saturated with water should be sent to a professional data recovery lab before the equipment has a chance to dry. Likewise, media exposed to smoke and fire must not be opened or manipulated until safely enclosed in an air- and static-controlled clean room. A simple phone call to a data recovery professional keeps natural disasters from becoming data disasters.