Fire Safety for Your Computer

Press Release: Fire Safety for Your Computer

 

September 2000 – Fire Safety for Your Computer

SANDPOINT, Idaho – A computer magazine publisher and author here says the northwest fire storms of the past two months have had people thinking and talking about roofs, fire extinguishers, fire fighters, homes, forests, underbrush, wheat fields, evacuations, pets and wildlife — but not computers.

So what?

“With the majority of homes and businesses now relying more on computers then ever before in history, a computer is no longer a luxury item we are talking about. This is a piece of equipment, a tool, people have grown dependent upon, said Susan Daffron, editor-in-chief, Computor Companion, Sandpoint, Idaho.

Daffron explained that as early as 1994, Roper Starch Worldwide reported in its surveys that the number of Americans who believed home computers are a necessity of life was growing faster than computer ownership itself. “Now that the weather has cooled, fire restrictions have been lifted in many places and rain has dampened the area, it’s a good time to take a look at that computer and be thankful it’s intact.”

It is also, she said, a good time to take the steps needed to be sure that all computers and their data are protected during any fires in the future, whether they be range, wild, forest, field or kitchen fires.

“It’s not just the fire itself that you should be concerned about,” said Daffron. “Problems occur from ash in the air, heavy dust, extreme heat, water, electrical outages and orders to evacuate.

“Losing data is the big concern. As we move away from paper to computer hard drives, important phone numbers, records, addresses and more are stored on our computers. Those important pieces of information could be destroyed or left behind in the hurry of an evacuation.”

Daffron is no stranger to the problems of the Northwest’s fires. Situated 17 miles northeast of Sandpoint in a large log house in the woods, she and her husband were near four fires: Nosebag, Sheep Lightning, Lightning Mountain and East Thunder, which is still burning. “As the crow flies, we were closest to Nosebag, which was burning about 9 miles from us. But remember,” she smiled, “there’s a lake in that geography, a lake between us and the fire.”

Daffron and her husband, James Byrd, a programmer, own Logical Expressions Inc., which publishes the free magazine, Computor Companion. She is also the author of How to Use PowerPoint 2000, published by Macmillan Computer Publishing, and articles for Bedford Communications, publishers of Computer Buyer’s Guide and Laptop Buyer’s Guide.

Daffron said heavy dust, smoke and ash particles in the air can bring a computer to a screeching halt. Airborne particulates can clog cooling fans inside computers, explained Daffron. “When the fans get clogged, they stop
working. “If the system overheats, you’ve got trouble.”

The solution? Open the computer’s case and use compressed air to clean the fans. Don’t, she said, grab the household blow dryer. Heat and the introduction of static electricity are problems that can come about from the use of that hair blow dryer. Air purifiers, fans to circulate air and air conditioners are also recommended. “It’s not folklore that computers like clean air,” she said. Another thing computers “like” is moderate room temperatures. “Most computer manuals tell you that your computer performs best in temperatures up to 95 degrees F, ” said Daffron. “That obviously eliminates optimum performance during a fire!”

But will the heat of a fire ruin a computer?

“Probably. Plastic melts and electronics can be charred. I looked at the Data Recovery Group’s web site at
http://www.datarecoverygroup.com/services/disaster.htm and learned from them that ‘data can be recovered from many drives even if all plastic components are melted, and otherwise the hard drive looks like a blackened mess’,” she said. This type of recovery won’t be inexpensive. And it won’t work at all if the hard drive is melted, of course.

Water used by fire fighters can get into the hard drive, but data recovery is possible — although not guaranteed — if the recovery work is begun before the water dries. When the water does dry, what’s left on the hard drive is dirt, minerals and other matter. That debris can make recovery next to impossible. “The threat of losing your computer drives home the reason for adequate insurance. We have a special rider on our policy to cover the cost of replacing our computers. I recommend that others check their policies and talk with their agents to assure that the computer and its contents are insured properly,” said Daffron. She said that where she and husband live, electrical outages are not uncommon. “Get an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Even if you don’t have to evacuate, power could be affected. Get the type of UPS that also filters the power coming in. They are more expensive than the type that just has a battery back up but worth it. This type prevents problems from brown outs and surges as well as complete loss of power,” she said. The UPS is important because power fluctuations can corrupt data and damage hard drives and other components.

Given the critical data people now store routinely on their computers, the need to back-up a hard drive can never be over-emphasized. ” If you hard disk is damaged beyond recovery from a fire, there’s no substitute for a complete system backup, “said Daffron. “And even if you don’t lose important data, just reinstalling the operating system and all your software could take hours and hours. With the current crop of Windows backup software, backing up your drive has never been easier, and there are a number of options you can choose from, depending on your needs.” What’s equally important is to make two backups — not one — and to store at least one of those copies off-site. “We store one set of tapes and backups in a safety deposit box,” said Daffron.

Daffron stressed that there are things one should not do.Do NOT, she said,

  • Back up to just one tape. Rotate backups, using a number of different tapes.
  • Back up to just one type of media. Tapes fail. Disks fail. Back up irreplaceable data to CD-R or another computer if necessary. Redundant data storage is always a good idea.
  • Put magnetic media in a fireproof safe. These safes are rated by how long it takes for paper to burn. Tapes and disks are very sensitive to heat. The box may not burn, but the data could be toast anyway.

Daffron said that her publication, Computor Companion, is a good source of information on protecting one’s computer. She said she would also be happy to answer caller’s questions by phone or by e-mail.

Computor Companion is free. About 15,000, 24-page issues are delivered bimonthly in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties, Washington, and Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties, Idaho. For more information, phone 208-265-6147 or e-mail: sdaffron AT logicalexpressions.com. The firm’s website is at: http://www.logicalexpressions.com

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