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Data Safety In a Time of Natural Disasters 86

CowboyRobot writes "The National Weather Service has begun testing the way it labels natural disasters. It's hoping that the new warnings, which include words like 'catastrophic,' 'complete devastation likely,' and 'unsurvivable,' will make people more likely to take action to save their lives. But what about their digital lives? Recommendations include: Keep all electronics out of basements and off the floor; Unplug your hardware; Buy a surge protector; Enclose anything valuable in plastic. If the National Weather Service issued a 'complete devastation' warning today, would your data be ready?"
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Data Safety In a Time of Natural Disasters

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  • Clouds (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:00AM (#39605091)

    Cloud storage. Imagine how much data you can store in a hurricane!

    • Re:Clouds (Score:5, Funny)

      by schizz69 ( 1239560 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:26AM (#39605133) Journal
      Throw a few billion micro SD cards at it. I'm sure they will have great uptime.
      • by flyneye ( 84093 )

        There's an Idea, back up to a thumb drive, then when the warning of catastrophic unsurvivable bullshit raining down on mankind come, you can; shove the thumbdrive in past your sphincter,put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by unixisc ( 2429386 )
      Actually, this is one of the few advantages of having things in the cloud. I'd assume that the storage is all distributed and mirrored.
      • Re:Clouds (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @06:21AM (#39605477) Journal
        The advantage of the cloud is that it lets you make assumptions that won't be tested until you are unable to restore your backups? Actually, that sounds about right...
      • Re:Clouds (Score:4, Informative)

        by hawkinspeter ( 831501 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @06:36AM (#39605541)
        I wouldn't assume that unless you've specifically paid for it. Amazon will charge extra if you want to ensure that your data is replicated onto different continents.
        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Well, undersea fiber optic cables which is mostly how you get from continent to continent are ridiculously expensive and if you're a mega-corporation then I can see the value of having an off-continent backup in case India and Pakistan or Israel and Iran or the US and China goes to war. But if you're living in the US and the country is fucked from San Francisco to New York - which is still the same continent - then you probably have bigger issues to deal with.

          • I recall that Amazon AWS had an issue a few months ago that took down one of their US data centers. Quite a few customers lost data/machines as they hadn't specified and paid for duplication to other locations. With cloud services, it's relatively easy for a broken fibres or power supply cables to take down services for a whole region. They try to have everything redundant, but 100% up-time is incredibly difficult to achieve.
        • Is replication across continents sufficient? Or do I just have a larger list of potential catastrophes than you do?
    • Re:Clouds (Score:4, Funny)

      by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:36AM (#39606103)
      Damn right. I have all my critical data backed up to MegaUpload!

      (Only half meant to be funny)
    • Cloud storage. Imagine how much data you can store in a hurricane!

      So much that you have to serve them off the Tornado web server?

      • Cloud storage. Imagine how much data you can store in a hurricane!

        So much that you have to serve them off the Tornado web server?

        Yes, but the platters are spinning so fast your access time is dramatically reduced.

    • Re:Clouds (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kaladorn ( 514293 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @11:48AM (#39606823) Homepage Journal
      The cloud is a good way to store things (encrypted by yourself before storage) but is only one part of a broader data security and integrity effort.

      Where I am, in an apartment, I'm immune to a flood (but not a burst waterpipe). I'm defended against surges of moderate scope by UPSes and surge suppressors. I have a reasonable degree of data replication to protect my data from hardware failures and I have limited off-site replication of data to protect me from catastrophic events like fire, serious water pipe issues, earthquake, etc.

      But these sorts of strategies have a cost-benefit issue; You pay for offiste storage generally and if you want to store tens or hundreds of gigs of data, that gets pricey.

      Offsite storage also puts your data into the hands of others. Even encrypted, you have to assess there is a degree of security risk in having your data store externally.

      Security and data protection has to be scaled to the need and you have to think about both the threats and the costs involved in any plan you choose.

      Still, it is nice there are more options now than there used to be and Amazon and other cloud storage options are handy.

      I have a buddy who has to travel to the US but with the later-day border issues, doesn't like to take a laptop. So he stores an encrypted version of his code repo in the cloud and just rents a laptop while in the US, unpacks his repo, does his thing, cleans and wipes the laptop, and returns it when he's headed home. That sort of capability avoids DHS taking a copy of his work. His concern isn't them reading it, so much as them having piss-poor data security of their own and not being able to know where it might end up.
      • Yes, I take a similar approach when I travel now, given the insanity at the airports, especially since TSA employees seem to take a liking to my Thinkpad (it gets pulled aside so they can paw through my laptop bag every damn time.) Probably it's because I have a few tools in it, I don't know. Anyway, all they'll ever see is fresh re-image of the OS with a few applications, and none of my work files. When I get where I'm going, I download whatever I need, and when I'm finished I upload any new files and then
    • Cloud storage. Imagine how much data you can store in a hurricane!

      Yes, and given the energy release of a hurricane there will be no problem with power for your high-velocity cloud storage system.

      Personally, I think the government should broadcast a simple numeric code to make these warnings easy to understand. For example, the code for "complete devastation event" might be 2012.

  • Either we'd grab the laptops, or the NAS (which the laptops back up onto) on the way out. And if we weren't home, then we'd still have a not-horribly-old backup over at the parental units' place.

  • "Stick Your Head Between Your Legs and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" Warning. I guess "Unsurvivable" covers this in a less colorful way. Look, hard copy everything and if not there's still DVDs and CDs to be burned. Personal data can easily be burned on a CD. Keep a copy in a bank vault and at home. You can even keep a thumb drive on you, I did this for years. These days there are cloud services but I like hard data. It's less secure but you can even e-mail yourself data. I have actually done this before as a bac
  • Mutual backup. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:09AM (#39605105)
    Encrypt your stuff, send to a friend elsewhere in the world. He can likewise encrypt his stuff and send to you. Doesn't even need any fancy cryptographic stuff - even the non-techies can set a password on a winrar archive, and winrar's crypto is sufficiently hard to break that the only way I've ever found is to brute-force the password - which still is very slow, due to the use of a multi-round hardened hash.
    • by SpzToid ( 869795 )

      How about something more realistic like encfs and ssfhs, along with any cloud provider like Dropbox? []
      Or skip Dropbox because it costs a lot and host your own disks using SparkleShare, which is based on GIT, and all your GIT/rabbitshare experience with repos is applicable to their management, should you care to. []

      • Re:Mutual backup. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:57AM (#39605237)

        $10-20/month to Dropbox vs how many hours setting up SparkleShare, worrying about hosting it yourself, etc?

        Hell, if you're super cheap, buy space from Google and shove it all into Google Docs (yeah, theres an API). $5 for 20GB of storage or $20 for 80GB of storage (per YEAR).

        • Re:Mutual backup. (Score:4, Informative)

          by SpzToid ( 869795 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:19AM (#39605297)

          I understand you might be TooMuchToDo for a reason, so let me show you how few lines are required to set up SparkleShare.

          ON THE SERVER:
          git init --bare EXAMPLE.git

          DO THISLOCALLY FROM Sparkleshare, attach to account:
          field 1:

          field 2: /home/you/EXAMPLE.git

          NOTES: 12345 = your random SSH port
          It helps to know a little about GIT and bash (terminal) commands.
          Tested using Ubuntu, I used terms like 'field 2' because I am too lazy to actually consult the SparkleShare GUI which looks a lot like dropbox and is just as easy to use in real-life. Some folks also have more data than they can afford using Dropbox, and multi-terrabyte disks are relatively cheap.
          Happy Saturday morning.

          • I don't use power supplies from companies named 'sparkle' and I don't run software called 'sparkle'.

            I'm sorry, I stop at GIMP.

          • Bro, I get it. I've worked on data taking for the LHC. I understand its easy to run the commands. You assume the following:

            1) You have a server somewhere, either at a datacenter, or at your home and your ISP allows you to make it publically available on the internet

            2) That you own the server, a server you have to pay for, and have RAIDed volumes

            3) That you want to maintain that server

            My hourly rate is $125-$200/hr. If I spend more than 10-15 minutes a month working on this, I've already lost money, hence, D

      • Effective, but note the 'even non-techies.' Us geeks can handle encfs and sshfs, but the rest of the population would struggle to work out why they can't attach a folder to an email. I work in tech support, I've had to explain that on a few occasions.

        My own backup system involves tar piped to pigz, accessed via inetd from another server which connects with netcat piped to gpg. The network traffic is cleartext, as it's only going from one end of the house to the other, but it'd be easy to modify for encrypt
      • ...along with any cloud provider like Dropbox?

        Lots of people were using MegaUpload for that... Now what?

        • Lots of people were using MegaUpload for that... Now what?

          Now you have the full force and faith of the US Government storing the data for you - full of win!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by loyukfai ( 837795 )

      Crashplan does this (backup to your friends/family members) automatically for free . Paid version include better encryption and/or backup to their "cloud".

      FWIW, the software is closed source though.


    • Check out Crashplan. It can do exactly that for free and no hassle.
  • ..and if it's electronic then it can't hurt to put it in a Faraday cage...

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:53AM (#39605223)

    If I am not going to survive, I won't be around to care if my data does or not.

    • You are not going to survive only if you stay. If you are smart and evacuate you might not have time to get your data out as well.
    • Yeah, I was just thinking "Hurricane Katrina - we sure lost some good cell phones during that" (to paraphrase Jon Stewart talking about 9/11).

      One of the first rules of what to do in a serious disaster is to not even think about saving your stuff, think about saving you and any other people you're up to helping out. If it will help you survive (e.g. water and food), then by all means take it, but otherwise ditch it.

      • Having been through a few of these, it is much better to think about your stuff. Think a lot about your stuff. Just do it well before the day of the hurricane.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      Depends where you live and work. There are tornados where I live... My work and home are off axis enough and about 20 miles apart, its quite possible for one to be wiped off the face of the earth down to bare dirt while the other just has a rainy day.

      This doesn't help with some people living in hurricane land, or forest fire land... I've never lived in earthquake land but isn't 20 miles far enough to get you out of utter destruction region and into survivable region?

      I work about 3 miles from a port (sea-po

  • HDD Cage (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Aereus ( 1042228 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:55AM (#39605233)

    If I had to physically escape with my data, it would take less than a minute. Pull off the side-panel to my case. Unplug my HDDs and pull the cage they're attached to. Toss that into a bag, or if time wasn't critical, look into safer solutions like anti-static bags or at least a freezer ziplock or something.

    Anything else in the system is easily replaceable in a disaster.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      well, i would do the same or take both systems with me and screw with the monitors and what not if its that desperate..

  • This is an easy one. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zippo01 ( 688802 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:01AM (#39605253) [] If you break it they replace it. They are awesome and water proof cases. Just build you system inside, something happens, close the door. Done.
  • Here's a thought... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:12AM (#39605281) Homepage

    ... try not building your house in an area prone to hurricanes. Or, if you're going to do that, try not living in a house constructed along the same basic design as a plywood packing crate.

    Most of the houses in the US would simply not be passed as fit for human habitation in the UK, because of their shoddy thin-crappy-wood-over-thin-crappy-frame construction.

    • Freaky shit DOES occur, however. However rare things can be, it happens. Back on June 1st, we had an F3 tornado tear us up--in Massachusetts. A complete and total shocker, as we never get ANY-thing like that. It started only about a quarter of a mile from where I live, and worsened in the next town over from us. By sheer luck and happenstance, I was facing the very beginning of it and whipped out my Crackberry to film it []. And yea, all I could say was "OMG", which I got dog-piled for in the comments...

      • Haha! In fairness though it must have felt like the end of the world. I remember the first time I experienced an earthquake in the Philippines, I thought everyone was playing an extremely elaborate practical joke on me at first.

        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
          Can't have been much of an earthquake. Usually there is absolutely no doubt in your mind what is happening when you're in a "real" earthquake, it's pretty clear you're about to die. That's what it felt like in the 7.8 I was in.
    • Yet, despite your bleating, houses in the US survive hurricanes, and blizzards, and earthquakes. So, either you're talking out of your nether regions, or you don't know what you're talking about. (Same thing really.)

    • I like the part where you don't really know what you're talking about.
    • Most of the houses in the US would simply not be passed as fit for human habitation in the UK, because of their shoddy thin-crappy-wood-over-thin-crappy-frame construction.

      First of all, these days, it's usually not thin crappy wood. It's thin sheets of sawdust and glue (OSB). The latest trend is to make more of the frame out of sawdust and glue, too (LVLs, etc.)

      However, the construction can be stronger than it looks. A lot of the damage from hurricanes can be avoided by spending a tiny bit extra to include the appropriate metal hurricane straps that help hold the major parts of the structure together better than plain nails. Also, wood frame houses generally have excellent ea

    • I grew up in Florida during the 1960's with at least four major hurricanes during my childhood. We always thought they were fun. We got to erect tents in the living room and got new board games to play with.

      Then afterwards we watched our folks blast rattlesnakes off the steps with shotguns.

      Cinderblocks, hurricane shutters and no houses on the beach. No problem.

      Then came federally funded flood insurance and idiots built on spots that only idiots would build on with the aforementioned packing-crate constru

    • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
      Certainly, US houses wouldn't pass the test on the most devastating force in my country... Thieves. They would easily punch a hole through your wall, door, windows, and take your stuff. So that's how we build in my country... block as much you can the access in or out
    • by Xacid ( 560407 )

      I just keep my gear portable. Hurricanes give enough warning.

    • You're kidding, right? I lived in south Florida for nine years, about an hour north of Miami. Those houses are built like forts, with low roof lines to reduce the likelihood that they'll be ripped off by winds, reinforcements in any tall walls so that they won't be toppled, solid cinderblock construction, interior rooms with numerous pipes running through the walls as an emergency fallback area, shutters that can be installed easily in a few hours, and many today even have glass that can take direct hits fr

      • None of those have hit my region. That's all in the south of England, which is as geographically and climatically different as Florida is from Alaska.

        • What of it? My point there was that the natural disasters you contend with are not as severe as those we face here. If you are in a region that doesn't suffer from the worst varieties that have hit the UK, then you're merely making my point. I would also wager that your house would be no more able to withstand a strong hurricane than my current one, since those simply not threats we would often face. Again, we build to our needs. Both of us.

          • Well, you know your 140mph hurricane-force winds? We call that January. This year has been unusually calm in that we didn't seen much over 100mph, but you get some years like that and you get some years where it doesn't go below 90mph for a week.

            • Funny you should mention January, since just earlier this year you guys were hit with Cyclone Ulli [], which was mentioned at the link I provided earlier as one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the UK. By your standards it was a trite storm, coming in with maximum gusts at a mere 106mph (i.e. equivalent to a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, depending on what its sustained wind speeds were), yet for some reason it caused about UK £190 million in damage. Odd that it should do so much damage if what you

              • Hey, I'm just going by what I read off the airport weather station. Cyclone Ulli mostly hit the south of England, where it caused a lot of damage because they rarely get much wind. That's in a different country a very long way from here, though, and all we really got was a few slates off and a couple of trees down.

  • A previous Slashdot topic (many months ago) pointed out this program. [] (Mac, windows, linux)

    I've been using it for a few months and it has proven very reliable and useful. You can use it for free with a few unobtrusive ads in the UI. Thier business strategy seems to be to sell you storage space on their servers, but you don't need to pay a dime to use your own or your friends hard drive space.

    You can set up all your pc's to backup to each other or certain locations (PC in
  • I imagine the risks of cloud storage are average across all individuals... though we probably don't have enough info on which servers are located in Florida and how much redundancy the cloud server companies have. But we have different risks and exposures to hurricanes, floods, etc. Ultimately, how valuable is your info compared to the value you place on beachfront property?
  • In the case of a full on natural disaster of pretty much any type what will determine the state of any data you have in the range of said disaster is going to be dumb luck. When something like that hits, there's nothing at all you can do. Surge protectors, stuff off the floor, none of it makes a damned bit of difference. If you have off site backups and off site is outside the disaster zone you'll have data, if you have enough warning and can physically move your hardware out of the disaster zone before sai

    • Not true. After Ike, most of the damaged computers I saw were from 3-6 inches of water. A few more were from small leaks, or blown wind. Plastic trash bags, and setting them on the desk would have saved almost all of them. Other than the one company that bagged all the computers and put them together on the same table in the middle of the room. The roof collapsed partially there, knocking them all off the table. :) Sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug...
  • ''catastrophic,' 'complete devastation likely,' and 'unsurvivable,'" I think these words accurately describe the effect that their new, scary vocabulary choices will have on their credibility. Really, no matter how dramatic your warning is, some people are just going to think they can tough it out - has far more to do with the temperament of the person than with specific verbiage. Getting all hysterical might motivate a few more people in the short term, but long run it makes you look silly and might even l
    • The overly aggressive warnings to evacuate for Rita are why so many people chose to stay for Ike. It was a poor choice...
  • I have a ton of photos, so do members of my family. So, we are each others off site backups. When we visit, data on external "grab and go" hard drives get synced and checked, and extra copies of the good pictures get stored on laptops or media centers, etc, to cover drive failure. At the end of a visit, there may be 6 copies of files, and only 2 stay local. No one minds encrypted files either. Need to sync something important when not visiting? Email an encrypted zip and instructions to store it.

    Needless to

  • I have seen a few posts about how to keep your data safe, where and how to back it up. Is it really that important? and if so use some common sense... damn..
  • I have nothing digitally worth risking the life or myself or my family.

    Really when you come down to it a disaster is just that and keeping the people around you safe is a million times more important than anything else you may have.

    That said my choice of solutions would be a FedEx box full of hard drives to a friend across the country or a good tape safe that is water and fire resistant.

    Of course like most I/T people I don't back up nearly enough. ^_^

    'Scuse me....something I gotta go do...
  • Folks, you don't need a local/wide area disaster to cause these problems. How many houses burn down every day? Keeping your 'stuff' off the floor helps, but the only thing that REALLY works is some form of off site backup. Be that "swap the USB drive with the one kept in the bank once a week" (then you only lose a weeks worth of stuff) to automated backups. The DISADVANTAGE of 'swap to the bank' is that MOST folks have their bank close to home, and whatever takes out "home" could prevent you from gettin

    • That's a remarkably bad choice if they are figuring in nulear war. Given Pine Gap is 10 miles away and a likely first strike target, since it is (or was, or was thought to be - which is good enough for the other side to hit it) a ballistic lauch detection station and signals intelligence station.

  • If you do not have it, you are doing it fundamentally wrong anyways. If you select "the cloud" as backup target, make sure it is several independent providers. Personally, I have two vServers for backup, but my essential stuff is 10GB. What also works is a safe deposit box, if you do not mind traveling there at least once a month.

  • If there's a complete devastation warning, I'm getting the heck out. And some of the first things I grab will be the his&hers external backup drives. Together they'll take up a few dozen cubic inches, and you have complete system states on there for our systems. If there's more time, I might grab the towers or at least disassemble them and take out the drives, but the backups are a good, easy-to-grab start. I won't even grab the cords if I'm in a hurry...those are easy enough to replace for cheap.
  • Couldn't get the full quote in the title so I shortened it. Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters and catastrophies regularly demonstrate the lack of prepareness that the IT community has. For example, during hurricane Katrina, the phone system's equipment actually worked, cell sites worked but what failed is the battery backup system which was placed in the basement. The basement was the first to flood.

    One company performed an offsite backup and stored it in a bank safety deposit box as per stan

  • If you want a great low cost way to make sure you don't lose your digital life just buy off-site back up protection. Currently my two main drives which hold everything I would want to keep get backed up in Germany once a week. I think the entire deal costs me something like 15 a month Canadian, not even a value to think twice about.

I've got a bad feeling about this.