With a Category 3 storm aiming squarely at the East Coast of the United States, how well have you prepared yourself and your data? David Gewirtz shares some tips and cautions you may not have considered.
I live on the Space Coast of Florida, and as I write this, Hurricane Matthew is aiming right at us. You never really know where hurricanes will hit. This Category 3 nightmare (which models show may strengthen back to Category 4) could land down near Miami or move north towards Jacksonville or the Carolinas. Right now, models are showing it might even loop around and hit us again next week.

It’s not pretty. Even if the main storm stays offshore, hurricane-force winds and flooding could have a pretty devastating result. I won’t lie to you. We’re worried. We’ve locked in our hurricane shutters and done basic hurricane prep, but if the power goes out or worse, we’ll be off the grid for an indeterminate amount of time.

That brings me to the issue of protecting your data and some things that those of you in the track of forces of nature may not have considered.

Let’s start with the cloud. Storing data in the cloud may have some disadvantages, but when it comes to a storm like Matthew, it’s nice knowing that Google, Evernote, Dropbox, and CrashPlan are safely preserving our data out of harm’s way.

But think about this: what happens if you’ve knocked offline and can’t get to your data?

Do you have local copies (printouts, even) of critically important information like family and emergency contact numbers, insurance policies, repair manuals, and health records?

If you’re without power for a few days to a week (the prospect of this freaks me the heck out, honestly), you’ll need to have important documentation available to you and you won’t be able to rely on the cloud to get it. Make sure you have some paper records of the most important documents and protect them well away from the elements.

Next, let’s turn it around. What about the data you do have stored locally? I have a number of redundant NAS devices that protect my data in case a drive fails. I even have a backup NAS array to back up the original NAS. Both of those, however, are here in my home office.

Today’s security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions — or even billions — of dollars at risk when information security isn’t handled properly.

From a disaster management perspective, that’s okay — but only because it’s part of a larger backup strategy. I also have two arrays off-site, with relatively up-to-date backups, that are powered down. Unfortunately, that off-site location is also in the track of the storm, so it’s not necessarily secure. To back that up, I have the cloud backup services and it’s that triumvirate of protective measures that will, I hope, secure my data.

If you have local data, make sure to keep multiple copies. You might not have time to squirt everything up to the cloud, but at least be sure to move the most critical documents and files.

As the storms approach, be sure to power down your gear and unplug the boxes from the wall. If you’re in a data center, you’ll have to look at your appropriate surge and lightning mitigation precautions, but in a big storm like Matthew, it might be necessary to implement power isolation procedures, if you’ve set them up ahead of time.

Another thing you might want to consider doing is making a dump of your most important data to a spare drive, like the portable external drives I reviewed recently. That way, if you have to evacuate with nothing but the cloths on your back and your laptop, you can grab the small drive and bring it along, and you’ll have most of your most important data.

I won’t lie to you. Big hurricanes are crazy scary. But with some smart preparation, at least you have a chance of making it through as best as possible.

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