How to Disaster-Proof Your Electronic Data

Flooding in one region. Drought and wildfires in another. Natural disasters are an unpredictable reality across the country, and their impact on small businesses can be devastating.

Economist Ray Perryman, founder and president of Texas-based The Perryman Group, estimates that in Texas alone, the current drought and ensuing wildfires will eventually have a $20 billion economic impact. Business owners usually think about mapping an exit route in case of fire or a having a contingency plan in the event of a tornado, but rarely consider what might happen to their electronic data in such dire circumstances.

Companies today have a particular dependence on electronic files. Legal documents, employment records and client data are all typically housed on a disc, hard drive or online environment. As such, it is imperative to ask yourself if your digital data could weather an unforeseen storm.

California-based attorney Scott Barer knows about disasters first hand: he lives and works in Earthquake Country. In fact, the infamous Southern California quake of 1994 has been a major influence on his business’ disaster plan. “My biggest asset is my data. I run a largely electronic office. A lot of client data is digital, also practice management, billing, time-keeping–all digital. I go to pretty significant lengths to make sure all of that is backed up securely,” he says.

Here are steps Barer and other experts advise you to take before the next natural disaster comes your way:

Save wisely. When you are backing up data, remember to include financial data, key human resources files, custom software, contracts or other legal documents, databases, insurance files and computer system backups, says Matthew Putvinski, director of Wolf and Company’s Information Technology Assurance Services group.

Secure off-site. Back your data up off-site, Meghan Blair-Valero, founder of Fogged In Bookkeeping, advises in her blog. “It doesn’t do you any good if the external hard drive you have everything backed up to is on your desk next to the computer when disaster strikes,” she says. Companies like Carbonite and CrashPlan provide off-site backup for under $100 a year. “How much would it cost you to replace your computer data?” Blair-Valero asks.

Vet vendors. “Evaluate your critical vendors,” Blair-Valero advises. “If you host your network off-site to start, make sure they have a proper data backup plan.  Don’t find out after the fact that your host backs up on site, but when their facility got hit by that tornado, they lost everything.”

Digitize your paper trail. “Ideally you have paper files stored as digital documents and don’t have to worry about loss of paper files,” says Blair-Valero. “Many small businesses don’t. At least try to scan your most important documents such as legal docs, incorporation paperwork and tax returns. Make sure they are stored on your Cloud server or on a computer with an off-site backup system.”

Cover your assets. Barer backs his files up locally every night to an external hard drive, including client data, practice management data and Outlook. During the day, he backs up in real time every few minutes. He also backs up remotely with CrashPlan. “I take a ‘belt-and-suspenders’ approach to backup,” he says.

Prepare to power down. Barer advises that you also have an uninterruptable power supply. It gives you 10 minutes to safely shut down your computer if the electrical grid goes down.”Even when there is a brown-out, you can risk data corruption,” Barer says. “In this era of everything digital, I think it’s so critical to have digital protection.”