The National Weather Service has issued...

Published: 2007-04-26
Last Updated: 2007-04-27 16:15:28 UTC
by Lorna Hutcheson (Version: 3)
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As I sit here today looking at the black clouds swirling outside and praying my satellite connection doesn't drop, it sparked an interesting discussion amongst some of us handlers over all the bad weather and spring storms. Well, bad weather and storm damage can only lead you to one thought in the geek world and you guessed it. Your Disaster Recovery Plan! While not always a fun and exciting topic like malware or a good packet capture, its really a critical part of our world or necessary evil depending on how you want to look at it.

Let's don't focus on your work DRP, but rather on your home one. Wait, everyone has one right? Ok no one throw anything, but yes we all need one for home. If you don't believe me, just ask the folks in Texas/Mexico who got hammered by the latest tornado or anyone who has suffered a natural disaster. For me, my work is mostly done from my home office and that is becoming more common with people. Not to mention everything related to our personal lives is becoming automated as well. When was the last time you sat and manually wrote out anything that you wanted to keep? How lost would you be if your home computer(s) were destroyed right now and without warning? We all need to approach our preparedness at home in a similar fashion to our DRP at work.

Ask yourself where your backups for your computer are sitting if you have them. If they are sitting next to you computer and your house gets destroyed, they won't help you much. Fellow handler Daniel Wesemann offered a good suggestion. The next time you head out to grandma and grandpas or maybe some friend or relatives house that is a couple of hours away, take a copy of your most recent backup and ask them to hang onto it for you. He is using a truecrypt protected drive. He wanted me to emphasis "that it takes LOTS of patience to truecrypt a 250gb USB drive, like a day or two. But once its prepared, accessing it is no big difference to normal speed."

Your backups, as well as critical personal documents, can be stored in a fireproof safe at your home for some extra protection as well. My sister and her husband actually do a really good job of this but take it a step farther. They live in a very tornado prone area of the US, so they keep all the their original documents (birth certificates, marriage license, vehicle title etc.) in a safety deposit box and only maintain certified copies of originals at their house. They also maintain an electronic copy of the brand, model and serial numbers to high value items as well as photos of all high value items too. Don't limit yourself to electronic items but also consider photos of such things as antiques, paintings etc. By doing it this way, they can back it up on to a CD and store the latest copy in the safety deposit box as well. They have everything documented for accounts, policies etc in case of an emergency.

Hopefully, no one ever has to use their home DRP, but if the worst happens, you'll be thankful that you had one. If you have any thing that you do for your home DRP that you would like to share, then please drop us an email and we'll let us know!

UPDATE:  Here are some recommendations we have received that I wanted to pass along.  I hope you can find something that works for your family and everyone can benefit.  Thanks for all the emails and suggestions, they are appreciated!!

Anonymous:  Someone sent us an email reminding us of the American Red Cross and their work in this area.  Thank you!

Greg Ludwick: "Just thought I'd share what I do, and what I have setup for my personal DRM and my family. Personally I like the ongoing ease and simplicity of EMC's (formally Dantz) Retrospect. What I did was buy a copy for each member of my family for Christmas one year along with two USB external hard drives each. I then it setup for each of them to automatically backup and groom to the USB drives. We then swap drives with each other each time we meet for family get together, which is usually at least 3 or 4 times a year.

The nice thing about this setup is it is almost completely automatic and transparent. The only thing to remember is to bring and swap the USB drives, which I usually remind everyone about.

Some of the more paranoid among us (me) preform other backups in addition to these mentioned here. I also keep a copy in my bank's lock box, so that I can get my hands on a, hopefully, more recent copy and do so quicker than tracking down the one I have swapped with my brother 100 miles away."

Eric Johnson:
  "It's important to only leave a copy of your data with a family member who understands the importance of keeping it secure. You don't want to find your old tax returns in the hands of unfriendlys because Aunt Tillie left an intact DVD in the curbside trash or stored it in the bedroom closet where your good-for-nothing cousin sleeps.

I've always hesitated to encrypt offsite backups because of concerns about key availability following a disaster. The only practical solution I've come up with is to store the key with one family member, and the encrypted data with another."

Charles Senne:  "I for two years was a certified storm spotter, and still to this day have a pretty deep interest in the weather. I live here in Kansas City, but sadly we don't have the option of being at one particular client site when things go down. So I'm here to offer some insightful knowledge of programs and links of what you should really use to "watch" the impending weather situations.

Firstly, one of the best "cost effective" programs to view real time radar data is GRLevel3. A license is roughly $79.99 USD and polls data from the nearest Nexrad radar site of the National Weather Service. I used this to view storms on a laptop while chasing, and it has alot of information, and is pretty configurable. You can place markers and zoom down to street level depending on the maps you use. You'll thank me later for this, as it's about what the TV people use.

Secondly, never count on!!! They handle the entire US, and sometimes the world, their data can lag when you most need it. So what I would suggest is your local weather office. Now if you have a nifty bigscreen you can use this site... This pulls the entire US and shows all radar data. Clicking on any part of that map will take you to the closest NOAA office.


and here are easy to find information needed as well.

For those in the "Tornado Alley" areas, I cannot stress enough to look at and watch for the Convective Outlook.. this goes out 4 days, and goes in depth as to Severe Weather risks for a particular area. Although weather's not a correct science, these guys are the best at what they do... At the Storm Predictions Center, there is also tools there to gain access to the balloon data, but only those knowledgeable about what things mean should look at this.. but it's nice to have it if you know that sort of stuff.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps those who are interested, and there is alot that can go into planning with any of the above links/software. Sorry it was long, but knowing the risk can greatly impact people's lives, and the data/equipment stored."

Craig Cox: (Just as an FYI, the government website he is referring to for Disaster Prepardness is "Are you aware of It's a suggested enhancement to the government's home readiness web site. The red cross also has checklists (and sells readiness kits with first aid stuff, radio, flashlight, etc.) geared towards home use. Good for jump-starting home disaster plans."

Keith Seymour:  "Just a note, the fireproof safe isn't really 'safe' for media. I checked mine and the rating is some 300 degrees I find it unlikely that a CD or tape left in there would be useful after a fire.

I did see an article in SysAdmin mag that someone was using a backup program that intelligently copied files using SSH. This would be a service that you could share with a friend in a geographically remote location."

Craig Coley:  ""Most of us who work in computers (especially in Texas) already know about storms and how fragile data can be. I have seven computers on my home network and the My Documents folder on each computer is stored on a network storage drive. The network storage drive backs up daily to a separate USB hard drive and also by FTP to remote server space I rent for $10.00/month. This was a cheap solution and I can survive anything from loss of a single computer due to lightning or hardware failure to loss of the entire network due to storm damage and not lose any critical data. I have also used this same DRP model on several church networks that I maintain on a volunteer basis and it works quite well."

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