Are you backing up your home computer?

I've owned a computer longer than most people, and I've never lost a large amount of data.  Certainly, I've misplaced files, hit the power button before saving was complete, or forgotten to click "Save As" a few times, but I've never faced the total loss and devastation of viruses, lightning strike or hard drive failure... until now!  This week I said a sad farewell to my long-lived desktop computer.  This PC was ancient as computers go these days, but it plugged along just fine.  I was about to hand it over as "the kids' computer" when POW! Blue screen. Diagnosis - hard drive failure. 
Just weeks ago my husband had backed up most of the hard drive to an external terabyte drive, so I may make him an actual halo to wear for a few days.  He saved five years of digital photos, as many tax returns, countless files and documents, and several useful and irreplaceable programs.  Hip hip hurray!

Is your data protected?  If the data on your computer is critical and irreplaceable, get some help.  You may need professional advice to adequately protect years of digital photos, business records, or software you depend on daily to run a business.  If it's business related, please seek business caliber advice.  Here are a few ideas on what, how, and why you should take the steps to protect your computer data. 

What to back-up:
  • Digital and scanned photos and videos
  • Music files (iTunes, etc.)
  • Financial and tax data
  • Home or small business files
  • Work files you bring home
  • Geneology information
  • Your kids' homeswork (Teachers may not be as understanding as you hope.)
  • College papers and projects
  • Software you don't have disks to (P.S. Make some disks!)
  • Photos of your family, pets, home, possessions, property and important documents (You should take these as part of your preparedness plan.)
  • Anything you can't live without for a day, week, month, or lifetime

How to back-up:
  • Saving (or copying) to an external drive is straight forward if you know which files to save or have the capacity to back up the whole hard drive.
  • If a program supports it, choose to back up irreplaceable files, like financial and tax information, to a CD or flash drive.  
  • Back up files and save data through many online services. 
  • Use online email and photo services to save your data on their servers.  (If it's critical data, keep you own copy as well.)
  • Laptops are portable.  This can be a pro - as it enables you to get out of dodge with your data in an emergency and a con - as you can run over it more easily with your car while it was in your backpack that you forgot was on the driveway.
  • Remember that data CAN be retrieved from even highly damaged computers just like on TV.  It's expensive and may produce incomplete data, but if you think you'll need this level of restoration get a professional on the phone before you do anything (like moving it or turning it on, etc.)

Why to back-up:
  • Hardware Failure - Like my hard drive, computer parts can fail.  Backing up files to an external location can protect your data. 
  • Lightning Strike - If your house is struck by lightning, you can lose computers, TVs, stereos, electronics, large and small appliances.  Keeping sensitive devices plugged into appropriately rated surge protectors can help but don't depend on it exclusively.
  • Home Disaster - Fires, floods and a host of other disaster can leave your entire computer system useless.  You can make a plan today to store your data safely in another location.  Consider saving to a location out of your area in the event of regional events like earthquake or wildfire.
  • Solar Flares - I'm not certain how likely or how avoidable this threat is, but some scientists claim we could  lose everything electronic that's not protected.
  • Writing over the hard drive and deleting files accidentally (and other unfortunate mishaps) - A friend of mine was "playing" on his brand new computer and writing to a disk.  After the third time the screen asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" and after the third time he frustratedly indicated, "Yes, I'm sure!", he realized he had rewritten his hard drive.  Oops... Blue screen!
    This article is meant to get you thinking and acting.  A trip to your local computer retailer will suffice to prepare most readers, but like every preparedness plan, you must assess the likelihood of occurrence, potential loss, and cost of preparedness for your situation.  We depend on computers every day for so many things, take the steps you need to stay plugged in to your needs.

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