Defensive Computing in a Hurricane - Part 2

In August of 2011, prompted by Hurricane Irene, I wrote about Defensive Computing in a Hurricane. This time, for Hurricane Sandy, some old and new advice.

Should you lose power, consider re-purposing a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). Rather than power a computer, its battery can run a radio, light a lamp or charge a cellphone. As I noted last time, it's a poor man's generator.

Also when the power goes out, unplug computers and valuable electronics to protect them from a possible surge of electricity when power is restored.

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The last repeat advice is to protect a broadband modem with either a surge protector or a UPS. The modem (or modem/router) is not particularly valuable monetarily, but the service it provides, certainly is. The UPS shown here is protecting my cable modem. Plugging a broadband modem directly into an AC outlet strikes me as a big mistake.

Speaking of broadband modems, it's a good idea to make note of their normal state. Write down which lights are on, off, blinking; their colors, etc. Put it on paper and tape it to the modem so it can't get lost. When things go wrong, hurricane or not, this can only help.

Last month I wrote about a small external battery that, after months of collecting dust, finally paid off and charged my cellphone in a pinch. A power outage is the ultimate pinch, so as Hurricane Sandy pounds away at my windows I'm doubly glad to have this battery.

Off-site file storage is the ultimate protection. Over the last year, my personal off-site backup strategy has expanded from one company to two.

A major factor in choosing the second company was its location. The first company I employed keeps my backups a couple thousand miles to the West of me. The new company, Wuala, stores them a few thousand miles to the East.

European-based Wuala offers 5 gigabytes of storage for free.

I also like that their software can be configured not to run at system startup. The last problem anyone wants is a computer that won't boot, so I make every effort to minimize the work that happens at startup. With the Wuala software configured to not make automated backups, it doesn't need to run at startup time.

Instead of automated backups, I periodically zip and encrypt my important files and manually copy them to Wuala. I treat it a bit like a European safe deposit box. I also copy drafts of these blogs, a process that takes just seconds. Early drafts of this very blog reside somewhere in Switzerland, Germany or France, well out of the reach of Hurricane Sandy.

Wuala has another huge advantage - security. They are one of a small number of cloud storage providers that claim they can't read your files. They say:

Wuala employs client-side-encryption to achieve a unique level of security. All data is encrypted locally, before it is uploaded. Your password never leaves your computer. Nobody - not even we as storage provider - can access your data without your authorization.

The only downside I've run across in the seven months or so of using the service is that, on Windows and OS X, Wuala requires Java. To me, the trade-off is worthwhile.

  Update 1 October 30, 2012: After Hurricane Sandy, some people have resorted to charging their electronics in a bank branch.

The same bank branch was written up on Nov 1, 2012. See Above 40th Street, the Powerless Go to Recharge, which tells of the haves vs. the have-nots in Manhattan. 

Update 2 October 30, 2012: Another option in a power outage is to rechcarge cellphones and other electronics in a car using something like the PowerLine PowerCup Mobile Inverter. One end plugs into the cigarette lighter and the other end provides both an AC outlet and a USB port. I don't have this specific inverter, but whenever I'm driving a car, a similar device is always with me.

Update 3 October 30, 2012: There was also a story on the local New York City news about people using trees to charge their phones. Some trees have already been strung with lights for the upcoming holiday season. People are unplugging the lights from their power outlets and using the outlets to charge their cellphones. A news station stumbled across this story right outside their own building. The building has power but is right next to an area that is blacked out. Thus, people without power walked a few blocks to slurp what they could.

Update 4 October 30, 2012: Last year I wrote about maintaining a backup website. Gizmodo, Gawker and the Huffington Post do not do this and their websites went out along with the lone company hosting them.

Update 5 October 31, 2012: Closed or not, Starbucks provides free Wi-Fi to New Yorkers without power. 

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