Using Technology to Aid in Disaster Recovery

While observing the terrible results of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma this morning, I noted that Facebook provided an easy method for its user base to check in to let family and loved ones know that they are safe, and out of danger from the respective storms.

Cross reference that with the rememberance ceremonies of the nearly 3000 people we lost during the tragic events of September 11, 2001 - and it became apparent that I should make these converging events the focus of this week's blog. So in the following paragraphs, I will discuss several methods for using technology before, during and after disaster recovery. 

Note: Before I go further, I should first mention that I did not lose a loved one or a close friend on that tragic day, nor am I aware of any friends or relatives that have been affected by the recent Hurricanes. That being said, my heart and my prayers do indeed go out to each and every person who has been touched in any way by any of these events.

  1. Before the event - If you are lucky enough to get advance notice of an impending emergency or dangerous situation, the number one word that I feel you should keep in mind is to prepare. Prepare for the disaster, and prepare for it under the assumption that the worst-case scenario may occur. You of course have to weigh your own risks, but as an example it's probably not a good idea to simply stay in your home if the local government has determined it best that you evacuate your home.

    During Hurricane Sandy of 2012, our local community was affected. I remember volunteering at our local Ambulance Corps during the disaster and receiving a few people that didn't evacuate their homes - not only did they have to be rescued, but they also put emergency rescue workers in harm's way. I'm not trying to be critical - but the above is a fact.

    The nice thing is that before such an even occurs, there's a good change that all your technology will still be up and running. So you may have a decent amount of time to do some standard tasks - such as backing up your data.

    I remember a few weeks after 9/11, the business conversation in the United States shifted to discussion of offsite backup. Basically, this is what the "Cloud" you hear so much about became for all of us - not necessarily just because of this terrible day, but because now it seemed much more logical to not keep all eggs (money, information, hardware) in one place. Notably, many companies initially backed up all their materials fairly closeby in New Jersey. But as companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook continue to build out their services, the necessity for this at the consumer level becomes lower and lower. 

    What this means for you is to prepare for a disaster consistently - whether you are aware of it or not - by backing up all of your data. It's easy to do these days. There are easy tools to use such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon S3, or even just upload files to your Facebook profile and just make them private. Whatever it is, find a solution and do it. And if you need help with this, there are computer companies that can certainly assist with this. George Lagos of Rockland Computer Services is the one we rely on to keep many of our clients' data up and running, both for business and residential needs.

    Another thing to consider is the use of document software to stay organized. I personally make heavy use out of Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheets for many of the daily tasks that are needed to stay up and running. You can easily use these types of systems to determine exactly what your next task for preparation is, or what items to purchase before a disaster, or simply to journal what you've accomplished thus far. Make sure you have provisioned for at least the following of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs: Food, Water, Warmth, Rest, Safety and Security. Try as best as possible to have some money saved, so that you can rely on it to travel or get supplies as needed. Also, if you can spring for it, try to pick up a mobile hotspot, so that it is more likely you can reconnect to the Internet after the incident occurs.

    For those that need to remain digitally connected after a disaster, make sure you have all your devices charged, and perhaps even have a backup battery power source to use, if absolutely necessary. If possible, get as much equipment out of harm's way before anything happens.
  2. During the event - There's really little that you can do to prepare while the actual disaster is occuring. By the time the event hits, the word to remember is obviously "survive". Unfortunately, this is not something we can always provision for, much of this tends to be in God's hands. But where possible, don't put yourself in harm's way (unless it is to save someone else from danger).

    The most likely piece of digital equipment that you'll be using during a disaster might not even work - That's your phone. Because mobile network signals might be knocked out during a disaster, you may not be able to call your loved ones or emergency services. As such, that's where you might need to improvise a bit to communicate with the outside world. At a very basic level, you might simply need to travel to a place where you can send out a message. In a drastic case, you might need to resort to something as basic as shooting flares to get the attention of emergency services, or write an SOS note big enough to get noticed from the ground.

    If you've prepared adequately, you'll likely have gotten a hold of some books to get you ready for a disaster. Here's an example from the Salvation Army. An additional step you may want to employ is to print up the entirety of the document, so just in case the battery goes dead on your devices, you are not stuck. This is where old-school Scout-style preparedness comes in handy.

    Once you are at safety, make sure you try to check in with loved ones. Even if your phone or devices are not working, you can possibly gain alliance with several other people, and share a phone to text, call, or check in on Facebook if there is some level of mobile signal. But again - it all comes down to the word "survive".
  3. After the event - Now that the event has occurred, it will be time to try to return to some level of normalcy. You'll certainly be assessing what you and your family or friends have lost, and it may be considerable. A small comfort to remember as you are rebuilding is that you will likely receive some level of assistance from local, state or federal departments, as well as charitable organizations such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. I'm not saying that you should rely solely on them - at the time of the writing of this blog, some people and communities are still awaiting FEMA disaster aid for 2012's Hurricane Sandy - but I'm only indicating that you shouldn't operate under the asumption that you are completely alone in your recovery efforts. Believe in the good of human nature, and believe in yourself, especially during this difficult time.

    In terms of technology recovery, you'll want to account for all your devices, check for damage, and try to get back online as quickly as possible. Wifi probably isn't an option in a large scale disaster for quite some time, so you'll have to rely on mobile networks. If you did indeed purchase a mobile hotspot, this will help your efforts. 

    When you do eventually get back online, if you need to collect your backup data, do so. Remember that the rest of the Country, or even the State, has not experienced the disaster in question as personally as you and/or your loved ones. So do your best to get the best information, connect back with email and your core services, and let those who are concerned about you know that you are ok.

    Forget about your schedule. After a large-scale event, it's better to simply prioritize the tasks that need to be done first. This is where the spreadsheets (or even a pen and paper for a to-do list) come in handy. Because it is very possible that you are emotionally compromised by the events you just witnessed and/or endured, you need some way of keeping calm and moving forward. My suggestion is to write it down. Write it all down. Your tasks, your journal, your plans, anything that keeps you centered on what needs to be done next.

    Don't overwhelm yourself, either. There's still only 24 hours in the day, and the many, many difficult circumstances you have to navigate will not change how much time you have been afforded - only that what you normally do during the now has been significantly altered.

    In a worst-case scenario where civilization is nearly non-existent, you must also factor in the need to seek out alliances with other people that are equally as interested in survival. Be careful who you align you and your loved ones with. I'm not trying to say anything other than seek out people that are willing to put themselves out for you, as much as you are willing to put yourself out for others. That should be the right formula for rebuilding a community that you can trust and thrive within.

Throughout the difficult times that you have hopefully prepared for, please remember to never lose Hope. If you survived the difficult event, this is very likely not the end for you. It may get worse before it gets better, but as long as you have Faith that you will make it through whatever may come (and if you are a believer, that God will aid you and your loved ones in your journey to recovery), then you are well on your way to returning to some level of normalcy in your life, and continue moving forward to achieve your dreams and goals.

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