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5 Steps for Recovering Water-Logged Hard Drives

With the recent flood waters affecting the Gulf Coast and another hurricane headed to the U.S. mainland, many people have been asking what to do with water logged computers. More specifically, how can they retrieve the data from hard drives that took on water. The good news is, data can be retrieved even after the drive has been under water. We will provide a few simple steps to help ensure the highest potential for success in data recovery:

1. DO NOT POWER ON THE DEVICE!

Obviously water and electricity do not mix. Powering on your device can physically cause damage to the data. Any electrical surge has the potential to damage data stored on the “platters” that hold your data. Remove the hard drive from your computer to keep it safe. Be careful not to jostle the hard drive around as that too can cause damage.
 

2. DO NOT USE A HAIR DRYER!

Fight the urge to dry out your device as quickly as possible. If your drive was fully submerged in water, it may be helpful to rinse off your hard drive with fresh water (Distilled Water), then allow it to dry. The fresh water can help rinse out any harmful particles that can add damage to your hard drive. Wrap the drive in paper towels and keep it in a safe place where it will not be jostled around. Let your drive dry over night at minimum. Patience is key.

3. DATA RECOVERY!

Data recovery specialist are equipped with all the skills and tools required to have the best chance to recover the most data from your water-logged drive. In most cases, water damaged drives can recover 100% of the data. 

Check around with more than one data recovery company and see if any will give you a discount. If you were recently in a natural disaster, most data recovery services will give you a discount. We called two companies and spoke with their sales and service departments and they were willing to give us $500 off their list price. The recovery service will have detailed instructions on how to send them your drive. After they receive it, they will conduct an inspection and give you an estimate of how much data can be retrieved before the work is done. 

4. DIY DATA RECOVERY!

CAUTION: IF YOU ATTEMPT TO RECOVER YOUR DATA (ON YOUR OWN) YOU COULD DO MORE DAMAGE TO THE DRIVE AND DATA.

However, if you decide that the data on the drive is not worth the cash you can attempt the recovery on your own. Assuming you have followed steps 1 and 2 of this article, you can try to DIY recover your data. If your drive is completely dry, you can plug it in to a computer. You will need to purchase an external hard drive or use another computer that has not been damaged by water. Ensure you have a new drive or network location tested and ready to go before you power up the old drive. This will be the place the data you are saving will be copied to. Your old drive should not be trusted or used to store data in the future. Your goal is to power up the drive long enough to copy the data off it.

After you have powered up your drive, does it work? If it does, you have a limited amount of time before the drive FAILS for good. Use your time wisely as you will want to get as much data off as possible. Do not power it back down, leave it running for as long as you can to off-load as much data as you can.

If your drive is unreadable, you can still send it off to a data recovery specialist for an estimate of how much can still be recovered.

5. HOW TO PREVENT DATA LOSS IN THE FUTURE

In one word, “Backup”. Data Backups at a consumer level are very common and there are several options available. Look for a backup service that provides the following:

  1. Easy to use interface
    You want something that is easy to use you simply will not use it. Enterprise solutions are eared toward dedicated IT admins who manage and monitor backup solutions. As a consumer, not a business, you do not want to dedicate that much attention to your backups. They should run automatically and send you an email notification of success/fail.
  2. Reputable Company Name
    It is important to choose a company that will be around for a long time. If you choose a company that does off-site backups (Highly recommended) then that data is stored in their cloud. Cloud backups are great because they can be recovered on new devices anywhere no matter what the disaster. However, since the data is stored in their cloud, you should have a certain level of trust with them.

Some services will allow you to do a mix of on-site, off-site, and cloud backups. They allow for a backup locally to an external drive, or a backup to another device at another location like your office or relatives’ house. Whatever solution you choose to go with make sure that you are aware of any pitfalls and plan around them. Backups are the best way NOT to have to recover data from water-logged drives.

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