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Firm helping Ellicott City flood victims salvage computer data

Damage along Main Street in historic Ellicott City, Md., is viewed Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, after the city was ravaged by floodwaters Saturday night, killing two people and causing devastating damage to homes and businesses, officials said. Virtually every home or business along the street sustained at least some damage, and the cost of repairs could reach the hundreds of millions of dollars, said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. (AP Photo/Juliet Linderman)

Damage along Main Street in historic Ellicott City, Md., is viewed Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, after the city was ravaged by floodwaters Saturday night. A Howard County firm has been helping businesses regain access to their computer data. (AP Photo/Juliet Linderman)

With people on Ellicott City’s Main Street trying to piece their lives back together, one problem business are facing is how to salvage crucial information from computers destroyed in the storm.

A local data forensics company has been able to get that data out of computers that were covered in mud and water for at least a week before anyone could access them.

In the past two weeks, Atlantic Data Forensics, based in Elkridge, has been able to recover 100 percent of the data, including inventory information, customer databases, financial information and photographs, from five computers and hard drives that were underwater and muddy for at least a week in many cases, said Jason Briody, the company’s director of forensic services.

In one case, the firm was able to salvage data from a laptop from Craig Coyne Jewelers that wasn’t turning on after being covered in mud for over a week.

“He thought all was lost basically,” said Briody.

Atlantic Data Forensics started offering data recovery services to flood victims for free about two weeks ago after hearing about the problem through the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

“This is happening right in our backyard, and we didn’t want it go undone,” said Briody.

While the Ellicott City storm was a natural disaster of historic proportions, the data recovery problems that local businesses are facing are very common and something the company sees regularly.

“This is right in our wheelhouse,” said Briody, adding that the company has salvaged information from phones and iPads destroyed in car crashes where data is assumed to be lost.

“That doesn’t mean that data recovery is impossible,” he said, adding that even if a laptop or computer looks like its destroyed from the outside, the hard drive might still be in good shape.

In many cases it means the device just needs a connection to a working screen and access to where the data is stored. The same can be done with computers damaged in electrical fires from being subject to extreme heat.

To recover computers damaged in Ellicott City, Atlantic Data Forensics has been removing the hard drive, cleaning it with rubbing alcohol to get rid of any corrosion caused by mud or water.

“You want to ensure clean point of contact,” said Briody. Q-tips and air canisters can also take water out of the hard drive.

While data recovery is an option, it’s not the best backup plan.

Briody recommends businesses back up their data using secure cloud services because onsite external hard drives can get destroyed in a situation like the July 30 flooding. Cloud services let users “set and forget” automatic backups. As a rule of thumb, backups should be in “geographically disparate centers,” said Briody.