Kelly Klodzinski, owner of flooring store Floor Care & Interior in the East Texas town of Lumberton, did not have flood insurance when Hurricane Harvey destroyed his business.
“It had never flooded here in over 100 years,” Klodzinski said. “It would have been the equivalent of buying volcano insurance.”
But Harvey dropped an unprecedented 52 inches of rain on the area in about six days, resulting in a total loss for a business founded in 1985. All of the store’s merchandise ended up under six feet of water.
About the only recoverable part of the business, it turned out, were Klodzinski’s computers, which sat underwater for a full week. He had killed the power to the store before leaving it. After the storm, a high school friend who works for Minnesota-based Kroll Ontrack offered to help retrieve the computers and get them analyzed.
“All of our past customer files, all of our past bids and jobs, banking, all of it was on our hard drives,” Klodzinski said. By Wednesday, Kroll Ontrack said, the data was recoverable. The company sent the hard drives to a clean-room facility in Minnesota and will transfer the information to new drives Klodzinski can begin to use to rebuild his livelihood.
“They didn’t even charge me to do this,” he said on Friday.
The calls for data help begin
On Tuesday, the phone calls started at Flashback Data, an Austin recovery and forensics company. This was a full week after the worst of Harvey hit the Texas coast. After boat rescues, tears, mass devastation and the beginnings of assessments on major property damage, workers who rely on the digital world and business owners had just begun trying to salvage information from soaked laptops and server rooms that were literally underwater.
“Usually it takes a little while for the smoke to clear before we start seeing a lot of stuff due to floods,” said Russell Chozick, vice president of Flashback. “So far it’s been only servers. A lot of people can move personal computers, but servers are different. They’re usually tied to a rack.”
Chozick’s company is one of many that specialize in retrieving seemingly lost data from damaged and waterlogged devices. As the recovery continues along the coast, Flashback and other data companies are offering their services with discounts, or in some cases free analysis and repairs. Tech giants including Dell Technologies, along with many smaller firms from as far away as Italy, have started to lend a hand in areas including Houston. Also, some have already tried to prepare for potential disaster in Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s damage.
Flashback, which has been around since 2004, has worked on devices from Hurricane Sandy and the 2015 central Texas floods.
“Water poses certain challenges, with saltwater much worse than freshwater,” Chozick said. “We usually recommend if it’s wet, keep it wet. It’s better for us to do the drying and cleaning up. And I don’t recommend turning anything on if you know it’s been wet.”
His company is offering a 25 percent discount on data recovery and working with a partner, CMIT Solutions, which has locations in Houston, to do free diagnostics for flood victims in the area.
Helping in Houston
Kroll Ontrack has dispatched a small team to Houston and is offering $500,000 worth of free recovery services, going as far as to pick up laptops, hard drives and servers in person and setting up a drop-off location at 7624 Olympia Drive in the Galleria area.
On-site specialist Jeff Pederson, who arrived in Houston on Tuesday, said his first day of work was doing triage to see what media devices could be cleaned up and shipped to the company’s clean-room facility in Minneapolis.
“We’re going to be able to get (Harvey victims) their memories back and hopefully their businesses up and running,” said Pederson, who is part of a three-person team in Houston this week. “If we need to expand volunteers, we have more than 20 people willing to come down and help if necessary.
He says as he began contacting local electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Staples and scouting neighborhoods, he was able to witness how badly some of the areas were hit.
“It’s amazing. It’s unreal. Houses were just gutted,” he said. “Every single house.”
So far, most of the devices Pederson has worked with have been personal computers and external hard drives. “We have a couple of leads on servers,” he said, “but we haven’t been able to get back into buildings to get those because they’re still underwater. We do expect that number to increase dramatically over the next week or two as things dry out.”
The drives and computers themselves can pose hazards. Pederson said his staff is being careful to avoid chemical contaminants as they handle muddy, silty materials.
The challenges posed for business by such historic damage include the possibility that some of them don’t have backups online or if they do keep a backup, it was stored at their business and damaged as well.
That counld include accounting databases, point-of-sale information and other key components of getting back up to speed. Pederson said that once devices get to Kroll Ontrack’s lab, it can take two or three days on average to repair and recover information from a hard drive.
The success rate, he says, is higher than people might expect, even for drives that are in bad shape. “There’s degrees of how we’d like to see the media come to us,” Pederson said. “But we don’t want people to think that if it’s dried out, there’s no hope. That’s totally not the case.”
Dell’s Harvey efforts
For Dell Technologies, data recovery was one part of a wider effort from the company to assist the American Red Cross, make sure employees in the area were safe and provide support and emergency services to FEMA and 200 Houston-area schools.
Doug Driskill, vice president, support and deployment services, said Dell has a walk-in center for its consumer customers at 7909 Northcourt Road, Suite 500, along with phone support, equipment discounts and warranty extensions available for Harvey victims.
“Our technical support teams have been trained to prioritize those impacted by Hurricane Harvey to ensure they get up and running as quickly as possible,” Driskill said. “A business recovery center has been established on the Dell Round Rock campus for small and medium customers who need a temporary office space and infrastructure.”
The company’s Round Rock headquarters has given space to set up a Red Cross command center and the company is providing Internet cafes throughout the state for people to fill out FEMA applications and contact loved ones and insurance providers.
Dell is in the process of evaluating whether its customers need data-recovery help or to have their data migrated to new systems. The Harvey efforts listed here are in addition to the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation Rebuild Texas Fund, which seeks to raise a total of $100 million for recovery, $36 million of it from the couple. Michael and Susan Dell both hail from Houston.
Storm clouds to Internet’s cloud
Getting data off vulnerable hardware and into the cloud is the idea behind The Harvey Server Rescue Project. Codero Holdings and Houston-based CloudSpace USA are offering businesses free server space for the time being as they recover from the hurricane.
David Levin, president of CloudSpace said that the basement floor of his building, located at 363 N. Sam Houston, was flooded, but because the company’s 11th-floor operations are cloud-based, “the worst thing that happened to us is people can’t get mail. We have no electricity, nothing in the building, but we’re a fully virtualized company and paperless. We have nothing that ties us to the office here.”
Tony Howlett, chief technology officer at Codero Holdings, said any company with a functional backup can be migrated to online server space, future-proofing companies and turning them into clients.
“Once it’s there, we can put it anywhere,” Howlett said. “It’s really a disaster resilient kind of service.”
Levin said that companies that use its services spread across the state and were able to keep working out of friends’ homes and coffee shops.
“People have been scared of it, but it’s incredibly mobile-enabilizing technology. The key is people who have their systems on the ground, to us now that’s old fashioned. With the storms the way they are and the uncertainty, it’s kind of putting your data in the bank or putting your data under a mattress.”
Levin and Howlett said they haven’t set a time for how long they’ll offer the server space for free. For now, they’re just trying to get people back up and running their businesses.
“In the short term, we’re just gonna get you in a lifeboat and get you moving,” Levin said.
Among the most unlikely sources of Hurricane Harvey recovery assistance: an Italian data company called iRecovery, which said it will do free diagnosis on damaged devices for Harvey victims.
Andrea Baggio, a data specialist at the company, which has offices in Italy, Spain and Colombia, said in limited English over a phone call that the company really wants to help.
“We are ready to receive requests,” Baggio said. “To give a hand. We want to make this known to the people. Spread the word somehow.”
Baggio said his company is not unfamiliar with the importance of data recovery after a disaster.
“We do understand very well current situation in Texas," he wrote in an email. “Here in Italy there were floods in 2012 and then three different earthquakes few months ago.”