Most Common Problems Experienced After A Disaster

Equipment, Machinery, Data and Computer Loss

After a disaster event occurs, organizations often experience chaos in the aftermath of the event and during the recovery effort. Normal communication lines are affected and normal business activities are strained. Initial mitigation steps must be taken to preserve the structure and contents. Many other critical decisions must be made to begin the proper restoration steps. When a business is out due to a peril it is losing monies, incurring costs and trying to salvage good will all at the same time. But even before the decisions to preserve the company assets are committed, a need exists to identify and fully assess the business’ needs to ensure a plan that addresses the shortest time line to recovery at the most effective cost. The longer out of business the higher the direct and indirect costs.

Enacting a disaster recovery plan should be easy. If the plan has been tested and proven then a great deal of comfort exists in the implementation of the plan. Plans that are tested can easily be carried out. The business interruption plan, disaster recovery plan or business continuity plan can be simple or far reaching. The computer systems today are vital to the operation of any organization. Today’s business operations are so focused on electronic systems for efficiency and ease that computers systems comprise a large aspect of recovery. Organizations seem to think that computers will be automatically updated or replaced after a loss event because they have sustained some damage. And of course there is always another new software operating system that is the rage. The fact is that electronics and computers are not just discarded and networks are not easily replaced; computers are often good candidates for restoration. 

Technical restoration aspects are most often overlooked and become a problem area for all businesses later if left unattended or undecided on how to respond to the event because of insurance, time and cost parameters. Disaster plans are not always complete, well thought out, tested, accurate or well authored. Many plans do not cover what will happen in the following scenarios. Some of the most common problems encountered after a disaster:

  1. Phones have stopped ringing so we can’t call clients and they can’t call in to us.
  2. Internet access is down and we are not sure why ‐ out lines, service or internal issues.
  3. Internal and external clients cannot be served.
  4. Work cannot be processed, desks are contaminated, phones are out, forms are destroyed and files, as well as computers, are not in working condition.
  5. Building is uninhabitable; where do we go to resume business?
  6. Business file are contaminated by the event with heavy smoke damage
  7. Computers are not working because the power is out and/or the network cables are affected.
  8. Can’t access records and information because the file room was damaged and inaccessible
  9. Machinery is not working because of corrosion from the offending contamination.
  10. Can’t receive materials, inventory and supplies necessary to resume business because the building and warehouse are affected.

Electronics Restoration includes many different equipment types. Included in this group are network servers, laptops and work station computers. The peripheral equipment can include printers, scanners, monitors, mice and keyboards as well as modems, switches, routers, fire wall devices, patch panels and UPS battery backup systems. Business machines may include multifunction copiers, typewriters, postage machines, binders, collators and all other generic office equipment.

Equipment Restoration includes all production line, process equipment and machinery. Some items may be considered building systems such as boilers, heaters, chillers, generators, power distribution & switch gear, building control panels and fire or water pumps. Commercial kitchen and food processing as well as proprietary equipment can be expensive and may be easily restored. Other machinery types or equipment items may be fixed or mounted for vibration but considered processing machines or equipment not related to the building systems but used in manufacturing, printing, food preparation or other related services of the business. Many machine operations are now controlled by relay logic circuitry control panels or PLC computers. These items may all be successfully cleaned and restored to pre‐loss conditions. Some equipment is restored for short term business resumption requirements only. A fast track protocol can be developed even if no plan exists. Professional and experience restoration professional can help.

Best Mitigation & Restoration Practices for Wet or Smoke Damage Computers

  1.  After a disaster event affecting computers has been identified, all computers should be properly shut downto ensure the hard drive has been “parked” and the operating system closed. Do not pull the plug or force shut down the units unless absolutely necessary; such as threat of electrocution or other secondary peril. A forced shut down may compromise the hard drive causing a “crash” or the dreaded “blue screen of death” ultimately resulting in loss of the computers data and function. After proper shut down then pull the power cord and move the CPU’s out of direct water or flooding. If heavy smoke is present move the CPU’s to a nonsmoker contaminated/low humidity area‐ this will ensure that the acid soot residue that causes corrosion is minimized by moving units from the bad environment.
  2. All electronics being moved should be tagged and inventoried showing where they came from so the equipment may be tracked based on conditions and original location.
  3. Pre‐clean all exterior computer surfaces of monitors and CPU’s to remove standing water, smoke or other contaminate. Proper chemical use compliant with the substrate materials and the contamination is necessary for controlling the defacement of the plastic surfaces. Pre‐testing is always recommended before cleaning entire areas. If the exterior is defaced then the appearance cannot be salvaged. Making the unit aesthetically pleasing and allowing for continued restoration efforts is critical to the next step.
  4. Disassemble and assess conditions and treat for internal corrosion control to the mother board, power supply, audio cards, Ethernet card, and video cards is important to stop acid soot migration and high moisture infiltration to the base metals which affects the boards solder, capacitors and relays negatively.
  5. Ongoing moisture control including building dehumidification as well applying moisture inhibitors will act to displace latent moisture and residues that will cause ongoing or future corrosion. Again the base metals will become affected and cause these boards to fail prematurely if this step is ignored.
  6. Full immersion aqueous decontamination with non‐residual cleaners and de‐ionized water ensures that boards are cleaned just as the OEM de‐fluxes the boards at the factory when they are new. Complete rinse and air washing to remove contaminates and excess cleaning fluids.
  7. Oven backing at pre‐set temperatures to ensure proper drying of the board components, cases and power supplies is required to minimize failures because of reaming pockets of saturation from cleaning must be dried from to avoid shorting out components and avoid personally injury‐ electrocution.
  8. When all components are properly cleaned, reassemble in proper configuration and bench test overnight with protected circuit. Burn in monitor and confirm all components. Mice and keyboards, unless there is very light smoke damage, should be replaced. Monitors and CPU’s should be connected with new mice and keyboards and burn tested to confirm proper operation.
  9. After successful power testing run PC check or PC Doctor Software to test all functions of the computer. Save and print test results. Also check output from power supplies to ensure all voltages are present. Connect network components and check the pats and confirmations of the network with qualified personal and network administrator.
  10. Testing and validation documentation of all work competed by certified personnel to ensure that units life expectancy are tracked and aid in the re‐certification process with the OEM if necessary.

Perils that Require Mitigation or Restoration Efforts for Computers and Computer Controlled Equipment

  • Vandalism
  • Teargas
  • Industrial Accident
  • Homicide/Suicide/Crime Scene
  • Blood Borne and Bio‐Hazard Contamination
  • Construction Dust
  • Breach of Negative Air or Controlled/Filter Air
  • Water from Fire Suppression Efforts
  • Sprinkler Release
  • Operational Dust
  • Chemical or Paint Mist/Overspray
  • Fire Damage including Smoke/Soot, Heat Damage and Fallout from Incomplete Combustion
  • Chemical Contamination
  • Cross Contamination from Asbestos Containing Materials‐ ACM
  • Exhaust and Carbon Dust or Fumes
  • Fuel Oil/LPG Spill

Decontamination and service to computerized devices is only recommended with proper equipment, chemistry and trained staff. Proper action is vital to a successful recovery effort and can ensure a high success rate of restoration of computerized systems as well as the quickest path to reduce the effects of business interruption.

This article has been prepared by Mark Schafer of Electro-Mechanical Servers, Inc. 2010 © and has been provided as a general guideline addressing equipment and computer restoration