Digital Emergency Planning

Or, Lessons Learned from a Windows Update that Turned My Computer into a Brick.

Think about digital emergency planning so you're not left panickingWe think of making emergency plans ahead of time if we’re in a region faced with any type of natural disasters on a regular basis. We may stock up on canned goods, bottled water, flashlights, or generators. But what about digital emergency planning – thinking ahead about how to handle digitally-based events that could affect our work?

As you may have noticed, with Windows 10, you can no longer put off updates for very long. If you don’t set a time for your computer to update, Windows will force the issue. Normally this is a good thing as it helps keep your computer secure. Regular updates are part of good security hygiene.

But recently, my computer ran a Windows 10 update, and got stuck in a loop telling me the update had failed. It would try to repair it, and fail. Rinse, repeat. None of the regular troubleshooting steps offered by the Windows blue screen of death helped fix the problem, and I was stuck without a working computer until I could get Windows fully reinstalled. (Windows later pulled that particular update – too late for my computer!) This is when I realized having a digital emergency plan in place before this happened would have been a good idea.

What did I learn from this episode?

  1. If possible, have a backup machine.
    When my computer gets too slow to work on on a daily basis, it gets passed on to my children. This means it’s still around and available in the event I do need to use a different computer for a short while. It’s still slow, but better than being completely stuck. I’m able to get back up and running while waiting on my other computer to be fixed.
  2. Keep an updated list of the software you use regularly.
    If the worst happens, and your software is lost in the shuffle, you’ll need to know what to install and where to get it, along with any relevant license keys. If Windows has to be reinstalled on your machine via one of the blue screen of death options, it helpfully saves a list of all the programs it has removed from your machine to your desktop. So you can go through that list, see what you still need, and re-install. But in case that solution fails, you’ll be covered if you keep your own up to date list.
  3. Backups.
    This should go without saying, of course. You need a regular backup solution for your important files. SyncBack has both free and paid options. CrashPlan is another good choice. Whatever you choose, remember to make your backups often, and make them redundant. You may keep an external hard drive on site, another off-site, and / or a copy in the cloud. Think of the small things, too – losing your browser favorites is not the end of the world, but they may be gone forever if you haven’t backed them up somewhere. Edge typically saves your favorites since it isn’t replaced when Windows is reinstalled. But Firefox and Chrome favorites will vanish, unless you’ve created an account with each.

    Check your backup system regularly. Verify that it makes sense, covers your needs, and you’re backing up your important files regularly.

  4. Use a password manager.
    There are good password managers out there: Dashlane, 1Password, LastPass, just to name a few. This gets tricky, though – because there are other things you need to think about. Where do you store the master password? Is it hard enough to guess, but easy enough to remember? In this case, I had my master password, but the password manager saw I was logging into a new computer. So it sent a confirmation message to my email… of course, my email password is in the password manager, and I don’t know the password, so I couldn’t access it… you see where this is going. Fortunately, the email account password could be reset by texting a code to my phone, so I was able to reset that password, get in, and gain access to my password manager. But you can see how this quickly becomes complicated, so think about the different scenarios and how to regain access to your accounts and passwords – before you need to.
  5. Hire out the fix.
    If someone else can fix your computer, and you can keep working on a backup machine, you’ll remain relatively productive. My tech person is my husband, and he was able to deal with Microsoft tech support and get my computer fixed while I continued to work on my old computer. Delegation is important!
  6. Make a Quick Start list.
    This should be a checklist of what you need to have or to do to get up and running again as quickly as possible. Items it might include:

    • Email accounts you need to access or re-set-up on your computer.
    • Programs and license keys for installation.
    • Browser extensions you use regularly and may need to reinstall.
    • Browser favorites you use regularly and may need to re-add; these may include easy access to your webmail or your task tracking system.

Why should you have a digital emergency plan?

Emergency planning can apply to other scenarios as well. What if your computer or phone is stolen, or your hard drive fails? How will you prevent access to your accounts? How will you recover those accounts? How can you restore your data? What if you end up in the hospital, who can take over your work, and how will they access accounts or documents they need? Who will notify clients about the situation, and what should they say? Digital emergency planning should be part of your overall disaster plan.

Large companies have business continuity plans, but small businesses should plan for these types of contingencies as well, because they are likely to be more severely affected by disaster than large companies, particularly if there isn’t overlap in team members’ responsibilities. 

Emergency or contingency planning takes time, and it’s hard to step away from our seemingly more urgent day-to-day tasks to handle it. But you don’t want to neglect this important task, because one day you may need it, and you don’t want to find your business crumbling because you didn’t make plans.

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Alisa Cognard

Alisa was one of the first team members to join Red Earth Design, Inc. in early 2004. From data entry, she progressed to MySQL database manipulation and PHP coding. Alisa is responsible for all kinds of odds and ends: installing new websites, adding features to them, programming databases, PHP coding, website troubleshooting, website security, and organizational tasks for Red Earth Design.

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