Students get experience with data retrieval

by Peter Kauffner

Information management students at the University’s Crookston campus will soon be getting some hands-on experience in data recovery as a result of the flooding of the nearby Red River.
“We let the business people in the community know how they should handle their computers and bring them here so that we can remove their hard drives,” said Connie Batten, director of the information networking management program at Crookston.
The hard disks will be extracted from business computers in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., by student volunteers enrolled in the information network management program.
“We have about 30 students who are ready to volunteer their time,” Batten said.
The students will be working in a clean room provided by New Tech Computers in Crookston. Strict measures are taken to keep the laboratory free of dust and other contaminants.
“The only thing that really should be saved is the hard drive and the rest should be disposed of,” said Batten. “The contacts and connections are probably no longer any good.”
The extracted disks are sent to Ontrack Data Recovery, Inc. of Eden Prairie for professional data recovery. Finally, the data will be returned to the businesses in CD-ROM format.
For the emergency, the company is waiving its normal $200 diagnostic fee and is donating 10 percent of its revenues to the Red Cross. Ontrack is also providing recovery services free of charge to nonprofit organizations.
The Crookston data recovery team sent faxes Tuesday to businesses in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks to inform them of their service.
Ontrack has already received about six flood-damaged computers that were sent to them directly, said Ken Gibson, the company’s sales manager.
The company did about a dozen recoveries during the flood of 1993 along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. “This (flood) is obviously quite a bit more significant and severe,” Gibson said.
Personal computer hard drives are sealed, so flooding does not necessarily damage the disk.
“The hardest part is that, typically, end users will attempt to take the drive apart themselves in a non-clean environment,” Gibson said. “What they don’t realize is that if any particles get inside the drive, it can cause that drive to crash if you attempt to turn it on.”
When confronted with a flood-damaged computer, most PC owners try to dry their equipment by themselves — often with a blow dryer. This is a mistake, Batten said.
“The computers should be kept in a damp environment,” she said. “Once it dries out, data retrieval becomes almost impossible.”
If the disk drive dries out, contaminants will adhere to the magnetic platter surfaces inside the drive, making the drive unreadable.
Gibson advises users with flood-damaged computers to remove the drive and place it in a sealed plastic bag.
“We’ve even had people send them in coolers with the water inside,” he said. “That’s a little extreme, but that’s fine.”
By participating in the program, students will get valuable computer training that they would not otherwise receive, Batten said.
“Many times students can graduate and not even know that data can be retrieved,” she said.