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Novato Advance: Novato Tech Biz Saving Fire Victims Data

By Paul Jones
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 1:29 PM PST

The wildfires that swept across California through October didn’t just destroy houses. They also destroyed memories, burning photo albums, incinerating heir-looms and books. But with so many of the writings and records that recall a person’s life now stored on computer hard drives, there is a chance some people can recover much of what they lost. And that chance is being turned into a certainty for many by DriveSavers, a Novato-based data recovery company. President Scott Gaidano recently announced that his business, which has a history of cutting rates for victims of disasters, would begin recovering hard drives for fire victims nearly at cost, through an extensive dealer network.

“There’s been a lot of damage, and a lot of computer data that’s important to people was lost, including financial information and photographs. So we try to help in these kind of situations,” he said. “If people don’t back up (their hard drives) that’s one thing, but when it’s out of their hands, we always do some sort of rescue.” Gaidano said DriveSavers offered similar services in the wake of previous California fires. “We had the Vision Fire and the Laguna Beach fire of 1990, and all kinds of incremental fires since then,” he said. “We feel it’s important we did Katrina with a very similar program and we got a lot of drives back.”

The company has made contacts with computer stores across the nation to allow customers to send their machines to the company with greater ease. Those in fire-ravaged areas will let victims know that nearly $500 has been knocked off of DriveSaver’s usual fee. In addition, Gaidano said, a standard 10-percent discount for sending computers through the dealers would apply on top of that. “A simple recovery falls between $700 to $1,500 in these cases, we’re going to keep the basic price at our lowest, so that $500 (discount) is a larger percentage than if we charged our competitive price,” he said.

The company’s substantial discount hints at the expensive work that is restoring a damaged drive. “Over the years we’ve recovered thousands of burn-related drives,” said Gaidano. “It’s really all about head alignment the readers have to be perfectly located over the data. Any distortion throws it off. It’s a difficult and long process to realign data that has been warped, and replace the head, and it usually takes several tries, and many parts from new drives to get it to work properly.” Gaidano said the disks were recoverable due to their remarkably sturdy design. “(A drive) can take 2000 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Usually the drive is burnt and the controller card, which tells the head where to look for data, gets destroyed, and there can be warping of the platters.”

Restoring the controller card is a trial and error affair, but the data is usually still intact. Gaidano said that many customers didn’t understand how much data could be recovered. Thousands of people have no idea,” he said. “They go to a poorly informed computer store, and hear that there’s nothing they can do, and throw the drive out. We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and we’ve dealt with every kind of failure possible.”
Testament to drives’ survivability and DriveSaver’s professionalism, the company often has to restore data from drives that weren’t destroyed by accidents. “We have government security clearances here,” he said. “Drug dealers in Florida throw their computers into the water. One guy even tried to flush his laptop down the toilet We deal with the government on a lot of different issues.”

Still, even miracle-workers have their limits. “If it looks like a roller coaster, there’s nothing we can do,” Gaidano said. For now, the company is bracing for families taking advantage of the no-profit discount offer.
“The press release went out by the end of the week I’m expecting at least 50 to 100,” Gaidano said. “Considering the number of houses involved, I think we’ll see quite a bit.”

The press release warns victims of the fire not to power up their drives, or attempt to clean it. Wet drives should be removed, but neither dried nor sealed in air-tight containers, and melted systems should be left for the clean-room professionals to take apart.

For everyone else, Gaidano said it’s still better to protect a drive than restore it. Though DriveSavers uses sophisticated techniques to recover data, Gaidano said that preventing damage was remarkably simple. “People don’t do what they’re supposed to,” he said. “It really involves keeping a current backup off-site Even in many cases where people were backed up, the backup was (destroyed) sitting next to the computer.”

Read Original article at the Novato Advance.

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