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Arun Marballi
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR COMPUTER FOR POWER SURGES
By ARUN MARBALLI

Computers of all varieties require protection not only from the nasty elements that inhabit the cyber world but also from the physical elements that surround us. Much of the topic of physical protection seems like commonsense; however, it is certainly worth reviewing particularly since we live so fearlessly in a town often referred to as the “lightning capital.” While a direct lightning strike cannot be protected against and has a relatively lower probability of occurrence, power surges – the more widespread anathema for safe computing – traveling through the power circuits can be blocked with appropriate precautionary measures.

First and foremost, it is important to recognize that our computers are typically “attached” to the surrounding environment in more ways than we can imagine. The power cord is one such attachment; your Internet connection – telephone wire if you are using a dial-up connection or network cable if you are using either cable or DSL – is another. Even the cables that connect the computer to peripheral devices such as the printer, the audio speaker system and scanners are attachments. Any one of these attachments could become a conduit for a power surge that could literally burn the insides of a computer. Power surges can result from many causes – lightning strikes somewhere on the power grid, power equipment malfunctions, etc.

There are a couple of ways to protect the computer from this danger. One way is to subscribe to a device such as the ZapCap available from electricity suppliers like Tampa Electric. Another is to install a combination heavy-duty surge protector and UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). The advantage of using the latter is that it not only provides fortification from power surges but also protects you in the event of a power outage. The UPS part of this device incorporates batteries that can supply backup power to enable safe shut down of the computer thereby saving any open documents from loss. The cost of such a device runs around $60 and is worth every penny in peace of mind. In addition to acquiring a surge protection device, it is important that we ensure that every computer attachment runs through this device. A single missed attachment is enough to negate all the protective measures since that missed attachment becomes the hole in our shielding fence. Most power surge devices do not provide protection for cable broadband connections (also called “co-ax” connections). It is important that the “co-ax” connection also be protected with a “co-ax” surge protector (a separate device) placed between the wall outlet and the cable modem.

In one of my earlier columns, I had recommended the use of an external hard drive for the purpose of making backups of our documents and other data files including audio, pictures and video files. It is important to ensure that this device is not physically connected to the computer when not in use because if it is and the computer is hit by a direct lightning strike, the high-voltage surge from the lightning will travel through all of the computer’s attachments and the backup data would inevitably also be destroyed along with the computer.

Lastly, computers like all electronic devices get damaged when exposed to falling water. Protective measures worth taking when severe weather threatens are to shutdown the computer and cover it up with a heavy duty water proof cover such as a large plastic bag or tarp.

These are just some commonsense tips to safeguard our computers and the information that they hold from external environmental elements.

Arun Marballi has worked in the Information Technology arena for more than 20 years with extensive experience in software development, process design and network/workstation management. For comments, questions, tips or suggestions, e-mail amarballi@hotmail.com.

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