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The Five Stages of Data Loss


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The computer crashes and what happens? Well, irritation at first. The darn thing is supposed to work, and you've got work to do. After fiddling with it for a bit and getting error message this, error message that — and what did I do that was an illegal instruction? Am I going to get a ticket? Aren't I the executive here? Is this some kind of Sarbanes-Oxley trick? Surely this will work if I turn it on & off a few times.

That's the first stage: denial.

But turning it on and off only results in diminishing returns. More error messages.

That's when the second stage kicks in: anger.

It's at this point that we're grateful the windows don't open in high-rises, because we would surely make expeditious use of said window if it did. No computer that has fallen a hundred feet will foil me again! But of course, we do need to consider the documents and countless hours we've sat in front of that glowing screen, pouring creativity (reports are creative too, right?) into the computer, pounding at the keyboard.

On to the third stage: bargaining.

Just let my computer work & I'll call on everyone at the next meeting. Just let me finish this report & I'll bring back casual Fridays.

Ack!!! The fourth stage: regret.

Did I really do all this for nothing? Is it really gone? Do I need to move to the penultimate stage: acceptance?

No! I don't accept the loss of my hard work. I'll think of something. . . I'll call the IT department! They may think they're overworked, but that's what they're there for, right? So the smarmy guy with the pocket protector comes in and takes it away with a knowing smirk. But that's okay — he's going to get me my data back.

This particular geek is efficient. He calls back that same afternoon to tell you — your hard drive's dead. Your crashed hard drive held all of your data. Without the hard drive, the computer's just a thousand dollar box. Without your data, it's a thousand dollar box that's stolen a thousand hours of your time. What to do?

Data recovery time.

There is utility software and for minor problems, it's okay. But for anything that's not easy, beware. The least that will happen is that your IT department will spend many, perhaps dozens, of hours trying to get the data back while other scheduled projects go begging. These efforts could easily cost the company thousands of dollars. But many of the best data recovery utility programs are powerful enough to destroy your data past the point of recoverability when the smallest errors — human and software — occur. Furthermore, about 10% of the time a hard disk fails, it's due to physical damage inside the hard disk. Such physical damage can come from a physical impact, but it can also come as a result of overheating, power surges, or just when the drive hiccups. Once a drive has sustained physical damage, the longer it runs, the more substantial the damage. Sometimes there are telltale signs of a physical problem — a clicking sound, the sound of the drive winding up & then down, or a scraping sound. But those are likely to be the emergency sounds of advanced media or head damage. Such a drive should be shut off right away and shipped to a data recovery center's triage room. A drive doesn't exhibit these sounds immediately when the problem first occurs. But the longer the drive runs once damage occurs, the worse it gets — sometimes in just a minute or two - until it starts clicking or grinding or spinning erratically.

Fortunately, some data recovery houses are equipped to deal with all ranges of problems. This is your best chance of recovery. And while recovery is not particularly inexpensive, the loss of your data can be catastrophic. Your time is always worth more than the cost of recovery.

The fifth and truly final stage - moving on — once you've got your lost files back, you can move past the experience of knowing what it would be like to lose all your documents, pictures, reports and downloads. Getting back to work is always easiest when you're moving on with your resources (your documents and data) intact.

For more than twenty years, firms like Data Recovery Worldwide have been recovering data for important people, so that moving on means getting back to work, not losing the fruits of your labors.

Steve Burgess is a freelance technology writer, a practicing computer forensics specialist as the principal of Burgess Forensics, and a contributor to the just-released Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases, 5th Edition by Moenssens, et al. Mr. Burgess may be reached at or via email at


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