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Civil disaster, fire and flood

Damage to media caused by fire or water has to be treated with the utmost seriousness. In many cases there will be obvious damage, for example a coating of soot, or distortion of a tape casing. In other instances the damage might not look particularly severe, but the ingress of water into a hard drive or tape will cause damage, and attempts to access data can result in a complete loss of data.

It is imperative that no attempt is made to put any damaged or contaminated tape into a drive. Attempting to read data from any tape in the above list will almost certainly fail and make the problem worse.

At Altirium we have extensive experience of all of the circumstances above and many more. Correct pre-treatment is essential if there is to be any chance of a successful data recovery.

Water Damaged Tapes

With water damage there could be a lot of liquid still within the casing. If this is permitted to leak into a drive then there will be an electrical failure and you will be left with a drive in an inoperative state. Worse, in the act of failing the tape could be left loaded within the drives internal mechanics so that any attempt to remove the tape could result in damage.

The pollutants or contaminants within any water will coat the tape, this will almost certainly result in a read failure as the contaminants cause the tape to be separated from the read heads.

In its wound state it is difficult for fluid to ingress into the tightly wound tape on the supply reel, usually only the exposed tape surface is affected. The loading process for many tape types involves running tape to identify internal information, this will result in any contamination being spread along the tape.

Tapes should be wrapped to prevent drying out as this could cause contaminants to stick to the recorded surface. The tapes should then dealt with by our experts as quickly as is practicable.

Fire Damaged Tapes

Fire leads to problems resulting from heat, and problems resulting from smoke.

Apply enough heat to a tape and the temperature will rise above the curie point and all magnetic information will be lost and data recovery is no longer possible. Before this point is reached there are a number of other ways in which the tape will be damaged and recovery will be needed.

With DAT, AIT and other cassette type cartridges the casing will become distorted by heat before that is much of an impact upon the tape media. With LTO and DLT the cases are less likely to be affected in this way.

The supply reel of tape is tightly wound to form a dense mass of tape. It takes considerably longer for heat to affect this reel of tape than it does to damage any exposed length of tape. With DAT and AIT this means that the tape between the supply and take up reels will probably be damaged even though the bulk of the tape is not, this is especially true where the media contacts any part of the cartridge casing where it is likely to become affixed. DLT and LTO are less exposed in this respect as all of the recorded tape is wound and only a short length of the tape leader is exposed.

There are small metal components within all tapes and these tend to heat up quickly and any tape in the vicinity will be impacted more quickly than elsewhere. Also, the supply reel tape will become heated and expand which can cause some physical damage.

By far the biggest problem from a data recovery perspective is where there is enough heat as to cause the edges of the tape to fuse together. this can happen at a few points along the tape with the result that if the tape is run through a drive when it reaches a point where adjacent layers are stuck together the tape will tear.

Things are not always as dire as they look. If the tape is professionally re-cased having been properly tested for mechanical performance (i.e. it has been ascertained that it won't self-destruct during operation) then the chances of a successful data recovery are high.

Where there has been smoke damage then the situation is similar to that with water damage.

Re-casing in to a clean casing is essential, and the contaminated areas of the tape must be cleaned to remove the contamination. Smoke will not have worked inside the tightly wound tape, but could have settled on the edges of the tape so these need to be treated as well.

Data Recovery and Physically Damaged Tapes

As with Fire and Flood damage, if a tape case is damaged then proper preparatory work is required before any attempt is made to recover data. With AIT and DAT (and other cassette type mechanisms) there is a spring loaded shutter that protects the exposed section of tape. The shutter opens and closes during the cassette load and unload operation. If the shutter or any of its composite parts becomeĀ  damaged then tape could easily become stuck in the drive.

Although it might appear that only the casing of the tape is damaged there is a good chance that there could have been damage to the tape itself. The media must be thoroughly checked to ensure that there is no damage, or to correct any damage that is found, before any attempt is made to insert the tape into a drive and read data. Failure to check the tape could result in the tape failing in use and losing your vital data forever.

In all cases of damage or contamination it is essential that the media is dealt with by experienced professionals who know what to look for and how to deal with it. Data Recovery is practicable in most circumstances but only if the media is handled correctly.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 09 June 2009 15:26)

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