Local business owner helps Ellicott City flood victims recover computer data

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Some of what Ellicott City flood victims have lost is irreplaceable, but information on saturated computers is being recovered by a business owner in Howard County, Maryland.

“I just happen to have a particular set of skills,” said Atlantic Data Forensics CEO Brian E. Dykstra, who is happy to help his neighbors. “This is an opportunity to actually help some people.”

Dykstra’s business has offices in Detroit, Denver, and Elkridge, Maryland, and normally does data forensics work for lawsuits.

Dykstra wore knee-high rain boots as he walked the flood zone Tuesday. He helped people remove surveillance system DVRs and computers from buildings caked in mud that ranged from between a few inches to 4 feet deep.

To avoid needing his services, Atlantic Data Forensics CEO Brian E. Dykstra recommends all computer owners store their data in the cloud. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Later when he was at the Howard County government building, where flood victims were being shuttled in and out of the disaster zone, Dykstra pulled out of a paper bag what looked like an oversized computer monitor. Its owner poured water out of it before handing it over.

But the data still can be recovered.

“The computer itself is just trash, it’s garbage, right — we just throw all that stuff away,” Dykstra said. “But the hard drives are actually vacuum sealed.”

The average cost of a computer forensic image is $450 just to start. The actual data analysis and recovery costs an additional $350 an hour.

It’s a time-consuming and expensive business, but Dykstra said he is happy to do it for free; IT support specialist Matthew Winkelstein agrees.

“These people have a million things to think about that they’re dealing with. So, if you can ease their mind — one aspect of it — that’s a great thing,” Winkelstein said.

The company also did data recovery for Ellicott City flood victims two years ago.

“It’s really gratifying. I had one guy breakdown in our office and cry when we gave him back all his data because he couldn’t file some of his insurance paperwork without the necessary inventory, tax forms, things like that,” Dykstra said.

To avoid needing his services, Dykstra recommends all computer owners store their data in the cloud.

He said it doesn’t matter what service you use — just make sure all your important information isn’t in one spot that can be compromised.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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