Beginning as a tropical storm in the western Caribbean Sea, Sandy quickly gained strength, becoming a Category 2 hurricane when it crashed into Jamaica and later Cuba.

When the storm headed north and plowed into New Jersey and New York on Oct. 29, it contained enough power to be called the largest and second costliest Atlantic hurricane on record. With an estimated loss of more than $20 billion, Sandy was second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which surpassed $50 billion in losses.

Weeks later, some residents of the storm-wrecked region were still living without power; debris was strewn throughout neighborhoods; and where attractive homes once stood, there were trash-filled vacant lots. These were stark reminders of Sandy's brutal force.

The area struck by this massive storm is one of the nation's most populated. It also is a major commercial center. Recovery from the devastation will be measured in months and years.

Sandy's impact should be a wake-up call for business owners throughout the nation.

Whether a business falls into the "mom and pop" category or has an international reach, its operations rely increasingly on computer systems. Businesses that continued to operate during and after Sandy had backup systems, which protected critical data and allowed operations to shift to offsite locations.

Regrettably the storm interrupted the operations of other businesses. Some were "dark" for just a few hours. Others remain "closed" today. Critical, unprotected data, such as customer and financial records, may be forever lost.

Whether a business is located in "hurricane country," in the path of a tornado or wildfire, or along an earthquake fault, its owner should have a data recovery plan.

Some elements to consider when developing a plan:

What needs to be backed up? What types of data are created and how long can your business operate without it? Carefully examine your company's reliance on the information it creates and collects.

How should data be backed up? There are numerous options, with costs dependent on their sophistication. A backup system should be dependable and cost-effective. For example, an automatic system is reliable, but manual system may be less expensive.

Where will data be backed up? It makes sense to store data offsite. However, how far offsite? During Sandy, some offsite locations were still within the storm's reach. The companies that were able to continue operating -- in seamless fashion -- had backup locations far away from the devastation.

What if you lose power? In Sandy, some companies shut down when buildings lost power. Communications systems failed. Backup systems were non-existent. Employees could not telecommute.

Should data backup be outsourced? Depending on the size and scope of a business, the cost of outsourcing backup to a firm that specializes in data protection and recovery may be worth the cost.

Regrettably, many companies gamble with a precious asset -- the data they create and collect. Hoping nothing bad will happen isn't a "plan." It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Paul Trent is president of Bakersfield-based Trent Systems, an information technology consulting firm. He can be contacted through his email at