Q: My new neighbor tells me that I need to use caution with my electronic devices during the summer thunderstorm season. What do I need to do?
A: Thunderstorms pose a big risk with our electronic devices, such as computers and the newer televisions and peripherals. The problem is that a lightning strike can cause a surge in the electric line which can severely damage our equipment. Most people are unaware that lightning can also affect your equipment right through your Internet connection, and in fact that this type of damage is even more prevalent than surges through the electrical lines.
The most common line of defense is a surge protector. This looks very much like an ordinary power strip but also protects from power surges. They offer good protection, but the problem I've found is that after a surge, they still function as extension cords or power strips since they still pass electricity - however, the surge protection may be blown out and you don't even know it because most of them will not notify you of a catastrophic failure of the surge protection. For that reason, knowledgeable folks replace their surge protectors annually, just to be safe.
Note that many surge protectors also have places to plug in your internet cable to protect you from surges in the Internet connection.
If you are building or remodeling your home, there are whole-house surge protection devices available, too. Check with your contractor.
The problem is that the computer shuts down when the power goes out or even just has a brief pause in service and you will lose all unsaved data. This can be a real heartbreaker when you have finally finished a large job and are about to click "save" when the power goes out and loses all your hard work!
The safest thing to do is to literally unplug your equipment from the electricity and the Internet until the storm is over. If you must continue to work and you accept the risk, at least save often so as to avoid losing much if the power suddenly goes out.
The Prescott Computer Society (PCS) is a PC-based users group located in Prescott. We hold several entertaining and educational meetings each month to show you how to get the most out of your computer. For further information, visit www.PCS4me.com. Email questions to PCSquestions@gmail.com.