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PC crash? Chessen is ready to listen

When a federal employee suffers a hard-drive meltdown, a therapist who can alleviate the emotional trauma is just a phone call away.

Kelly Chessen Kelly Chessen, a data crisis counselor at DriveSavers Data Recovery, provides emotional support to customers. Based in Novato, Calif., DriveSavers retrieves data from crashed and damaged hard drives. Chessen spends as many as five hours a day on the phone with workers from government and industry who have lost computer files because of technical malfunction, flood, fire or other catastrophe.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and five years of experience at a suicide prevention hot line, she tells stories of hope and inspiration to soothe anxious clients. One tale involves a customer who dove into the Amazon River to retrieve a laptop PC after abandoning a sinking cruise ship. The laptop held more than six months of business files, financial data and correspondence. When no one would help, the customer rented diving gear and swam through the submerged passageways of the ship to retrieve the computer.

DriveSavers was able to retrieve all of the data on the laptop, Chessen said.

In the government sector, DriveSavers has worked with several Energy Department national laboratories and has a security clearance from the Defense Department to handle confidential drives.

Sometimes, the situation can be more complicated for Chessen. A few customers from outside the government have threatened to commit suicide over the phone. The company has also received notes with hardware submissions stating that the customers are considering taking their lives. Chessen’s training forces her to ask if they are serious, even if the customers merely mention the word. If someone has thought about committing suicide, she said, there is always a chance that person may follow through with it.

“Typically, once I ask that question, they just laugh it off and say they were joking,” she said. “I’ve never had anybody seriously contemplate it.”

Customers do not know they are talking to a counselor. Technical support employees screen callers and then transfer them to Chessen if they sound like they need emotional support.

Chessen doesn’t reveal why they have been transferred. “It’s best not to say anything,” she said. “They need that space to vent.”

Emotional reactions to data loss vary. Moms who have lost baby pictures will often cry. Some private-sector customers will beg just to get their e-mail messages back.

The government types are more tense than sad, Chessen said. Just a handful of government employees have been at the emotional state where they needed to talk to her.

“Usually you don’t get the tears with the government,” Chessen said.

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