If your normal web host was in an area that was badly affected (or if you hosted yourself), you may need to move your website to a host in a more stable area. While this is normally relatively straightforward, it becomes difficult if the details about your site are locked in the mind of someone who is unavailable to you. If you’re in that situation, this chapter will help.
There are typically three (plus one) components to a website, all or any of which may have been affected:
DomainRegistrar: Your website's domain name(www.mywebsite.org, for example) is different from your site's content, which is stored by a Web hosting provider. Although your domain name can be registered separately, it is often registered with a hosting provider, which is why many people associate the two.
WebHostingProvider: A web hosting provider supplies the disk space and network for your website. Your organization may even be your own site's hosting provider; if this is the case, you may want to move this hosting to another provider in the aftermath of a disaster, when your hands may be full.
WebContent: While you may have backups of your website, if you do not, you may want to get a simple page up quickly with contact information and status updates for your supporters. If you can’t do that, you may want to temporarily post a blog separate from your usual hosting provider (a service like Blogger.com will host a blog for free).
EmailHosting: Your email may also be hosted by an outside provider — either the same service as your web hosting provider, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), or elsewhere — or you may have hosted in-house.
Below, you'll find guidance on what to if your website is down; if you need to move your email to another host; or if your website is OK, but all of your access records and passwords are gone.
For each of these situations, you will need to get as much information as you can about your current host and domain registration. If you do not have your own record, tools on the website DNSstuff can help you find this information.
To retrieve your site's information on DNSstuff.com, enter your domain name in the site's WHOIS Lookup box, located in the home page's left column, three boxes down. The resulting WHOIS information page will tell you:
The registrar (“Sponsoring Registrar”)
The contact person for the domain (under “Admin contact”)
The name server — which will inform you of the current web host
If your web hosting company is down and you need to get some sort of presence on the web as soon as you can:
1. Choose a New Web Host.
You likely do not need to re-register your domain name (see below), but you will need to pay for a new web hosting service. Being able to pick the right platform is important if you have backups of your site, which may have been built on a specific platform, or if you are hoping that your original web host will return and you want to maintain the same platform in case you switch back. If your website included a database on the web host’s servers, the availability of the correct database platform (for instance MySQL, or MS SQL Server) is also important.
2. Update Your Domain Registration. Once you have paid for a web hosting service, you have to update the information at your domain registrar to "point" the address of your domain to the new web host (as opposed to the old one). This is usually as easy as logging in to your domain registrar's control panel and updating the information yourself. Depending on the registrar, however, you may need to contact your web host directly and ask them to do it; if this is the case, be prepared to prove who you are (otherwise anyone could “hijack” your website). The same goes if your domain was previously registered by a company that is no longer online and you need to transfer your domain name to a registrar that is still operational.
In the best scenario, the person (or entity) listed as the admin contact in the WHOIS information you looked up on DNSstuff.com will match the current contact information. If the contact listed is an individual, you can usually make requests via the email address listed as the admin email contact in the WHOIS lookup. However, if that information is wrong, old, or “masked,” you can sometimes prove who you are by faxing a copy of an ID, or by answering a secret question that was established when you registered the domain. However, if the admin contact listed is an organization's name, proving who you are usually requires a written letter on your organization's letterhead — which may not be an easy thing to find following a disaster.
While some registrars, given the circumstances, may be flexible around these issues, times of disaster are often ripe for fraud, so it is likely you will still be required to convincingly prove who you are before transferring domains. A registrar's website will usually provide contact information in case you have lost your password or your admin contact information is out-of-date.
3. Upload Your Website.
Once you have the web host and domain registrar pointing to the right address, you can begin uploading your web pages, whether that means simple contact pages (if you have no backups) or the original website (if you do have backups).
Scenario 2: Email Hosting Is Down
If your web hosting company was also hosting your email, you will want to use your new web host to also provide your email hosting as well. You may be required to pay for this extra service, or it may be included (up to a certain number of email addresses). Nevertheless, you will need to update what is called your mail exchange (MX) record, which is similar to updating your website's domain address. Typically, your email host will give you information about what your MX record should be (usually it's an address like mail.mydomain.com or an IP address). You have to either enter this information on your domain registration control panel, or ask your domain registrar to update that information for you (again, by proving who you are).
If you can access your website, but do not have any of your access records or passwords, you are going to need to contact the domain registrar (or web host) and, after verifying your identity, ask them to change your login and password information.
Thankfully, most of the basic footwork you'll need to do to find domain registration information is provided by the WHOIS lookup on DNSstuff.com, which lists it as the "Sponsoring Registrar."
You can also see who registered your domain for you in order to determine if it was done by an individual at your organization (in which case that person may have the login and password information), or if it was done by your web hosting company. If the latter is the case, your domain registration may still be current, but you will not have direct access to the domain control panel, and will need to request the IP address and MX record updates, as opposed to doing them yourself.
The key to proving who you are — the admin contact listed in the WHOIS record — is usually listed after the "registrant" information. Sometimes the email address is masked, making it harder for you to find out what email address to use to contact the registrar. Hopefully, the street address is correct (and matches your letterhead), making it easier to send written requests.
If you have no idea who your current web host is, you can try to look at the bottom of the WHOIS page for a "Name Server." Sometimes, this is obvious (dns.webhostcompany.com), while other times this is just an IP address. You can also use DNSstuff.com to do a "reverse lookup" of an IP address to find the site name for your organization. Note that this will not always reveal who the web host, however.
If your organization was hosting its website in-house, the WHOIS results can be very confusing, so try to resolve any internal network or server issues before getting lost in recursive searches.