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Safeguarding your office files

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Management,Records Retention

Too many businesses wait until it's too late to establish a security system for sensitive information and records. Every year hundreds of businesses fail to survive disasters because they do not have systems in place to protect and recover damaged or destroyed information. Statistics show that 40% of businesses that cannot quickly reconstruct vital records after a disaster fail within one year of the incident.

Why do so many businesses refuse to recognize the importance of a data security program? The headlines tell the horror stories, from hurricanes and fires to terrorist attacks. The fact is, many corporate decision makers often disregard these occurrences as once-in-a-lifetime events or problems that afflict certain geographic regions or only "high-profile" organizations.

Caution: This "it can't happen here" attitude is abruptly shattered when a less than newsworthy disaster strikes. Consider your preparedness to recover vital records if any of the following events did occur:

  • A leaking pipe makes critical personnel records illegible.
  • Floodwaters destroy a warehouse that stores vital company records.
  • A just-fired employee walks out the front door carrying secret product development plans.
  • A summer heat wave causes power fluctuations that corrupt data at computer workstations.

By and large, most of these events cannot be predicted or prevented. The permanent damage they create, however, can often be averted. 

Every company has a "records management" system, even if it's simply to keep everything—or throw everything away. Without a carefully thought-out records management plan, however, you could be putting your organization at risk. Taming the Paper Monster


Records security begins by establishing the following priorities: loss prevention, prepardness and recovery measures. Because an organization cannot feasibly protect every record, management must develop a system to determine what information is the most valuable or sensitive. In addition to identifying which records are vital to corporate fitness, you should consult with all the departmental heads—finance, personnel, marketing, production, information systems, legal, etc.—to decide which records are critical to their departments' operations.

As a first consideration, segregate records into active and inactive categories: 

  • Active records are those that you refer to frequently. They should be readily available.

  • Inactive records fall into two categories: those that your company will rarely need after a short period of time and those that are vital but seldom used. These records can be warehoused, albeit with special precautions for the vital ones.

Once you have identified all the critical records, it’s time to ensure their permanence. The most common record protection methods consist of dispersal, duplication and storage:

  • Existing dispersal. This is the practice of duplicating records and storing them in another location. It occurs as part of normal business operations—a mere matter of procedure. For example, copies of a document that originated in a branch office can be stored in the home office.

  • Improvised dispersal. This procedure involves making an extra copy of a document for records protection. Example: copying engineering drawings, formulas or “secret recipes” in an off-site location, such as a vital records center.

  • Evacuation transfer. A business transfers the original source document to a vital records center for storage. A copy of the record remains secured at the home site. This protection method is typically used for records that are considered vital but are not referred to frequently.

  • Duplication. This protection ensures that a second copy of a vital record is made. Digital, optical and paper methods are used for duplication. The backup is stored in the vital records center.

  • Vaulting. By this method, a business places documents in a fire-resistant vault—either on site or off site—to protect them from potential hazards. If you’re using an electronic or film medium, a fireproof safe isn’t enough; you must protect them from heat and humidity as well.
How much of the paper you save will you actually need? Experts say you could throw out 95% of the paper on file and still operate efficiently and within the bounds of the law. The trick is knowing which 5% to keep. Taming the Paper Monster

On-site protection of vital records entails a variety of storage options, including vital-records buildings, file rooms, fire-resistant vaults, safes and filing cabinets. Each has particular capabilities for properly protecting your records. Here is an overview of each option.

  • Vital-records buildings. Whether located within the company or at a remote complex, a vital-records building should be detached and inconspicuous, fire-resistant and constructed of noncombustible material throughout, including floors and roof. The building should be equipped with controls for temperature, ventilation, humidity, lighting and security. A vital-records building should never be located in an area subject to flooding or hazards of any kind.

  • Vaults. The standard records vault offers a fire-resistant means for storing vital records that you need to maintain on site. Vaults maintain an interior temperature level such that paper records and other media are protected for a period of time specified, in the event of a fire within the vicinity. Standard records vaults afford two, four or six hours of records protection. This means that papers should remain unharmed for the rate time period; however, microform and computer media deteriorate faster. Vaults can be equipped with a fire suppression system for greater protection.

  • File rooms. Larger than vaults, file rooms are much less fire-resistant and, in many cases, can be entered more easily by unauthorized personnel. These rooms should be limited to storage of important or useful but nonessential records.

  • File cabinets and safes. These offer a small amount of records protection in the case of fire, flood or robbery. However, even tightly locked file cabinets and safes can be easily opened by sophisticated thieves, and they rarely remain completely intact during a fire. They are best used for small quantities of records that need to be kept close at hand for quick reference. File cabinets and safes both should be used in conjunction with other records protection strategies.
Poor records management can cost you time, deplete your profits and expose your organization to compliance actions and legal liability. Protect your records and your organization with a sound records management strategy! Taming the Paper Monster

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