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Is your data on fire?

Is your data on fire? In this case, I am not talking about how frequently your data is accessed or how great the information is contained in your data? I am talking about literally on fire.

Why do I ask? This week I am attending the PRISM International conference ( conference in Savannah, Ga., and one of the focuses of the conference is the lessons learned from last year’s Iron Mountain fire in London. In attending the first of two sessions on this topic, one of the questions asked was how many records management companies have had fires in their facilities. Out of about 200 -250 attendees in the room, 2 or 3 raised their hands. Sure, that’s only 1% of the total number in attendance but from my perspective, that is a lot. And from the soberness of those in attendance, their sentiments would seem to match mine and that the entire records management industry, and Iron Mountain in particular, are taking this occurrence very seriously and taking steps to prevent this from occurring again.

To their credit, one of the steps that Iron Mountain took was an attitude of full disclosure and cooperation with the public fire officials in the U.K. The results of the study by an outside independent consultancy were that Iron Mountain’s fire and security systems were properly maintained but their building services were not. That sounds worse than it is. That means items like pallets or a dumpster with flamable materials (cardboard, paper, etc) were too close to the building. In this circumstance, if a fire does get started, even with these other systems in place, the fire now has a source and a steady supply of oxygen which can overwhelm the other systems and lead to a catastrophic loss, as in Iron Mountain’s case.

What is most disconcerting is that in London, according to Mike Murphy, a director with Osborn Associated, Ltd., and the independent fire protection consultanting firm in the UK that assisted with the Iron Mountain investigation, 60% of the fires started are as a result of arson. Unfortunatly the statistics in the US are similar. According to the most recent statistics on the U.S. Fire Administration’s Web site, there were 31,500 intentially set fires in 2005 which caused 315 deaths and $664 million in structural losses.

So, what does this mean for the rest of us? One should not assume we are immune from something similar happening either to our records management provider or even our own facility. We need to make sure the grounds around our own company’s facilities are clear of flammable debris of any kind. While they obviously cannot catch on fire by themselves, with 50% of the fires in the US set by juveniles, why give them any temptation to do so? Also, be sure to ask your records management provider to do the same and maybe even occasionally drive by and check out their facility to be sure they are because their standards for protecting your offsite data should be no less than your own.

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