Digital Reflections on 9/11 and Document Retention, Protection
Recently, a good friend and I were reminiscing about our first meeting years ago and the events that have transpired since.
At the time I was working for a large international telecomm firm in the network security space and had been tasked with working with the local FBI office to help promote a collaborative effort between government and private industry called Infraguard as way to secure our nation’s critical national technology infrastructure (hence “Infraguard”).
I met “Al” at a local ISSA meeting and we immediately hit it off and became fast friends as we worked together on seminars to encourage those IT professionals who worked in key industries to come aboard this unique program.
Ironically, this was just prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and we had no idea what was about to befall our nation that day.
Al and I went to lunch shortly after and mourned the loss of so many as did the rest of the country. Al particularly was hit hard as he had lost several friends and acquaintances he knew from his time working in New York City.
As the conversation moved from personal emotions and feelings to our common interest in technology the topic we discussed most was disaster recovery and technology preparedness.
Like so many other people, I was unaware that many of the large companies had disaster sites across the river in New Jersey and therefore were able to bring those back online fairly quickly relative to the horrendous events that had taken place.
I mentioned to Al that a former company I had worked for had some experience with disaster recovery, as they were a core provider to the Oklahoma City credit union that had been hit in another devastating attack years before.
We talked again about the people who were so devastated and the conversation moved back to the technology component and the ability to bring systems back online quickly after disaster strikes.
I told Al that I had a high degree of confidence that my prior experience in the financial industry assured me that customer data was safe and secure and that once things had calmed back down, people would realize their assets were safe and business would continue.
What Al and I discussed next has proven to be absolutely prophetic in light of my current employment and past 10 years working in the electronic content management industry most people refer to as “Imaging”.
Al stated that although customer data could be recovered, paper documents, records, policies, etc. were lost forever and he guessed that about 50-60% of the businesses in the WTC that did not have offsite document storage as part of their disaster recovery plan would be out of business within a very short time.
A validation of that statement came several years later as I recalled reading a study done by the University of Texas that said due to inadequate disaster recovery plans including document retention something like 50% of the SMB market could not continue their operations should disaster strike.
I also recall reading that many of the firms and businesses in the WTC were also lost to history not only due to the loss of so many people but also for the very reasons Al had stated. Their business operations simply could not be re-created or restored in an adequate amount of time – if ever.
The irony of Al’s statement and the fact that I would find myself working in the ECM industry serving credit unions a scant 18 months later was indeed an eye opener.
And that, my readers, leads me to my thoughts today after having one of our customers lose one of their servers, find out the data backups had not been done correctly and were at risk of significant downtime while their systems could be restored, rebuilt and brought back online.
As individuals in society, as well as employees in businesses, we have become so enamored with technology and our digital world, I fear we are all very much at risk from significant data loss due to poor disaster recovery planning and backup should the unthinkable ever occur.
Those potential electronic losses – whether it be personal in nature such as photos and videos of family or financial loss of long term records now that we have adopted e-statements for almost everything or something as simple as our apps on our smartphones – we have really set ourselves up for a lot of headache and pain if we are not taking steps to protect these “electronic assets” just like we do our personal and tangible physical assets.
So my suggestions today would include the following:
- Make sure you are backing up and securely storing offsite either physically or if you’re comfortable with online storage services, all data related to your life whether it’s personal in nature or business related.
- TEST, TEST, TEST your recovery of this data periodically to make sure that you can actually recover it should the need arise. Good luck finding a 3-½ floppy disk these days if old records are stored on that media. (Also remember that magnetic media deteriorates over time so plan for it.)
- Be consistent and concise with your records retention. Things change and new items appear that should be part of that retention. So revise, review, and retain regularly.
- Keep your technology up to date. Again, things change and you may need to convert your stored data to newer file formats to maintain viability. You wanted technology, so this is the price to pay for it. Keep it up to date. It is a cost of doing business and it may cost you your business if you don’t
Although the idea for this article was primarily to remind us of our own vulnerability to the unforeseen, it is also a reminder to those organizations who are lax in their own data recovery practices and procedures.
Remember that your core data only represents about 50% of your operational capability, the other 50% is in the paper, process and procedure that is contained in your physical and electronic documents.
Taken together as a whole, ECM should not be a description of a product or service, but rather a mindset and business practice that is constantly evolving and as such requires our full attention whether it’s personal or business related.
One final thought: My wife’s family hails from Rochester, N.Y., home of the once glorious Eastman Kodak Company.
Kodak’s world was turned upside down with the advent of digital cameras, and as such we may have given up something in the process.
Why do I say that? Simple, while cleaning out the basement of her childhood home a few years ago, we found several wooden boxes loaded with emulsion based glass negative slides. It was fascinating to look at pictures her ancestors had taken of the 1901 Buffalo Pan Am Exposition, which featured electric lighting on a grand scale as well as many other things.
What was even more fascinating was that these glass plates were still viable over 100 years later. We took them to an archivist who made contact prints for use and suggested we get them to a museum where they could be further preserved.
As to why they survived, simple enough. They were stored in a cool, low-humidity environment that preserved the emulsion on the plates. Was that by choice or accident? I know it wasn’t by choice; it was because the basement was convenient.
Our reliance on technology had also made things convenient, but unlike the glass slides that we could simply pull out and look at, our digital files do not inherit that trait.
Please take the time to actively develop, review and refine your own records retention and electronic content management policies, they may very well be part your success or failure should the unforeseen happen.