Documenting the Tragedy of Newtown

TributeOnHillPA

Saturday the 14th of December marked the anniversary of the latest massacre that took place in a school of the United States. The tragedy that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was one of the many that have shocked America, and the whole world, in the last years. Tragic events such as these leave you speechless and it is up to the people that govern that must act decisively. Mass murders, and especially when they are conducted by children, is something despicable and dreadful. It is almost inconceivable and surely not comprehensible or worth deserving any comprehension, but only outrage and condemnation.

Twenty six people, twenty children among them, were the tragic result of the shooting in Newtown. Just right after the moment of the tragedy, the long debate concerning gun ownership started, for yet one more time, in the U.S. President Obama seems determined to change the gun law. However, one year after the massacre, the situation seems largely the same. It goes without a saying: this is going to be a long fight, as both sides  –  the ones that believe that it’s their right to own a gun and the ones that think that the gun law actually fuels mass murders – seem to be determined and strong opinionated.

Credit: Robert Carley "Love Star" Newtown memorial..

Credit: Robert Carley
“Love Star” Newtown memorial..

Before we see any change in America’s law, let’s take a look at another more hopeful initiative that takes place as we speak regarding the horrible events in Newtown.  A group of volunteers is eager to document all of the gifts that were sent after the shooting in memory of the ones that lost their lives because of the despicable tragedy. A huge body of material had been concentrated at the municipality’s buildings before it was moved to a large warehouse. Then, Xerox offered to help the volunteers by launching a website, while people started to take photographs of all of the material gathered in the warehouse.

Municipal_Center_w_letters_-_RMD_2

Credit Ross: MacDonald
Letters to be sent to the town by the Newtown municipal center.

Part of this noble effort is to attract our peers’ will and energy into putting some of the ‘good’ pieces together and understand that there is still hope left for a better world. The young volunteer Dylan Jones is participating in this joint effort as well; he is currently scanning the large body of letters that have been sent in the aftermath of the dreadful event. He has scanned 800 of them till now, but there is still much more to be done.  Volunteers do not act randomly, though. They are being assisted by professional archivists and librarians in their noble effort. The help has been provided by professionals that conducted material recovery activities as a consequence of the tragedy that took place at Virginia tech in 2007.

Credit Ross MacDonald A child's letter to Newtown.

Credit: Ross MacDonald
A child’s letter to Newtown.

The project has been named Condolence Archive and it is supervised by the Connecticut Library and Iron Mountain, the latter being one of the world’s leading experts in archiving and information management. Iron Mountain’s software escrow services and disaster recovery solutions also add to the company’s excellent reputation. Regarding the Condolence Archive project, Iron Mountain executive Samantha Joseph stresses out the importance of preserving the heritage, as “we don’t know how important this material will be in the future”.  This statement actually holds truth, since it is only accurate to assume that this material might be just as valuable to future generations as it is to those living today; it for sure provides with an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and try to build a better, less violent and more peaceful future.

Along with the currently documented material, there is also a book available about the Newtown tragedy. Local resident Sharon Cohen included in the book everything related to initiatives, projects and tributes to the Newtown massacre – the book itself being one of these initiatives. In this book, Cohen successfully supports the argument that these collaborative efforts strengthen communities at times when it’s needed the most.

To sum it up, tragedies like the one that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown cannot be predicted. Nonetheless, societies and communities must always try hard to prevent and avoid such incidents. As it concerns the heated debate about gun law, according to the Boston Globe, one year after the tragedy in Newtown it might be even easier to buy a gun than before. That means that despite President Obama’s early (and healthy) reaction after the massacre, things haven’t changed. But we can still hope for better…

The importance of a healthy diet of Scanning & Shredding for the well being of Organizations

Document Scanning

Document Scanning

Shredders and Scanners: two devices that can be found in almost every office. Shredders are instruments of destruction within the office space. They are used to eradicate those documents that are of no use or hold information that should not fall in the wrong hands. Scanners, on the other hand, are instruments of protection. They are all about safeguarding data and information by making digital copies of them. Scanners and shredders if used together they can create a more effective work space with less paper. In previous articles I have spoken in detail about shredders. Today, I am going to talk a bit about scanners; those strange devices that complement shredders and can make our office lives simpler, if used in a correct balance.

I remember the first time I saw a scanning device. It was sometime around 1998, a period that computers were becoming more and more central to the functioning of businesses and organizations everywhere in the western world. The internet was growing but nevertheless all was still pretty new especially to those many of us – just like me – who worked on small businesses.

The “scanner” had been around for quite a while but became popular during the late 90’s. At first glance it seemed like an object that didn’t “belong”. It was flat; it seemed almost empty with no obvious reason for existing. I remember at the office that day, they told us that if we put a photo into it or any flat paper, it could copy it into a computer. At the beginning, this seemed difficult to grasp. Surely, I knew that I could print a file from my computer but how could it be possible to do the opposite? And why should I want to do something like that? It just didn’t make a lot of sense at that time. Why should you keep a digital copy of a file that you already have in paper?

 Paper Shredders

Paper Shredders

Years have passed since those days of ignorance and naivety. Nowadays scanning devices are everywhere. They can be found at newspapers and hospitals, or police headquarters. Architects and photographers use them. Scanners are everywhere. They have evolved offering high resolution output at a low price. They have become smaller in size and thinner. Or have become part of other devices such as printing machines. With advances in hardware design and storage capabilities of computers, they have become an essential tool for any IT management strategy. Now, it all makes sense.

But let’s start with the most basic of questions: what is scanning?

Scanning is the process by which paper documents are copied and saved as digital images. And why is it important? For one reason, if done according to specific requirements, the electronic record can legally take the place of the paper document, which can then be destroyed. http://f2.washington.edu/fm/recmgt/scanning

Printer & Scanner

Printer & Scanner

And this can help save time, space, money. The more documents we digitize the faster we can do our job. And in a world where information needs to be available anytime, anywhere, it is crucial to capture documents digitally.

We scan for see three basic reasons:

–       For archiving so that we can discard paper

–       For populating information repositories so that we can have easier access to specific data when we need them

–       At the start of a business process so as to ensure that more of the processes will be done digitally

The fact is that the more we scan documents the more it becomes less about archiving and more about creating an end to end workflow which can and will:

–       Reduce costs from such expenses that require extensive time consuming processes like searching, faxing, making copies. In the long term, it will also save money from buying equipment, from repair or maintenance.

–       Make access to critical information easier and faster. The more an organization grows the more paperwork is created and access to the information becomes more difficult. If we want to be efficient and competitive it is essential to be able to access records fast. Especially in specific professions like those involved with the healthcare and medical industry, access to information in time – when, for example, a patient is in an emergency situation – can be crucial. Scanning documents makes critical information easily accessible.

–       Maximize office space. Every inch with less paper is an inch of free space. Less paper means less paper related machines, less shelves for storing paper, more space for a more happy and productive working environment for you and your employees.

–       Improve reputation. Walking into an office where technology has more or less replaced paper or other more traditional processes gives the impression of a more advanced, more efficient, more forward thinking business. This positive first impression can lead to a better cooperation between customers and a business. However this is not just an impression. A business will function more efficiently and this will increase reputation and create a competitive advantage.

All in all, scanning can make a difference for you and your business.

However, scanning all of your documents is rarely a good decision. Therefore, before you start scanning documents we need to make some choices:

1)    Learn about retention requirements

Different types of documents must be stored for different periods of time depending on what type of information they hold. When we know what are the requirements then we can decide which documents we want to scan.

2)    Scan only the necessary

Following my previous point, it goes without saying that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to scan documents than need to be stored for only one more year before they can be shredded.  Therefore use your time and money wisely to find those documents that you use more often than others or that must be stored for the longest period of time.

3)    Decide what to do with documents after scanning

A third basic point I wish to make is that after scanning a crucial decision has to be taken regarding what we will do with the paper documents we just scanned. Should we keep them? Should we shred them? Check with authorities about the length of time that you must keep documents after you have captured them digitally. In many documents the period varies from 1 to 3 months but there are cases that you must keep them for much longer or even indefinite. Nevertheless, be sure before you shred any documents.

Remember, the issue is not to create a paperless office but an office with less paper, a more efficient business. Too much scanning can be as bad as too much shredding. The issue here is to be able to access those documents quickly, efficiently, in accordance with regulations. Document scanning and digitizing can create a competitive advantage if done correctly for any business, small or big. And if you think this process is too time consuming or too complex there are professionals out there who have proven their expertise and can do the job for you: http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/scanning/

In any case, it is in the interest of any business or organization to start the scanning process. It reduces costs, it creates space, it makes work more efficient; it makes access to information easier. It makes for a better organized business. And a healthy balanced organization is in the interest of all, employers, employees and customers.

Shredding for our future: a history of man’s struggle to create and destroy

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

They say that man is the animal that creates. I say that man is the animal that can create and will destroy. And sometimes a creation’s purpose could be destruction. This is the case with shredding machines.

The year was 2.560 B.C. when man in his desperate search for means of expression created papyrus. Before that his irresistible urge to express himself manifested mostly on cave walls or clay tablets or other difficult to impossible to shred mediums. Papyrus changed all of that. [1]

With the invention of papyrus, man felt for the first time in history the need to rip into pieces something that he created to imprint certain information. Why? Because for the first time in history, man could do it; Papyrus made possible such action.

This first papyrus shred to pieces could be of a painting or a poem gone horribly wrong. Or of symbols that articulated emotions or desires for the future. It could be a list of financial assets or a text of religious significance. The owner of the papyrus could have destroyed it. Or maybe it was a thief. Or it might even be a jealous wife or a loyal servant. We don’t know why or who did it but we can be certain that someone took the decision to destroy. There could be a reason for doing it or there could be no specific reason at all but it was done by someone.

And after the first man, there were many more that followed a similar course of action because they could do it. The Chinese discovered paper [2], and as centuries passed, humans kept finding new reasons to destroy.

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Gutenberg [3] discovered the printing machine and the mass paper media was born. Reading was not anymore a privilege of the aristocracy.

In 1806 a man called Henry Fourdinier created the Fourdinier machine. These were steam-driven papermaking machines that could make paper with fibres from wood pulp. Great quantities of paper could be made in great speed. [4]

By the 20th century paper was an everyday commodity, part of every human activity. Common people used it, companies used it, and government agencies used it too.

And then, in 1909, almost 6.000 years after the invention of papyrus, 103 years after the creation of the Fourdinier machine, a man from the United Stated of America called Abbot Augustus Low had a simple but glorious idea. In a world dominated by paper, he had a simple idea. He thought: “What if I created a machine that shreds paper?” And thus, he filed a patent for what he called a “waste – paper receptable”. The first shredding machine came into existence. A creation meant to destroy. It could change the course of history. It did!

Papermaking machine

Papermaking machine

According to him, his invention related “to the provision of improved means for disposing of waste paper and is designed more particularly for use in offices and other places where not only the collection and storage of waste paper is desirable, but also its cancellation or mutilation in such manner as to render it unavailable or unintelligible for re-use or for information”.

The invention consisted “of a receptacle having a cutting or cancelling device interposed between it and a receiving hopper, whereby the papers are disintegrated and rendered useless as such before they enter the body of the receptacle, in which latter the fragments are stored temporarily in a suitable bag to be removed from time to time for the disposition of the waste”.

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Augustus didn’t just invent the device but knew of the advantages it could hold for banks and other organizations “where the practical destruction of correspondence, memoranda, liquidated bonds, accounts, books, and the like is a desideratum […] since the particles of paper are useless for identification, information, or fraudulent purposes of any character” [5]

However, not many sh(a)red his enthusiasm. And as it is often the case with all those we come to admire as genius, it took society quite a long time to understand the necessity of such a device. [6]

In reality, there was no demand for a paper shredder; no market. And how could there be such a demand when most of the people didn’t feel the need to shred their documents using a device. And while it was probable that US intelligence agencies might have understood its importance the simple fact is that the concept of identity theft or data protection was not very common; not common enough for the “common people”. [7]

Now, all this has changed. In the 21st century, “information destruction” is a multi-billion business and shredding machines are at the centre of it.

Shredding machines have evolved and are becoming more and more sophisticated. They will destroy from paper to DVDs and CDS or hard drives. Anything that can hold data of any kind can be destroyed and recycled. [8]

Shredding Machine

Shredding Machine

Everyone is using them. From small offices to big corporations, from government agencies, to schools and hospitals; in some countries it has become a requirement of the law to shred specific documents using shredding machines. [9]

Companies make shredding machines and sell them. Other companies are going mobile, arriving at an organization’s premises with trucks equipped with machines that chew and spit piles of paper. They destroy data that are not meant to be seen by the general public, data that should not fall in the wrong hands. Doctors, spies, everyone uses them.

From the papyrus to the computer and the world of internet, creation goes hand in hand with destruction. In reality, evolution was also the evolution of the means of destruction; they seem somehow interrelated, as if they complement each other. It is human somehow. This is how we evolve; this is how we express ourselves more effectively. We create paper to destroy it; we share information to delete it; we decide what to keep; we shred for our future. We evolve.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ts%27ai_Lun
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fourdrinier
  5. http://www.google.com/patents/US929960?dq=ininventor:%22ABBOT+AUGUSTUS+LOW%22
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbot_Augustus_Low
  7. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/06/26/declassified-govt-report-details-decades-nsa-computer-spying/
  8. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding
  9. http://www.cpni.gov.uk/Documents/Publications/2013/2013062-secure-destruction-sensitive-information.pdf

Please Think Twice, it’s All Right! Data Backup and its Necessities

There is a song by Bob Dylan, this legend of American folk music that used to make me enthusiastic when I was still a student. He used to sing it with his characteristic, passionate voice (even if it doesn’t always sounds as such) back in the early days of his success. The song was entitled “Don’t think twice is all-right” and Dylan kept on repeating these words time after time during the three-four minutes that the song lasts.

It is a wonderful folk song that echoes the spirit of the times when it was written: the rebellious 1960s. It is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, even if as I was growing up I came to disagree with the meaning of what he was singing about! Allow me, please, to explain myself! It always feels great not to think too much when you’re young, I know. You can get drunk without thinking about next morning’s headache, you can go and talk to that beautiful lady who sits alone in the bar and you can be spontaneous and act before you think, as if there is not a problem with that.

If you have to wake up the next morning to go to your office or if you have a lovely wife waiting for your back home, then you aren’t “free” not to think twice before you succumb to instinct and desire. In this case, you are obliged, or to put it better, you want to think things twice!

When it comes to the important things in life, we must think it twice, indeed. Take for example data protection and management. We know it from personal experience: we need to have a back up of all of our important files stored in our PC. A hard drive crush is something familiar to everyone reading these lines as it is, and, unfortunately for us, an unavoidable accident.

That is why a back up of the backup is an ideal solution for us, not to mention businesses that need to be extra careful, as a potential catastrophe cold hypothetically mean the end for them. Nowadays, data centers are much safer and properly designed in order to avoid the terrible effects of a big data loss. However, they are not impenetrable.  A simple accident can actually destroy what was carefully saved there for years.

Typhoon Haiyan Relief - City of Tacloban

Typhoon Haiyan Relief – City of Tacloban

We witnessed recently another huge disaster that occurred on this planet; I’m referring to the typhoon that attacked the Philippines. It proves that as much as we try, we will never be 100% safe from an unexpected disaster. The powers of nature combined with the tricky nature of an unwanted coincidence can cripple even the best defensive mechanisms ever implemented by humans.

Iron Mountain, the leading expert on data and information management strongly recommends to businesses to have in mind that a backup of their data is not enough: they need a backup of the backup.

Today, many businesses choose cloud backup in what it is a solution that is surely not the best or the most secure. Cloud is relatively easy to handle, but we should never forget that the data stored in the cloud is actually stored… down on earth and inside a vulnerable data center! Therefore, cloud might come pretty handy for companies and businesses but the danger is still there – so it comes as a necessity to actually think twice even about perfection, especially for business makers.

When Bob Dylan was young he told us not to think it twice. Nevertheless, as he grew up he significantly changed and turned from a rebellious youngster into a more moderate human being. After he became himself a successful businessman, something tells me that he actually changed his motto as well: please, think it twice, it’s all right! As what we learn from not thinking twice once (maybe when we are young and restless) is to actually think twice forever after.

Preserving Digitally the World’s Historical Sites

Non-profit organization CyArk has launched a very ambitious and essential project. The group aims to digitally preserve the world’s most spectacular historical sites. It will create 3D backups of historical sites in a project that aims to… eternity!

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Winners write history: from Hosni Mubarak’s regime, to the Stasi and the Nazis, a history of shredding

 Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sometimes I wonder, how much do we really know about past events?

It was Winston Churchill  who said: “History will be kind to me for I intent to write it”.

Yes, history was kind to him. He was among the protagonists of a world war that had cost the lives of many millions of innocent people. He, as a part of the winning side, made history. And history is favorable to the winners. They write it.

Different accounts can come to dominate in different periods of time or in different societies; depending on how free a society is, these accounts can be more or less accurate to the events in question.

Power struggles within societies can question the present social order. New agendas would rise that could question old dominant discourses and thus lead to a retelling of historical events bringing forward accounts, events and details that had been cast aside. It has happened before. [1]

But history cannot be objective. It is the story as it is told by the winners. It doesn’t have to be the “truth”. The truth is that half of the “facts” we think we know are merely fictions, pieces put together to create convenient and powerful stories; myths that support a certain scheme of things, a dominant power/knowledge system. [2] From what we have been taught in schools to the everyday news we read in the newspapers or the live coverage of important events on our television screens: all past is history, all present is history as well..

We can’t avoid it. We cannot avoid or dismiss history; choices of what should be kept and what we should forget. And yet, history is always on the making. And sometimes winners will become losers. History will be rewritten. Then, as regimes fall, and the dominant discourse and its surrounding myths collapse all kinds of evidence can rise into the surface; facts of the real nature of regimes that would otherwise be forgotten or would exist just for the eyes of the privileged few.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens and activists.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens.

This is the case with Egypt. On March the 5th of 2011 thousands of Egyptians stormed the headquarters of the State Security Police known as Amn Al – Dawla. Among the people of Egypt this is the “Capital of Hell”. They wanted to halt any effort by allies of the ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to destroy police and intelligence documents of great value. Demonstrators succeeded to get hold of thousands of records providing evidence that there was a wide-reaching campaign of surveillance, torture and secret detention. Evidence was found that proved that media owners were on the payroll of the secret police. Documents existed that described extreme violations of human rights. However, protestors also found mountains of shredded or burned documents on the spot. [3]

In East Germany, during the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 – a series of political demonstrations against the regime of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) – Stasi’s offices were stormed by protesters. Stazi existed almost for 40 years. But the amount of agents and informers was such that the files they amassed had filled more than 60 miles of shelving. They had huge special shredding machines that could shred hundreds of meters of files. They worked day and night for more than three months. At the end, when they finally abandoned their posts, more than 16.000 sacks of shredded files were found which accounts just for 5% of the most important documents.

According to Karina Juengert – an archivist who has devoted her life in piecing together shredded documents of her nation’s past – the effort to reconstruct those destroyed documents is an effort to reconstruct a nation’s “shredded” history: “Nobody is going to spend time and energy tearing up documents that have no importance. So the work we are doing is, yes, of absolute importance“. [4]

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

In Nazi Germany they did not have nowadays technology of paper shredders. If they had, so many of the evidence of what the Third Reich had done or did plan to do would have been lost. With no evidence of the events many war criminals would have walked away free still advocating their ideas of hatred, denying the horror of their actions. Yes, it is true, neo-nazis still deny the Holocaust, and the existence of death camps, the experiments on humans, the millions of deaths. But if documents were shredded, the victory of the Allied forces would not be so clear. Without evidence, history would have been more kind to the Nazis. Even nowadays, they try to rewrite history by destroying documents; assistance comes from unexpected places.  [5] 

History is connected with documents. And there are times when the most secure thing to do is to shred them before they are used for harmful purposes. You know, it doesn’t have to be regimes or secret agencies. This is also the case with companies or organizations, public or private, which deal with credit reports or other documents containing sensitive consumer information such as patients’ records. [6]

Documents of this nature are a vital part of the personal history of individuals that no agency or company should keep copies off. Information of this kind in the wrong hands can be used to blackmail or to deny access to services, they can even prove valuable for identity theft purposes. [7] In that sense, shredding is a procedure of essential importance for citizens and businesses alike.

Sorting & Shredding Room

Sorting & Shredding Room, 1901

In fact, this is not just an ethical issue. Under the Data Protection Directive, it becomes a requirement of the law to destroy any documents that contain sensitive information. According to the Directive, data – processing systems should be designed to serve man; “whereas they must, whatever the nationality or residence of natural persons, respect their fundamental rights and freedoms, notably the right to privacy, and contribute to economic and social progress, trade expansion and the well-being of individuals” [8]

Failure to comply may lead to proceedings against the data controller, large fines or financial compensation to the data subject. The Directive – after the NSA leaks – will become stricter. [9]

Shredding machines is the most secure and common tool that people use to destroy sensitive documents. Shredding has been used to protect regimes as it is used to protect citizens. In the end, history is not definite; it can be kind to us as long as we respect the laws and make good use of the tools we have in hand. Shredding machines is such a tool. [10]

  1. http://www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk/ratb/cuba/cuba_rev.htm
  2. https://www.msu.edu/~comertod/courses/foucault.htm
  3. http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/egyptians-seize-secret-police-files/
  4. http://www.npr.org/2012/10/08/162369606/piecing-together-the-worlds-largest-jigsaw-puzzle
  5. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/swiss-shredding.html
  6. http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/resources-512.html
  7. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/09/us-greece-tax-theft-idUSBRE9780QX20130809
  8. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31995L0046:en:HTML
  9. http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=958ca7da-9c49-4510-9a0f-7626e2197069
  10. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding

85th Annual AHIMA Convention Exhibit, October 26-30, 2013.

The AHIMA Convention & Exchibit is an annual conference about healthcare management. More than four thousand experts participated in the conference this year. In case you are interested in the field, you shouldn’t miss it next time.

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