Documenting the Tragedy of Newtown

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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…

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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

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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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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Healthcare Information Management in the Era of Information Technology

Doctor looking through Records

Doctor looking through Records

Where I come from, and as I was growing up, I remember clearly that there was a dream that many parents shared: to see their children growing to become doctors. Of course, lawyers were equally popular among most parents’ dreams: which parent wouldn’t have dreamed to see his or her precious child graduating law school? Not many, I can assure you of that! Nevertheless, becoming a doctor was probably even more prestigious. Doctors were always seen (and I don’t think that this will ever dramatically change) as prominent members of the society. Unless robots take over one day in the very remote future, doctors will still be around, offering their services to their fellow citizens and whoever needs them.

Societies are not something fixed, though; as a matter of fact, they are constantly changing. Nowadays, with the emergence of information society, there is a profession that rapidly gained popularity. Healthcare Information Professionals (HIM) are altering the professional landscape of the world of medicine, responding to the present needs of developed societies.

The meteoric rise of the role of information management nowadays, paralleled by the sudden death of the era when professionals had to deal with paper records stored in desks and folders, have created the need for specialized professionals in data and records management in all professional fields. In hospitals, HIM professionals are becoming more and more necessary, as the way we understand medicine and the treatment of patients is also rapidly transforming.

Inventory and intelligent data management

Data management doesn’t concern only the specialized companies that are dealing with information management and storage. On the contrary, in every professional field the need for more efficient use of data is urgent. Today, the use of data in order to optimize healthcare for patients is as urgent as it has never been before. Therefore, the whole essence of what is the role of a HIM professional has totally changed.

Education is also affected by these developments. Universities that offer health information management degree programs are focusing more and more on data analysis and research, today more than ever before. Students receive training in computer software programs to analyze data. Generally speaking, it becomes more and more obvious that in our times any professional must have basic knowledge of computer programming and must acquire the necessary skills for a job office that is getting much more complicated than it used to be. If you ask the elder in the profession how it used to be decades ago, you will hear stories of a remote era. Along with the technological advancement even the job realities changed and we definitely have to keep up the pace, even enjoy the benefits of what it’s being offered in terms of improved services and efficiency.

A direct consequence of the increasing importance of information technology in the field of healthcare information management is the larger number of men to be hired in a previously female-dominated profession. What is more, and according to the experts in the field, what is becoming more evident as time passes is that all HIM professionals must be ready to adapt relatively fast to new challenges and that they must keep an open eye to the rapid and continuous changes in their professional field.


As for the future, AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association) is already planning and trying to explore new possibilities. One idea is supposedly to try to organize the HIM profession in a large collaborative project, where professionals are working together in the way that NASA’s Mission Control Center operates. The leading figures in the field also agree that a higher level of education must be pursued by the HIM professionals, an education that must include information governance skills and knowledge as well.

Sure, the world is changing. Sometimes we feel glad about it, but occasionally we get stressed trying to keep up with the… changes! One thing is for certain, though: nowadays, education is a lifelong project and everyone must remember Solon, the wise ancient Greek, who once said… “as I grow older, I constantly learn more”… Maybe parents should learn that being a doctor is not the only prestigious profession in the field anymore and that being a healthcare information manager is just as demanding.

Use of Social Media in Investigations

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canstockphoto10560861All investigators, when tackling rogue traders, fraudsters or errant employees, need to make use of the Internet as an investigatory tool. Unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge of Internet investigation techniques amongst investigators especially those working in the public sector. The Internet can reveal a treasure trove of free information, which can even lead to the perpetrators’ door (literally).

Do you have a smartphone and therefore an on-line account for managing email, contacts and messages? Do you use it for accessing applications such Instagram, Flickr (for storing photographs online) and Facebook?

If these applications are used, without properly controlled account settings, then available on-line (for all to see) is your private information, your photographs and other personal data. Even information that you yourself have not uploaded or stored can be mined for more personal information. You might have had photographs taken by a professional, for example for the sale…

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