It’s a horrific loss to cultural heritage whenever an iconic structure and its precious contents go up in smoke, like the recent Notre Dame fire in Paris. Notre Dame isn’t just an old historic building, a symbol of the City of Light. It held a collection of some of Europe’s most important Gothic and Renaissance art works, and unlike replaceable (albeit not original) architectural features, a number of those art works are now gone forever.
The lesson reaches far beyond libraries, museums, and other cultural repositories, however. Disasters, whether fire- or weather-related, almost never allow time for the protection of essential items, whether they’re works of art or vital business documents. Notre Dame reminds us that, no matter what sort of organization you’re operating, disaster planning makes survival and recovery possible.
A key element of disaster planning for any enterprise is deciding in advance what documents and other media must be protected, and how best to protect them. Fireproof files are one way to preserve paper documents, tape, and film. These insulated cabinets protect contents from temperatures up to 1700 degrees, for up to 3 hours. If the floor burns away, fireproof files can withstand a drop of up to 30 feet without damage to the contents, and during clean-up, their locking mechanisms prevent unauthorized access.
Document conversion (digitizing) or imaging is another way to guard against the loss of important media. For paper documents in particular, conversion offers multiple benefits. These processes create digital versions of your original paper documents, suitable for cloud storage, physical drives, or both. Regulated industries are especially concerned about the loss of paper documents, putting organizations in a non-compliant situation with no way to recover missing records. With important documents safely stored on remote servers, compliance is ensured even when offices are destroyed.
Fires strike more than 3,000 U.S. offices per year, with fire and sprinkler damage amounting to $112 million annually. FEMA estimates that 40% of businesses never re-open after a disaster. With so much at stake, it’s just good business sense to plan for a worst-case scenario, then put safe, secure storage between you and disaster.
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Police work is primarily focused outside the police station, in the community, and that’s as it should be. There’s a satisfaction, even a glamor, to being out on the streets keeping the community safe and secure. This outward focus sometimes means that the station itself – the place of dull paperwork and desk jobs – suffers from a lack of public attention and administrative funding. Support facilities like evidence storage and property rooms may lag behind other state-of-the-art policing technology, and that can mean the efforts of front-line police work may be rendered fruitless when a case goes to trial with missing or inadmissible evidence.
Public safety expert Kathy Marks, writing in Law and Order Magazine, interviewed current and former police officers regarding the need for better evidence storage and property room technology. A good inventory system was their Number One recommendation, a system that could identify and track every item connected to a case. Missing evidence or a broken chain of custody will derail an otherwise strong criminal case.
Just as important, the interviewees reported, was a system that could schedule the return, destruction, or retention of each item. Even when a police department has a carefully maintained intake inventory system, a backlog of outdated, unneeded evidence and property take up valuable – and scarce – storage space. Overcrowded storage inevitably leads to the damage or loss of some items, increasing the challenge of making a case.
The outward-facing side of police work has for some time employed technology to make the job safer and more efficient, with everything from smart duty lockers to mobile laptop and tablet charging stations. Now the administrative side is getting its own tech applications, particularly for managing the inventories of the evidence and property rooms. Commonly used in warehousing and logistics, bar coding and RFID technologies are proving especially useful in public safety settings. Easy-to-generate bar codes identify individual items, and RFID tags provide locational tracking information as well as identification. Coupled with space-saving high-density mobile shelving for property, and secure transfer and storage lockers for evidence, these automated inventory systems maintain a clear chain of custody and keep the storage footprint manageable.
Written policies and procedures are also an important part of a well-run evidence and property rooms. Marks’ interview subjects emphasized that managing property and evidence isn’t for everyone. People with a warehouse inventory background or military quartermaster experience tend to excel in the management of police evidence and property rooms.
Good management of property and evidence storage plays a vital role in law and order. With the right combination of personnel and technology, this undervalued sector of public safety can be a big contributor to the criminal justice system.
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