Storage facilities are expensive in the long run, and they burn down more often than you think.
• February 2, 2015 a Brooklyn based storage facility burned to the ground. 140 local hospitals stored their records at Citistorage as well as the New York state court system. Many law firms stored documents in the building, as did the City Children’s Services Administration. A disaster relief firm was hired to collect stray records which flew across North Brooklyn.
• June 23, 2010 a file storage facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico burned for an entire day destroying 90% of the contents of the building. The fire smoldered off and on until July 3, when it reignited and burned for another full day. Firefighters had to soak all remaining contents to prevent the fire from sparking again. "Of the 200 customers, 170 storing records at the facility were UNM Hospitals related. Many were patient records created before 2005 and all were completely destroyed.
• October 26, 1996 An accidental fire heavily damaged the Brambles Information Management Center in Chicago—220,000 boxes of archival and vital records were destroyed
• March 7th, March 17th, and March 19th 1997 three disastrous fires at the Iron Mountain Record Centers in South Brunswick NJ were started by an arsonist. 200 companies affected, and nearly 1 million boxes of paper records destroyed.
• May 6, 1997- fire destroys the Diversified Records Services Center near Scranton, PA.(ruled 'suspicious' due to other similar fires at similar locations in the area) - Paper documents and microfilm stacked 45 feet high from floor to ceiling inside a steel building the size of a football field, burned to the ground.
• In July 1973, a disastrous fire broke out at the National Personnel Records Center's (NPRC) military records building in Overland, MO. The fire destroyed the building's sixth floor and took firefighters four and half days and millions of gallons of water to fully extinguish. Documents not burned by the fire were soaked by water used in the fire suppression. In the aftermath, most of the water-damaged records underwent an experimental vacuum-drying process. As this (very expensive) method had never been implemented in a record's disaster recovery, many of the records were over-dried, resulting in a higher rate of brittle paper. In terms of loss to the cultural heritage of our nation, the fire was an unparalleled disaster, destroying approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF).
These facilities were all billed as “state of the art”. Unfortunately that usually means cardboard boxes in an open warehouse with a sprinkler system. The sprinkler system is the total protection of the records.
Most storage facility companies will include language in their standard rental agreement, which you would have likely signed, absolving the company of liability for damage caused by fires, floods, or “acts of God” (such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like).
Practically speaking, this means that it would be nearly impossible for you to sue the storage company for the monetary value of the items you lose. An exception to this might be if you could somehow prove that the company itself caused the unsafe condition, perhaps through grossly negligent electrical work, maintenance, or construction. However, this would be difficult to establish, and the lawsuit might end up costing more than the value of your belongings. More importantly, did you happen to need that information you stored?
On September 11, 2001, the immense amount of vital records that were incinerated and blowing around the streets immediately after the attack served as a wake- up call. Companies that were totally unaffected (in a business, not personal, sense) by the terrorist attacks were shaken from their false sense of security about the need to evaluate and or implement a vital records program. It doesn't have to be a terrorist attack; it can be a simple case of a disgruntled destructive employee, a fire, flood or other natural disaster.
Kathryn Smith, CDIA+ has been providing document and information management resources since 1990. She is the founder and owner of Advanced Imaging Solutions, Inc.