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Cutting risks down to size.


MOST COMPANIES KEEP CONFIDENTIAL FILES UNDER LOCK AND key - until it's time to dispose of them. Then, all too often, sensitive material goes in the wastebasket, and security goes out the window.

The risks of haphazard document disposal are more extensive and serious than they look at first glance. Information does not have to be top secret to be vulnerable. Virtually every business has plenty of paper that should not be seen by unauthorized eyes.

Think of what would happen if your competitor got hold of your sales forecasts, customer leads, or product development plans that had been tossed carelessly into the trash. This is a real concern in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that says trash may be considered public property.

Deliberate prying is not the only danger. Trash bins are far from secure, and wastepaper sometimes surfaces when and where you least expect it. In two recent real-life examples, a manager at a lighting company found claim reports blowing all over the parking lot, while a bank executive found detailed customer account information - including names, account numbers, and balances - lying alongside the trash bins.

Security risks are also right inside your organization. In many companies, any employee can pick up a blurred copy of a payroll report from the wastebasket next to the copier or leaf through confidential personnel files waiting to be carted away from the file room.

Such situations seriously compromise the security of your operation and the privacy of everyone in it. Realizing the risks of haphazard information disposal, many companies are stepping up their document destruction efforts. Most of these companies are opting for in-house paper shredding as the most effective - and cost-effective - way to plug potential security leaks.

This is a welcome change from years past when paper shredders conjured up notions of covert operations and industrial espionage. Shredders have traded their cloak-and-dagger mystique for white-collar respectability. Businesses of all types and sizes have come to realize that shredders play a vital role in providing security, privacy, and confidentiality.

That awareness stems partly from the publicity that shredders have received in recent years. Thrust into the spotlight during the Watergate era, shredders also figured prominently in the insider stock trading scandals and more recently in the Iran-contra incident.

Such coverage has made businesses acutely aware of the perils of security lapses and the role shredders can play in protecting businesses' privacy. The activity in the shredder business testifies to the growing demand for this kind of protection. Currently, approximately 450,000 shredders are installed in the United States. Annual sales are now approaching $100 million and are expected to rise to $125 million within the next few years.

SHREDDERS USE TWO BASIC TECHniques to destroy paper. Crosscut models - also known as particle-cut shredders - cut paper both lenghtwise and width-wise to create confetti-like particles. Straight-cut shredders cut paper lengthwise to produce long, spaghetti-like strips.

Each type has its own advantages. Crosscut shredders offer tighter security since they shred a sheet of paper into thousands of tiny particles that are difficult - if not impossible - to reconstruct. The size of the particles ranges from as small as 1/32" X 7/16" to 1/8" X 7/8".

Shred size is critically important to certain government agencies such as the Department of Defense and National Security Agency as well as companies that do business with them. These agencies and their contractors must meet rigid specifications calling for shreds of 1/32" X 7/16".

Crosscut shredders offer another compelling advantage - bulk reduction. Minuscule crosscut particles are far more compact than straight-cut strips and pack more tightly. As a result, crosscut shredders can fit five to 10 times as much waste in a bag or bin as a straight-cut unit.

Numerous advantages exist to this seemingly minor benefit. You don't have to change the bag or empty the bin as often, which reduces your operator's involvement and hence the labor costs involved in shredding. You will also use significantly fewer trash bags, which can add up to an appreciable cost saving over time. Finally, you will have less trash volume to contend with, minimizing the amount of space needed for storage and disposal.

While crosscut models have the edge in several key areas, straight-cut shredders offer certain benefits of their own. These units generally accept more paper in a single pass and also process that paper more quickly since they cut it only once. Therefore, your employees spend less time feeding in material. That benefit adds up to higher productivity and lower labor costs.

Also, the increased bulk of straight-cut output can be an advantage for companies that recycle waste. If you recycle shredded paper as packing material, you can buy less packing material and reduce waste removal costs in one fell swoop.

Straight-cut models also tend to be less expensive than crosscut models - typically 5 to 10 percent less for comparable units. Given these factors, companies opt for straight-cut units where high security is not required, speed is paramount, packing material is needed, and economy is a concern.

BOTH CROSSCUT AND STRAIGHT-CUT shredders come in various sizes, ranging from diminutive desk-side models designed to handle a few sheets at a time to voracious centralized units that can literally consume telephone books in one bite. For example, a small unit may be able to shred only a ream of paper in the course of a day, while an industrial conveyor-fed shredder may be able to shred documents and bale waste in bundles to be carted away.

Personal shredders, popularly termed executive wastebaskets, fall at the low end of the shredder spectrum. These units may be desktop or desk-side models. Some such shredders have a self-contained trash receptacle, while others fit over a standard wastebasket. Both types of units provide on-the-spot security for executive offices or conference rooms. This arrangement allows information to be destroyed without leaving the area, thus eliminating security risks that arise en route to a central shredding location.

These small units can accept several letter-size sheets at once and are designed for light use. Most cost just a few hundred dollars, a price that makes them easily affordable for multiple placement.

General office shredders are a step up in size, capability, and price. Some have a frame that supports a trash bag. Others are console units with enclosed waste receptacles, which may be preferable in front-office areas. These midrange units are designed for moderate use by a number of people in a department or small office. They will generally accept six to 20 sheets per pass, and some have openings - or throats - large enough to accommodate computer printouts. You can expect to pay $1,900 to $2,900 for these models.

The largest office shredders are heavy-duty units constructed for demanding use in a centralized setting such as a computer room, mail room, or file room. These models will swallow several dozen sheets at a gulp, including continuous computer forms. Prices for these models can run from $2,500 to $3,800.

At the very high end of the spectrum are industrial bulk shredders, which have the stamina to run for hours and the ability to take several hundred sheets of paper or even ring binders in a single pass. Prices at this level may run anywhere from $9,000 to $20,000. Some high-volume shredders have automatic feeders for continuous form paper, while others have balers that will compact waste into cubes and even bag it for easy handling.

Shredders can consume more than paper, which is typically their regular diet. Some will accept ring binders, clips, and boxes, thus eliminating the need to sort material. This feature can be a real time saver in bulk shredding. Even some smaller units can shred more than paper, chomping up computer diskettes or printer ribbons - cartridge and all.

Why shred such esoteric items? For a very sound reason - they can infringe on your privacy and even compromise security. When you erase a file from a diskette, the data often remains on the diskette even though the name vanishes from the directory. It is possible for a computer whiz to retrieve that file. Ribbons, too, can be unraveled and read by someone with a keen eye. Shredding obliterates both the data and the potential that it can fall into the wrong hands.

Most shredders boast an array of features to make the document destruction process more efficient and convenient. Many features and functions have been automated, such as the on-and-off switch. With this feature, the user can simply feed in a piece of paper and walk away without turning the unit on, waiting for the item to be shredded, or turning the unit off.

Other features include automatic reverse, which will unclog a jam. Some shredders will also give a momentary surge of power to make short work of a troublesome mouthful. Bag-full sensors will shut the unit off when the waste receptacle is full so that shredded materials will not fall on the floor or clog the inner mechanisms of the equipment. For safety's sake, many shredders will automatically shut off when the door is opened.

FACED WITH THIS DIVERSITY OF products, how do you make a wise choice? Common sense and a careful review of your needs and priorities can help you single out the shredding solution that's right for you. Here is a checklist that can help you cut the challenge down to size.

* What degree of security do you require? If you are dealing with highly confidential material or doing business with the government, a crosscut shredder that produces shreds of 1/32" X 7/16" will provide maximum security. Crosscuts creating larger particles afford adequate security for all but the most sensitive material. Straight-cut shredders are a step down the security ladder. They are equal to the task when moderate security or privacy is your goal.

* How much material will you be shredding? Try to estimate how much paper a shredder will be required to handle - a few sheets a day, several wastebaskets' worth, or carton after carton. Be generous in your estimate and add on at least 50 percent to your best guess.

Why? At first, most companies have a backlog of material that requires shredding. As they grow accustomed to shredding, their needs almost always expand far beyond their initial estimates. If you underestimate your volume, you will overload your shredder, and it will not work efficiently. Use the manufacturer's recommendations on usage as a top limit. Do not push the shredder to the maximum on a nonstop basis or performance could suffer.

* What kind of material will you be destroying? If you will be shredding bulky items such as computer printouts, be sure to select a shredder that has a throat large enough to accept them without folding the paper over. A throat of 16 inches is generally large enough for that task. If most or all of your documents consist of letter-size sheets, an 8 5/8-inch throat is sufficient. If you will be feeding batches that contain paper clips, staples, cardboard boxes, ribbons, diskettes, or other items, be sure you get a model with a cutting head designed to shred such materials.

* How many people will be using each shredder? If a shredder will be used by only one person, a small unit should suffice. If it will be shared by a number of users or a whole department of users, it's likely to have far more usage, so select a sturdier unit with a more powerful motor.

A model that will be placed in a central location such as the mail room typically receives the most use. Therefore, be sure to pick a model constructed for high-volume applications, preferably with a continuous-duty motor that can run for hours without overheating.

* Is a centralized shredder right for you, or are satellite units preferable? Some companies opt for a large central shredder rather than multiple units. Satellite units, however, do have advantages. They provide on-the-spot security, so executives and the confidential material to be destroyed don't have to travel to another department. This enhances security and saves time. Some companies opt for a mix of both. They send big jobs to a large unit in a central location and supplement that with small units to handle minor jobs throughout the company.

As with any product your business depends on, be selective about the source for your product. Deal with a professional who can help you analyze your needs and select the right shredding solution. Even though shredders tend to require minimal maintenance, be sure to check the company's warranty and service policies. By following these pointers, you should be able to zero in on shredders that will tighten your security and cut your document-disposal problem down to size.

About the Author . . . Michael J. Falco, Jr., is president and founder of Shredex Inc., in Bohemia, NY.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:using paper shredders to dispose of sensitive documents
Author:Falco, Michael J., Jr.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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