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DOA: destruction of almost anything.


THE SHREDDER MARKET HAS grown by leaps and bounds. What began almost reluctantly in the 1960s took off in the 1970s (with the Privacy Act of 1974, the Freedom of Information Act, Watergate, the emergence of vast amounts of computer printouts, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ruling on incineration, and the Iranian takeover of the US Embassy there) and has exploded in the 1980s (with the Oliver North/Iran-Contra affair, John Walker selling US naval secrets to the Soviet Union, Clyde Conrad leaking critical NATO information to the Soviets, and the shredder's recognition by several sources as "The Machine of the Year" in 1987).

Today, shredders come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and price ranges -- from low-end, minimal-security strip cuts to high-end, high-security crosscuts. Shredders are also being used by a wider range of organizations than ever before, including DoD contractors, commercial banks, high-tech companies, Fortune 500 companies, aerospace companies, chemical companies, major state agencies, and federal agencies.

What are all these users scurrying around to destroy? They are disposing of classified documents, sensitive business data, company trade secret documents, customer account and payroll information, other internal data that should not be seen by every employee, company proprietary material that absolutely cannot be leaked into competitors' hands, and anything else that could prove valuable for espionage purposes.

Now that shredders have so many users and uses, the shredder industry has become big business. Leonard Rosen, president and cofounder of Security Engineered Machinery (SEM), a supplier of data destruction equipment, encourages potential buyers to exercise a measure of caution before purchasing. "While it's true that not all shredders are alike, and there's definitely a host of rugged machines available, shredders still don't last forever," says Rosen. "With all the vendors out there, pricing is quickly replacing quality, and shredders are becoming consumable items. To protect themselves, users need to research a company's background and performance record thoroughly, question its sales force, look closely at the products and services it offers, and purchase a shredder based on what the company provides as a whole, rather than on just one element, pricing."

In the rush to make a quick sale, some vendors sell customers equipment they really have no use for -- pushing the right price rather than the features or machine the customer needs. According to Rosen, users should look for a company that will sell them the type of equipment they really need, rather than what the company happens to have in abundance in stock that week. For example, if a user wants a disintegrator but really needs only a crosscut shredder to handle his or her specific data destruction requirements, the vendor should tell him or her so. Conversely, the company should recommend that the user purchase a heavy-duty, high-security disintegrator rather than a shredder if he or she has odd-sized items to destroy or a huge volume of material to tackle.

TO APPRECIATE THE range of data destruction equipment available today, one must look at how the shredder industry evolved. In the 1960s and early 1970s, while shredding was prevalent in Europe, few people were shredding in the United States -- they were incinerating instead. When shredding finally did catch on domestically, strip-cut shredders (which produce thin, spaghetti-like strips 1/4-in. wide) were the rule. Even as recently as five years ago, strip-cut shredders were more popular than their particle-cut and crosscut counterparts.

Today, though strip-cut models are still available, the trend is toward particle-cut and crosscut machines. Both types of shredders reduce data to small particles rather than thin strips. Both offer a more compact form of end waste than strip shredders, thereby saving space and easing waste handling. And, perhaps most importantly, both types of shredders provide increased security.

The popularity of particle-cut and crosscut machines is due in part to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. At that time, it was acceptable for the US government to use 1/32-in. strip shredders to destroy classified documents. After the embassy was seized by Iranian militants and many top secret documents (which were shredded by strip-cut shredders) were pieced back together, a new mandate was handed down. All government classified data was to be destroyed via high-security means -- that is, with a crosscut shredder or a disintegrator.

The fact that Colonel Oliver North and Fawn Hall used a crosscut shredder to handle their recent document destruction needs has also helped bring this category of machine into the spotlight. In addition, the use of particle-cut and crosscut shredders and disintegrators has spilled over into the commercial marketplace. It is now the norm, not the exception, to see security officers and facilities or operations managers using such machines daily.

"In all areas of the commercial marketplace, we are seeing the movement toward particle-cut and crosscut shredders, as well as disintegrators," explains Richard Ross, SEM's treasurer and cofounder. "This is especially true in the defense contractor arena where strict EPA clean-air regulations have caused users to turn from incineration to crosscut shredders for their low-volume needs and to disintegrators for their centralized destruction requirements."

NO MATTER WHAT A USER'S SPEcific data destruction requirements or budget constraints may be, suitable equipment is available. However, there is a direct correlation between the amount of money one spends and the level of security a machine provides.

Once a user has determined security requirements and price range, he or she can begin looking at the right category of data destruction equipment. Basically, strip-cut shredders are ideal for minimal-security office or personal use and carry a $1,200 average price tag.

Particle-cut shredders, which offer better security and smaller particle sizes, average $2,500 for machines that can destroy up to 12 sheets per feed. Crosscut shredders, which provide high security and are suitable for DoD classified data, cost about $4,500 for average machines accepting up to 12 sheets per feed. Disintegrators, which offer the highest level of security and miniature confetti particles as end waste, are typically more expensive -- anywhere from $5,800 to $200,000 for a complete system.

Disintegrators are vastly different from shredders. Rather than relying on a cutting head, a disintegrator uses a scissor-like action to destroy data. As rotor knives turn, they bypass stationary bed knives. The action is quick and is repeated until the material reaches the appropriate particle size to fall through a special security screen into the evacuation chamber, where it is efficiently removed. As a result, a rugged, industrially designed disintegrator can offer high security, provide irregular-shaped confetti that cannot be reconstructed, destroy odd-shaped items, easily handle documents several inches thick, and destroy a large volume of material on a continuous, daily basis.

Disintegrators have seen a recent increase in popularity because of the more sophisticated nature of the data that needs to be destroyed today. Fifteen years ago, users were only interested in destroying paper. Today, they are looking for data destruction equipment that can effectively handle material such as magnetic tape, microfiche, microfilm on reels, floppy disks, crumpled paper, printed circuit boards, unbursted computer printouts, and optical disks. Disintegrators have been designed from the beginning to destroy this type of data.

USERS NEED TO CONSIDER MANY factors before purchasing a shredder or disintegrator. As mentioned earlier, budget limitations and security levels are perhaps the two most important elements to review initially. Next, the user should figure out the size and scope of his or her data destruction application. Is paper the only material that needs to be destroyed, or are typewriter ribbons, microfilm, and printed circuit boards also on the list? Do thousands of pounds of data have to be destroyed per hour or just a few sheets of paper at a time? Will the machine be used by many people on a daily basis or only one individual sporadically? The answers to these and related questions will help the user determine not only whether he or she needs a shredder or disintegrator, but also what specific size and model would be most applicable.

Another critical factor is the future. Before purchasing, a user should take the amount of data currently being destroyed and double it. The reason? Companies commonly purchase shredders for today's requirements only to find, a few years down the road, that they have outgrown them.

Last but not least, a user needs to look at the vendor's big picture, which includes not only the products the company offers but also its related services. "Customers today are more savvy and discriminating," explains Dennis LaBounty, national sales manager for the commercial division of SEM. "They are aware of how devastating it would be if their sensitive material ended up in a competitor's hands. Because of this, they are placing more demands on a prospective vendor -- they want and expect more than just a machine. Vendors who fail to realize this, and continue to offer only hardware, are in trouble. To be successful, they also have to be able to solve problems -- to really listen to what the user wants and provide customer satisfaction."

TODAY'S DATA DESTRUCTION equipment has come a long way from its predecessors. In the past, users had a choice of only three or four models, all in gun-metal gray. They now can choose from a wide selection of machines in a variety of sizes, sheet capacities, security levels, and price ranges.

"If you're looking for a shredder today, it's definitely a buyer's market," claims Jack McIsaac, SEM's federal sales manager. "The primary reason is selection--there is a multitude of sizes and types to choose from. For example, SEM alone offers over 40 different kinds of shredders. Users will also find that today's shredders are cleaner and quieter and are available in a range of attractive colors to fit any office decor. In addition, they are more versatile in the types of material they can destroy. Users now have the luxury of placing various types of shredders in different departments to satisfy everyone's requirements."

Today's shredder designs reflect state-of-the-art technology. For example, some crosscut machines now feature 16-in.-wide feed throats making them ideal for the destruction of computer printouts and all levels of classified paper documents. In addition, many crosscut shredders feature sophisticated, electronic sensor controls such as open door, full-bag shutoff, and automatic start and stop (a feature that starts the machine automatically when material is placed at the feed opening). Other shredders can now easily tackle unclassified aperture card film, microfilm, and microfiche.

Among larger machines--those appropriate for centralized, large-volume destruction--automatic shredder/baler combinations have emerged. These high-capacity, all-in-one machines not only destroy a variety of confidential documents but also automatically bale the end waste.

In addition, today's disintegrator buyer has a greater selection of models than ever before. Some disintegrators on the market are primarily for micrographics destruction. Others feature 15-in.-wide feed openings, making them ideal for medium-volume computer printout applications. Still others destroy optical disks, while some successfully transform obsolete hypodermic needles and syringes into miniature particles. Large-capacity (up to 6,000 lb. per hour), heavy-duty, and high-security disintegrators are also becoming standard fare.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD for data destruction equipment? Users can look for more powerful particle-cut shredders--ones that can handle more sheets per feed. Users can also expect to see shredders that render data unreadable while simultaneously producing a recyclable end waste. Many states have already passed legislation making it mandatory for companies to recycle a percentage of their shredded material. This is due to lack of space, as many sanitary landfills are past their capacity levels.

The future points mainly toward disintegrators because users are quickly realizing the limitations of some shredders. Though proper and frequent preventive maintenance can extend a shredder's longevity, users can expect an average of only five to 10 years from their machines. Disintegrators, on the other hand, have a more successful track record.

Although users have to pay more for a disintegrator than for a shredder, they are getting what they pay for. Many disintegrators used daily for more than 20 years are still working. A working shredder that old would be hard to find.

The move to disintegrators also reflects a natural progression of technology. A few years ago, users who weren't shredding decided to purchase strip shredders. They then moved to particle-cut and crosscut machines. From there, they have been steadily moving up to disintegrators.

With disintegrators' popularity expected to accelerate in the years ahead, users can expect tomorrow's disintegrators to replace incinerators and to be designed even more efficiently. More and more large companies are requesting complete data destruction systems that feature automatic feeding, load sensing, magnetic metal-removal, and baling and pneumatic conveying of end waste. Data destruction equipment vendors are working hard to keep up with changing data media and users' increasing destruction needs.
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:shredders and disintegrators
Author:Thompson, Susan
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1989
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