A Wake-Up Call To Protect Documents

August 31, 2011 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

Those of us on the East Coast have a serious beef with Mother Nature right now after experiencing an earthquake, hurricane and severe flooding — all within one week! Still, there are lessons to be learned here. It’s times like these that grantees should be reminded about keeping their documents safe.

Entities and organizations have lost crucial documents in natural disasters such as fires and floods (not to mention the 9/11 terrorist attacks). To find out more about how to prepare for such disasters, I got in touch with two members of the Thompson editorial advisory board for grants publications – Richard Solloway, president of Solloway and Associates, and David Cassidy, vice president of Turner Consulting Group — for their advice.

Solloway said that grantees should consider how often to run backups of their electronic documents and to keep their paper documents safe from fire and water. Keeping these documents safe is “crucial” because auditors will want to review source documentation when performing their single audits. He said entities can store documents in fireproof safes, or rely on companies that specialize in safeguarding documents. Some organizations scan their documents regularly onto CDs and mail the CDs to various places for backup. Others back up their electronic files on a weekly basis.

“You have to set up standard elements as a precaution; not to do anything and sit passively is just not going to work,” Solloway said. “You need adequate backup. You have to do something; you’d be negligent not to.”

Purchasing backup systems and scanning all your documents may mean a huge investment of time and money, but knowing the documents are secure is a major benefit, Solloway said. Grantees must determine how to best invest their money. They may want to ask their awarding agency if such costs can be charged to the grant. “The bigger your program, the more critical this becomes,” he added. “Financial records need to be backed up regularly.”

Turner agreed with the importance of having redundancy in storing records, whether they are paper or electronic documents, with at least one copy stored off-site in a secure location. For example, if a client has tons of paper files and records on particular computers, his firm would recommend:
  • scanning the paper documents into an electronic format;
  • ensuring that every machine with essential records is backed up locally (with a hard drive local to the machine);
  • ensuring that every machine with essential records is backed up remotely (e.g., using Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan or something similar);
  • creating images of computer hard drives that are stored on removable storage media and deposited in a fire-safe safe, safe deposit box, or something similar; and 
  • ensuring that there is an index somewhere of the records and their locations, and that this is also backed up somewhere.

I also thought the following video also has some good advice. Although it’s directed at private companies, grantee entities and organizations can learn a thing or two from it. The key quote is, “Develop a plan before something happens.”

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What do you do to keep your records safe? How can grantees pay for these systems to make them cost-effective? Any other advice you can offer for other grantees. We’d like to hear it.

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