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What do you do when a customer calls with wet paper?

By Bob Johnson, NAID CEO

Last week, NAID issued a press release offering advice to organizations that may have been left with wet paper records after Hurricane Sandy. The main purpose of the release was to provide advice on the legalities of discarding damaged records that were still within their retention period. The release provided a link to another NAID article describing the steps required to document that the records had been destroyed by an act of God, unrecoverable and then subsequently destroyed. Also, the release included a link to another NAID article on the hazards of mold that could develop in damp records.

The articles included in the press release referred readers to NAID members to assist in the secure disposal of any wet records. Quite understandably, we heard from a few NAID members who saw the release and reminded us that it is not possible to shred wet records.

For the record, members should not try to shred wet records. But, I do believe that when a customer or prospect comes to you with this problem, you can provide solutions and make a respectable profit doing so. I also believe that in unusual situations, providing unusual solutions can result in good margins, new customers, and stronger customer loyalty.

Since a blog is not well suited for a detailed exploration of all the possible scenarios that could lead to soaked records, let’s take an extreme case: a basement full of stored paper records is filled with floodwater. Since we are dealing with an extreme situation, let’s say the water includes sewer backwash, in other words, it’s a health issue too. So, we’re not just talking about a potential data protection issue; it could be a hazardous waste issue too.

With all that said, I still say the secure destruction professional could take on this project for a customer who is willing to pay. They came to you because they have records to discard and they want an expert in records disposal to help them. Anyone who says, “Sorry, not interested. We don’t shred wet records.” is actually saying, “We’re not actually an expert records disposal company. We’re a just a company that owns a shredder.”

That being said, you would have to approach this situation correctly.

  1. You survey the situation and determine how you are going to help them.
  2. They receive your letter, confirming that not only do they have wet records that are likely to have data protection requirements, they also likely have a biohazard issue. Unless, the records are disposed of properly, they have a substantial risk.
  3. You propose to have a licensed hazard waste removal company remove the materials and oversee a disposal solution that will provide a reasonable level of data security given the unusual circumstances.
  4. You could also provide them with legal documentation to establish records that were still within their retention period, which will also allow them to recover the fees from their insurance company.
  5. The estimated cost of the service would be $___________.

You provided a compelling reason for them to enlist your expertise and you reminded them their insurance may pay for it. You quoted a price that is enough to make it worth all the extra work. If they say no, what have you lost? You’ve offered a solution. You may have outsourced the whole project, but you were there with your expertise and integrity to make sure it was done as well as possible.

Where is the paper going to go? It could go to an incinerator, a paper mill, or even to the landfill, if necessary. Remember, regulations require a reasonable solution. If it cannot be shredded, the circumstances allow for the best practical options available in light of the extreme situation. Outrageous circumstances are taken into consideration. No court is going to rule any differently. By the way, if the paper is soaked, it will be nothing but mush by the time it is buried at the landfill anyway.

Again, the exact circumstances could vary wildly. Let’s go to a less extreme situation. They could have 50 boxes soaked by a plumbing leak (clean water). In this case, you could bring them to a secure plant and mix a little bit of wet paper with a higher proportion of dry paper when you shred it. Or, you let it dry for two months, and then shred it.

The question is: Are you a secure data disposal company willing to help clients with their data destruction problems even when they are extreme, or are you a person that owns a shredder?

If a customer is willing to let you make good money, why not provide a solution?