Hospital Medical Records Burn in New York Document Storage Warehouse Fire

On January 31st, 2015 a 7 alarm fire destroyed the CitiStorage document-storage warehouse located on North 11th Street by the East River in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. This resulted in millions of paper records burning inside of the CitiStorage warehouse or being flushed into the street by firefighters trying to control the blaze. Needless to say, the place was turned into a slippery mess and those sensitive records where all over the place. To make matters worse, people have been sharing on social media burned pieces of medical records littering the area around the warehouse and the neighboring streets.

In general, you would assume a fire would completely destroy the medical records, and there would be nothing left except piles of ashes. This presumption would probably be right should the fire have been left run its course. Anyway, fires are dangerous and the amount of smoke and embers they release are a danger to the surrounding people and buildings. Under almost all circumstances, you must assume that the local Fire Department will extinguish the blaze, and any fire at a document storage facility may result in the same consequences.

According to this article, Documents found on the street carried the letterheads and logos of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Harlem Hospital Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Long Island Jewish Health System and others. Obviously, this is a huge problem and this fire highlights the dangers associated with the storage of paper records. HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules for disposal of medical records require covered entities to shred, burn, pulp, or pulverize protected health information. The destroyed documents must be unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed.

Recent Fires at Document Storage Facilities

In fact, fires at document storage facilities are not as rare as one would imagine. Cardboard boxes filled with paper records are literally combustible fuel which may be set-off for any number of causes including arson, negligence, electrical fires or smoking cigarettes,. In NYC 25% of fires of unknown origin are blamed on rats chewing through electrical wires. In the past 17 years, there have been a half dozen fires at Iron Mountain storage facilities more information. Further, in May 1997 a fire at a Pennsylvania facility owned by Diversified Records Services Inc. for reference resulted in the destruction of 156,000 boxes of First Union Corp. and 68,000 boxes of Mobil documents. In New Jersey the worst document storage fire which comes to mind is the March 1997 Iron Mountain Fire. The fire broke out in two different warehouses which contained a combined 1.25 million boxes of documents.

As you can see, the storage of paper documents is hazardous and can pose a serious problem should the warehouse catch on fire. There is a better way which is to scan and shred the documents instead of storing them. However, some organizations are worried about the costs of scanning document versus document storage. Should you use switch to scanning your paperwork or continue storing it? Read more about Document Scanning versus Document Storage Costs.