Big Trouble in the Big Easy

Hurricane Katrina was the storm of the century down in the Ninth Ward, but in downtown New Orleans, a different kind of storm is brewing. Just in time for the February 24th Mardi Gras celebration, the party in City Hall has come to an abrupt halt, and the Krewe of Nagin has brought Trouble to River City. 

The city’s records retention policy and state public records law requires that all email and public records must be preserved. In fact, under the "enforcement" section of the Nagin administration's recommendations for preserving e-mail, the city's technology office suggested that "any employee found to have violated this policy might be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment." Moreover, violations of the state law requiring the emails to be kept for three years is punishable by as long as five years in prison and fines up to $5,000.

Can you say “Uh-oh?” On February 19, 2009, Frank Donze reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/email_deletions_violate_nagins.html, that the Mayor’s office has disregarded its own policy, by deleting six months of the Mayor’s own emails, totaling over 1,500. The Nagin administration's only comment came from the city attorney, Penya Moses-Fields, who blamed the destruction of e-mail on "server storage and capacity problems, which have temporarily limited the city's capabilities to retain employee e-mails for any extended period of time."

Huh? Can’t Mayor Nagin or someone on his staff simply purchase a flash drive? A former city official, Tommy Milliner, compared the Nagin administration's assertion that lack of space is the reason for the deletions to saying, "you have files and then you leave them out in the rain because you think you can't afford a storage room to put them in." Milliner wasn’t the only one scratching his head; local technology and legal professionals were also puzzled by the argument that limited storage space was the underlying issue.

"Lack of storage is an easily solvable problem," said Stephen Segari, a senior developer at Carrollton Technology Partners, a New Orleans technology firm. "It's not an issue of money or time. If you say you don't have space, it's an excuse, not a reason." He also said that for approximately $100, he could install a 1-terabyte hard drive that is capable of storing more than 107 million typical e-mail messages. Similarly, Loyola professor Dane Ciolino said, "This mayor has often touted his administration as being very tech-savvy…and yet, what has happened in this case is inexcusable. The basic, fundamental thing you do is to make sure your data is secure and backed up."

The moral of the story is that data storage is cheap and easy. Make sure that your storage solution is adequate for all corporate records, including email.  Otherwise, you could face a Katrina sized flood of trouble when your records are examined more closely than a strand of mardi gras beads on Bourbon Street.