Utah county makes records safer

The Salt Lake County, Utah, Recorder’s Office has established a state-of-the-art disaster recovery program that will allow officials to securely access via the Internet 13 million public records stored in a redundant system at an offsite facility.

Although a natural disaster in Salt Lake County seems unlikely, the municipality lies along an earthquake fault, said Gary Ott, the county’s recorder.

“With that, we were able to identify what would happen here if a disaster happens,” he said. “You wouldn’t think it’s that important for a recorder’s office to be up and operating. But the more a government is actually working, the more calming an effect it has.”

Ott, who has led the office for six years, said document preservation has been a high priority, and the office has made significant investments. Three years ago, it began digitizing records, which allowed residents to conduct Web searches. The office stores deeds, titles and other property-related information, among other vital documents.

The offsite or co-location site, which is geographically close enough to access but far enough away from the disaster zone, cost about $140,000 to establish, he said. The secure facility with redundant computer servers is privately owned and has 24-hour staff and generators to protect against power outages, hackers and other hazards.

Ott is talking with colleagues from other county agencies who might want to follow suit.

The co-location site is essentially a mirror image of the county recorder’s office because of software developed by Utah-based Alphacorp, a document management company that has had business with the county for nearly a decade, he said.

Kris Painter, vice president of engineering at Alphacorp, said the company’s Store, Index, Retrieve and Enable software can automatically and simultaneously duplicate records scanned into the document management system. Ott’s office backs up data once a day but is considering moving toward the real-time system.

Painter said the office wants to not only copy and store data but also integrate business continuation and workflow management processes so county employees could resume business functions almost immediately after a disaster. Salt Lake County, which launched the system in the fall, is one of the first municipalities operating this way, he said.

“We’ve seen is a lot of municipalities making backups and storing data on tape,” Painter said. “If a disaster occurs, then they will have downtime in retrieving that data.”

Ott said the office previously had tape backups of data. But if disaster had struck, it would have taken time to access the 2 terabytes of stored data. Now he can go online and operate as an office from anywhere.

Ott said the prevalent attitude among many municipal officials is that disasters won’t happen to them. He said they cite high costs as a reason for not establishing a disaster recovery program. But that’s a false factor, he said. It would cost a municipality more if a disaster strikes and destroys their records, he said.

“We’ve been having disaster recovery speeches for as long as I can remember,” Ott said. “Until it happens, you’re not prone to act on it.”

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