Security Shredding and Storage - a shredding industry publication

Export Regulations Classified Document Destruction Not Your Typical Shredding Job

By P.J. Heller
For document destruction companies, there’s shredding and then there’s “shredding.” In the former case, on-site and offsite document destruction services cater to individuals and businesses, providing them with a fast, easy and efficient way to dispose of paperwork that may contain sensitive and confidential information.

In the latter case, companies such as South Bay Document Destruction take shredding services even further, meeting Department of Defense guidelines for the destruction of classified documents.

South Bay, located in Gardena, Calif., about 10 miles from Los Angeles, is one of a small number of document destruction companies geared to handle shredding of classified documents from government/military facilities and government contractors, such as those in the defense or aerospace industries. “We handle the classified portion of document destruction, which is very different from your regular on-site or off-site shredding,” notes South Bay account manager Ruth Mendez.

South Bay also offers more traditional shredding services as well as records management, records storage and document scanning. “We specialize in setting up confidential destruction services designed to fit the needs of residential, commercial, government and medical clientele,” Mendez says.

Originally started as a recycling company handling paper, cardboard, newspapers, cans and other waste, it moved into the shredding field when it had the opportunity to purchase a shredder designed for classified documents from another business. It also inherited some of the customers from that business.

Today, South Bay is one of just a handful of companies offering classified document destruction services in California, according to Mendez. “When it comes to classified document destruction, it’s an expensive service, not everybody does it and the equipment is very expensive,” she says.

What sets South Bay apart from its competitors, she contends, is equipment. “Ours is very customized special equipment that shreds 2,500 pounds an hour,” she says, noting that rival firms can only shred 600 pounds an hour. The South Bay equipment shreds documents into pieces 3/16 of an inch, which Mendez describes as “really just dust.”

Inclusion on the NSA list means the equipment meets the government’s performance requirement for high security disintegrators; the list is not an endorsement, nor does it offer any links to document destruction companies that are utilizing the equipment.

For Mendez, networking with security personnel at defense contractors — shredding often falls under their list of responsibilities — is one way to get the word out about the services offered by South Bay.

Word of mouth among security officers in those plants also leads to work for the company. The South Bay website notes that the company “was founded on Department of Defense classified document destruction.” South Bay serves the Southern California area, stretching as far south as San Diego and to Lancaster in the Antelope Valley of the western Mojave Desert as well as into San Bernardino County. The majority of its customers with classified documents are government contractors; in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties alone, there are more than 13,000 defense contractors, according to the website

Two trucks are utilized in the classified document destruction process, one with the shredder portion and the other for the transfer of the material. The two trucks need to work together to perform the job, Mendez explains.

“You almost have to see the equipment to understand it,” she says. “Even the government contractors we work with, we usually do a demo for them so they can understand how the system works.”

Because South Bay is not a “cleared” facility, work has to be performed at the customer’s site, where the classified documents are carefully monitored by as many as three observers from the customer’s facility.

“They’re always there,” Mendez says. “They don’t ever leave us alone with the documentation. They have very strict rules about what can or can’t leave the premises and how it needs to be protected.” South Bay service reps make sure there are no metal clips on the documents other than paperclips — “anything else is a disaster waiting to happen” due to the possibility of sparking a fire, Mendez says — then the documents are loaded onto the input machine. The service reps never get a view of the actual documents, she adds.

“Once we shred it and we’re done with it, it’s dust and ultimately more like mulch, which is why we have a sprinkler system in our equipment,” she notes.

The reason for the sprinkler system is because “when you’re shredding to that size, you can very quickly spark a fire,“ she explains. “The sprinkler system keeps everything kind of damp to avoid a fire.”

Because the resulting material is pulverized, it usually has little to no recycling value. In some cases, when there is only a small amount of pulverized material, it may be mixed in with regular paper shredding. For larger quantities, it is disposed of in the landfill. Customers could arrange to have the documents burned in an incinerator, but Mendez notes that entails more work for them, including having to transport the material to the burn site.

“They (incinerator operators) are not catering to them most of the time,” she says. “They’re basically like a trash company.”

Defense contractor and military/government installations could do their own document destruction — at least one aerospace company that Mendez knows of has its own classified document shredder — but she says it makes more sense to outsource that job.

“It depends on the facility, but I’ve always said that if you’re an aerospace company, you’re not in the shredding business so why should you be shredding,” she says. “Sometimes it really is a lot cheaper to outsource it than to do it inhouse, especially when it comes to a shredder that’s going to shred to a classified specification. That equipment is expensive, not to mention that they’re having to pay people to run it and they’re not in the shredding industry. I just don’t see how it’s more cost-effective than outsourcing it to a company that’s set up to do just that. “That’s what we do,” she adds. “As far as equipment, we’re much more knowledgeable than an aerospace company or military office would be when it comes to the equipment we’re working with.”

Mendez also questions whether classified document destruction is a viable option for other shredding companies looking to expand their services. One reason is that the equipment needed to handle those jobs may sit idle for some time before a job comes along.

“It’s not like shredding for a law firm or an accounting firm,” she says. “It’s not the same thing. It’s two different things. It’s handled entirely differently. The security portion of it, even dealing with the people you’re going to be shredding for, everything is very specific. I just don’t think it makes sense. We started that way, but had we started with regular shredding, we probably would not be shredding classified documents.”

One of the issues faced by companies handling classified document destruction is meeting specific government specifications.

In July, two of the nation’s largest shredding companies — Iron Mountain and Shred-It — agreed to pay a total of $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that they defrauded the U.S. government by failing to shred sensitive documents as required by their federal contracts. A third defendant, Cintas Corp., a multibillion company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, still contests allegations that it defrauded the federal government by failing to properly shred sensitive documents.

The settlement by Iron Mountain and Shred-It comes after a multi-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. That investigation was triggered by a lawsuit filed by Douglas Knisely, owner of a family-operated document-shredding business in rural central Pennsylvania.

Knisely alleged that Iron Mountain, Shred-It and Cintas failed to shred sensitive government documents as required by their contracts with the General Services Administration. The contracts called for the firms to shred highly sensitive documents for federal government agencies, including the departments of defense, homeland security, justice; treasury, veteran affairs and the Social Security Administration. Mendez says one of her goals for the New Year is to become a “cleared” facility, allowing it and its employees to handle documents in-house.

“It would make life easier for them [customers] and us,” she says. “Anybody would be able to bring in documents to our facility because we would be a cleared facility. Even our employees handling the documents would not be an issue at all; versus right now some of the companies do have an issue with our service reps touching a document because they might be able to see something.

“They’re handling the documents for maybe 10 seconds, even less,” she adds. “So it’s hard to see anything that would be of value to us if we had any interest in getting that information. Still, according to the companies, it’s part of the rules they have to follow. People handling documents have to be cleared and the facility has to be cleared.”

If South Bay was cleared, “I think there would be much more opportunity for us to grow . . . We could say, ‘Look, we’re a cleared facility.’ That makes a big difference to all the government contractors. They have entire departments just dedicated to maintaining the clearance of their facility.”

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