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Iron Mountain's Underground -- Past, Present, and Future

If your enterprise (either private or public) really needs to make sure that physical documents, objects and electronic information are safely preserved and protected economically for as long as you wanted (even thousands of years), where would you put it? You may know of a better place, but my choice would be the Underground, Iron Mountain's facility in western Pennsylvania.

Recently, Iron Mountain took a group of industry analysts (including me) along with some of its executives on a guided tour of this facility. The Underground, as Iron Mountain calls it, is a retired limestone mine that has been converted to storage needs. The facility varies throughout from approximately 180 to 220 feet below the surface. Currently, about 130 acres are used, but there is plenty of room for expansion as Iron Mountain owns about 1000 acres. The Underground has a number of features that make it attractive for safe storage. There is a layer of shale on top that prevents the moisture that plagues most limestone mines. The limestone walls were dry to my touch and the ambient temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees F.

The facility is located in an earthquake-free zone and is far enough below ground that surface-related events, such as tornados or floods, do not affect it. Moreover, the Underground is not subject to problems that plague other types of mines, such as explosive gas buildups in coal mines or cave-ins in copper mines. To enhance those natural advantages, Iron Mountain can "tune" the facility to cater to specific environmental requirements, including temperature range and relative humidity control.

Iron Mountain has turned the facilities into a self-sufficient underground city, including a full-backup power system that can last for up to seven days, an EPA-certified water treatment plant there is an underground lake, an OSHA certified fire company, numerous security levels as appropriate to protect customers and their property, and a 24X7 service operation.

Standard physical records are stored in the Underground, but the company's signature physical storage client is the Corbis Corporation, a private organization owned by Bill Gates, whose assets include the Bettmann Archive of millions of historical photographs. Prints and negatives are stored in a room where the temperature is maintained at a consistent 45 degrees F and 35 percent humidity. That is expected to extend the life of the objects stored there to 2000 years. Plans are in place to extend their lifetime indefinitely by putting the objects in really cold subzero temperatures storage.

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