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January 22, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Data archiving options: Archival-grade optical disks and a really hard drive

Law enforcement used to be mainly a paper-based activity with regard to documentation, but we’re all moving increasingly to digital records.

Officers are taking reports and issuing citations with laptop or handheld computers, recording digital photos onto storage cards (and ultimately, hard drives), and both in-car and body-worn digital cameras produce gigabytes of video files that have to be maintained anywhere between 30 days and forever, depending on your local policies.

A typical digital still photo is around 2.4 megabytes (MB). Four hours of video can take up 2 gigabytes (GB) or more (1024 MB = 1 GB). It’s not long before you’re not concerned with GB, but rather terabytes (TB — 1024 GB =1 TB. If you care, the next level is the petabyte — PB).

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The size of document files seems trivial when compared to these space hogs. What do you do with all this data?

Larger agencies can piggyback their archiving burden with the larger government that sponsors them, but small departments often don’t have that option. They need an inexpensive and accessible solution that isn’t technically overwhelming. There are two recently-released products that can help with these problems.

JVC archival grade optical disks
Smaller outfits may be able to manage their archives using either DVD or Blu-Ray optical disks. A standard DVD will hold about 4.7 GB of data, while some more exotic flavors uses both sides and multiple layers to extend that to 17 GB.

The problem with the more esoteric media is that you may not be able to find equipment that will read them several years down the road. Think we’ll always have DVD drives? Yeah, people said that about floppy disks. Blu-Ray optical disks will hold 25 or 50 GB (single vs. double-layer), but using the double layer variety is an invitation to data corruption.

There is also the problem of optical disk degradation. The disks themselves are made of polycarbonate, which is pretty sturdy stuff. The data layer is a mixture of dye and metal foil, and will degrade with exposure to extreme heat, humidity, or in some cases, mold.

JVC offers “archival grade” DVD disks that are rated to last 30 years or more with proper care. The disks are more expensive than those you buy at the local big box, but they’re not intended for casual, day-to-day use. They use a special dedicated drive for writing to the disk that is designed to minimize errors. These optical disks may be a viable archiving solution for a small department.

ioSafe offers a more flexible and accessible solution with the line of waterproof/fireproof hard drives and enclosures. ioSafe external drives are big, heavy, and relatively expensive, starting at around $229 for 2 TB of storage and going to a bit over $2000 or more for an 8 TB Network Attached Storage (NAS) enclosure.

The drives inside the ioSafes are Seagate models you can get anywhere else. It’s the enclosures that make them special. They’re rated to withstand 1550° F for up to 30 minutes, and immersion in 10 feet of water for up to three days. If the day comes when you can’t read the data inside, they offer an included data recovery plan that will get you back your data forensically. The reports I’ve read indicate not many users have had to use that plan.

ioSafe drives come in USB 2.0 and 3.0 models and attach to your computer(s) like any other external hard drive. They’re designed to run 24/7, so you can leave them running and set up auto-backups to them on your department’s computers.

I’m speaking as a satisfied customer, as I’ve got two of them running on the top shelf of my computer desk. Both are encrypted with TrueCrypt, so if someone was to liberate the drive enclosures themselves, they couldn’t access the data without the keyphrase. If you have any concerns about water or fire damage destroying your data, this is a great alternative to offsite storage.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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