Here, five tons of paper gets shredded every hour. You'll never know what it says.
The Secrets of Paperwork
In here are the secrets of Virginia," says Martin Simon, pointing to a mountain of secured plastic bins.
Simon is president of Document Destruction Services in Shockoe Bottom, an 11-year-old material-shredding company. This is where secret paperwork comes to die.
Each business day, a constant stream of company trucks dumps thousands of pounds of paper into the loading dock of this Shockoe Bottom business. Papers arrive in heavy-duty plastic bins secured by deadbolts. And every hour 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of that paper disappear into the custom-built shredder, until nothing remains but bales of confetti.
DDS picks up from medical facilities, private businesses and levels of government from federal to county.
DDS employees remain as tight-lipped about the material going through the old building as the company owners, though most say they recognize that they work with some important confidential material.
"If the stuff was to get out, the patient [or] client has every right to file a lawsuit and probably win," he says. "We chose from the very beginning to take it very seriously."
And the entire DDS staff goes through great precautions to ensure nothing gets out.
Before working here, truck drivers and warehouse employees undergo national background checks. All visitors, including fire marshals and safety inspectors, are escorted at all times.
The company picks up all material with its own trucks, which are locked at all times and are never left alone for long. Once shredded, the 1,300-pound bales of paper don't go into recycling centers, where the bales could be left unsupervised in warehouses for days or weeks at a time. "The paper must go directly to the paper mill," Simon says. "That's to protect our customers' interests."
Occasionally, clients aren't satisfied to hear about the fate of their documents. "We have customers come in here and witness it be destroyed," says Simon.
James Markham, vice president of DDS, remembers the time a customer followed the truck that was hauling the customer's documents every day for more than two weeks until all his pickups were completed. Then the client watched on a TV monitor as the foreman shredded the paper and then looked on as the employees swept any remaining scraps off the floor and into the trash.
What's in this paperwork? Why would anybody worry so much about destroying it? Don't bother asking the staff.
"It's all confidential," says Markham. "It would drive us nuts if we were curious about the stuff."
The company has destroyed items ranging from condoms and IUDs to police uniforms and evidence for the IRS' criminal investigation division.
"We've destroyed very unusual magnetic media for the federal government," Simon says mysteriously.
Simon, Markham and the foreman, who actually shreds the materials, sign a confidentiality pledge. Potential clients are encouraged to ask all warehouse employees about their secrecy and loyalty to customer privacy.
"Customers have asked if we work for XYZ," says Mark Drake, a foreman who has been with DDS for more than eight years. "We just tell them we're not at liberty to discuss personal business, just like they don't want us to see their confidential documents."
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.