Wild Fires Require El Paso County Staff to Operate at Satellite Offices
The Challenge: Evacuation as Fire Spreads
As the Waldo Canyon fire raged through the Pikes Peak area of Colorado and threatened the El Paso County offices in the summer of 2012, Recording Manager Sandy Hook realized the office staff might need to move its operations elsewhere. “Early on as the fires broke out, we were not in danger, but we knew the situation could change,” Hook said.
The fire eventually destroyed nearly 350 homes, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history. It also burned more than 18,000 acres and killed two residents. Estimates placed property damage well in excess of $100 million.
On primary election night – June 26 – as the clerk and recorder staffs worked into the evening, the local police department arrived at the county offices and ordered an immediate evacuation. “We had to vacate the building right away,” Hook said. “As far as continuing our e-recording services and assisting citizens with documents they required, we did not have time to bring anything at all with us.”
The Solution: e-Recording Functionality Combined with Digitized Documents
Fortunately for Hook and her staff, their recording solution – Anthem from Thomson Reuters – enabled El Paso County to maintain business continuity. The county deployed Anthem in 2004. E-recording is a core functionality offered by Thomson Reuters records management products.
At the time of initial deployment, El Paso County had only one main office but in recent years has opened three satellite offices for e-recording and processing documents. “Because it’s Web-based, the Thomson Reuters e-recording solution automatically lent itself as a disaster recovery alternative as we opened our other offices,” Hook said. “As long as our users can access the Internet, they can work with our recorded property documents and other document images as well as our indexing system.”
During the evacuation due to the Waldo Canyon fires, Hook dispersed her staff across the satellite offices, which all had workstations and e-recording capabilities. The staff processed the e-recordings as they normally would, and citizens visiting in person were re-directed to other offices for customer service and other document needs.
“I was also able to work from home,” Hook added. “This was a key capability as the line of fires had cut me off from travelling by car to our other offices within a reasonable amount of time. However, with remote access from my home office, I could still review documents and answer questions over the phone and by e-mail.”
Thomson Reuters is a nationally-recognized leader and pioneer in the area of e-recording solutions for clerk and recorder organizations. The company’s e-recording solution allows documents to be submitted according to Property Records Industry Association (PRIA) standards by any trusted submitter. Thomson Reuters is also a long-standing PRIA member and works closely within the organization to implement e-recording efficiencies and standards.
With Thomson Reuters e-recording solutions, documents can also be electronically received, recorded and confirmed through a two-way interface. Title companies, escrow companies, attorneys, banking institutions, government agencies and other entities can be granted access as submitters-allowing them to create, sign, and transmit a single document or a batch of documents to the county recording office.
“The automated exchange capability offered by Thomson Reuters streamlines our document submission and indexing,” Hook said. “It also improves turn-around time and reduces costs for the county as well as for document submitters.”
Documents that El Paso County e-records include property documents, liens, and judgments to create liens. The county also records filings related to the Uniform Commercial Code, marriage documents, plat maps and land surveys.
The deployment of the Thomson Reuters solution allowed El Paso County to digitize its indexing system and copy images that previously existed on microfilm. The real benefit of leveraging the recording application as an integral part of a disaster recovery solution occurred as a natural extension when the satellite offices were opened.
“We did not have to do anything special as far as formulating a disaster recovery plan,” Hook explained. “With the Web-based e-recording capabilities we have through Thomson Reuters, it’s simply a matter of having employees report to a different office or having them log on from home.”
The county had already gone through sending employees to other offices in cases where a satellite office or the home office needed extra coverage when an employee was out sick or on vacation. The process worked just as smoothly when Hook needed to reassign the main office staff during the Waldo Canyon fires.
The transition from traditional “over-the-counter” recordings to electronic submissions and processing was key in providing uninterrupted services during this crisis. “We were also fortunate in that nearly 70 percent of our images and indexing were recorded digitally at that point,” Hook said. “If we were still on our old paper indexing and microfilm image systems, and if the fire had hit our main building, we could have lost many important documents.”
The Benefits: Operational and Business Continuity
The fire and the need for El Paso County to evacuate its office made the value of the Thomson Reuters e-recording solution hit home. The county used to have to index recordings using the original paper documents. And the capability to access those records could have ended if the fire reached the county building.
Because of the online access through the Thomson Reuters software, Hook’s staff functioned near maximum efficiency for close to a week away from the main office. “I was amazed at how seamless we operated,” Hook said. “We did not need any technical support, and our users never missed a beat. We kept up with document recording, marriage licenses and other basic citizen services.”
Hook stresses the major benefits of e-recording and indexing as many property document images possible – both from an operational and a business continuity standpoint: “All counties have limited resources and funding to e-record documents,” Hook said. “But the closer you can get to 100 percent, the more efficient the office can operate, and the easier it will be to move operations off site if a disaster strikes.”
“We may be ahead of other counties in terms of the percentage of documents we have digitized, and we may be one of the few that have off-site offices we can operate in during a disaster,” Hook added. “Having those two capabilities gives us true business-continuity capabilities.”
Once the staff returned to the office when the extent of the fire situation came under control, the Thomson Reuters system continued to pay off for El Paso County as the demand increased for property documents by citizens affected by the fires. Approximately 300 homes in the county were destroyed so citizens needed immediate help with documents related to insurance/deeds.
“We previously had a separate system for images and a separate system for indexing information without any integration between the two,” Hook said. “Consolidating both functions into the single system through Anthem was a big plus, making it much easier and faster to retrieve documents during peak-demand periods.”