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Winners of America's Safest Home Office Contest Chosen

Top winners prove you don't have to spend a fortune to secure your home office

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What do a nun, a freelance writer and a Securities and Exchange Commission consultant have in common? All three are winners of America's Safest Home Office Contest.

The contest asked about the safety practices of today's more than 30 million at-home workers. The variety of ideas submitted from the entrants--as well as the winners--reveal that many Americans protect their home offices from threats virtual, real and potential. The three winners' examples show how creating a "blanket" of protection can make a home office--and the home itself--a safer place to work and live.

Grand prize winner Tom Starner, a writer from Philadelphia, continually updates his computer antivirus protection and works from a home with an alarm system and a home office with a locking office door. He carries insurance on his laptop and stores all his important papers in a fireproof box. Because he has young daughter ambling about, Starner's workspace also is childproofed.

Runner-up Hal Meyer, a corporate financial consultant in Cameron Park, California, uses many of the same safety procedures as Starner. He also uses safe design measures--like an ergonomic chair with rollers, a floor mat for safe and easy mobility, an air purifier, and cooling fans for his laptop and monitors.

Along with battery back-up for the computer, wires and cables tucked or taped to prevent tripping or entanglement, and double-locked storm windows to prevent break-ins, possibly the best protection in the Minneapolis home office of runner-up Vida Barr is the location of her office. Based on the third floor, the workspace cannot be viewed from the outside. Barr, who runs a virtual assistant service, has an intercom to screen anyone who knocks at her door (call this an efficiency tool as well). And all her office equipment is insured with a rider on her residential policy.

Home officers must take their security seriously. It doesn't have to be costly or difficult to be effective. The winners proved that a little inspiration and thought can make a home office a safe office. The three winners each received a computer lock from Kryptonite Corp.; a battery back-up unit from American Power Conversion Corp.; a copy of Symantec's Norton Internet Security; and a copy of Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security. Grand prize winner Starner also received a Sentry Fire-Safe Data Storage Chest, model 1710, to store his important electronic data.

Why is home office safety and security important? Two out of three U.S. businesses start in the home. More than 10 million Americans are self-employed from home, and millions more heads of household handle confidential family finances from home. By 2004, the U.S. should have some 46.3 million home offices, reports IDC.

Jeff Zbar, the, is the author of Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security. In May 2001, he was named the SBA's 2001 Journalist of the Year. His other books include Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (from Made E-Z Products) and Home Office Know-How (Dearborn).