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A records disaster is a sudden and unexpected event which results in loss of records or information essential to an organization's continued operation.
Disaster isn't something we like to think about. It usually happens when least expected. A records disaster could happen before you're prepared to deal with it! Most disasters can be prevented or minimized at a very reasonable cost.
Consider these examples:
The consequences of not being prepared when disaster strikes are significant and expensive. Information or records could be lost or destroyed which:
The examples above resulted in these consequences:
Types of disasters include the more obvious: fire, windstorm, flood, and earthquake. Some less obvious things are vandalism, unauthorized access, loss, theft, and equipment failure. Other unexpected and unpleasant things could be ruining your agency's records right now, such as leaking pipes, insects, rodents, and mold.
One option is to ignore the possibility of ever having a disastrous event which could damage or destroy your agency's records. This is by far the most common practice. That's unfortunate and it could prove to be very short-sighted and not cost-effective.
The preferred option is to develop a records disaster program. Every government agency's records management program should include procedures designed to prevent a catastrophic event involving its records. Preparation will cost something--paying for a disaster will cost a lot more.
A few benefits include:
The basic components are:
Each agency's records disaster program must be tailored to its own mission, structure, location and resources. It should provide reasonable measures to deal with probable risks. It must be periodically tested and updated.
Prevention is a sound investment and much cheaper and simpler than trying to recover or replace damaged or destroyed records. Most disaster prevention and protection involves straightforward, low cost, common-sense measures.
Here's another definition of a disaster: It's what happens only if you're not prepared.
In a nutshell, find out what can go wrong and fix it first!
Vital records are those records that contain the information needed to continue or re-establish an organization's operation following a disaster. They document the agency's legal or fiscal position and preserve the rights of the agency, its employes, and/or citizens. Vital records are irreplaceable or would be too expensive to replace.
Vital Records are not the same as historical records. They do not include records which though important are replaceable at reasonable expense. Vital records are one of your agency's most important resources. 5-10% of records are "vital".
An effective Vital Records program will ensure that your organization will be able to function following a disaster To be successful, your vital records program must be approached from a corporate perspective to ensure that only the truly vital records and information receive special protection. Direction and support must be provided by top management. Each agency should have a records officer who has authority to coordinate an agency-wide records management program. Vital records are an integral part of the agency records management program.
The basic elements of a vital records program are:
An agency that has only a vital records program is well on its way to coping with disasters. The addition of a well-developed records disaster plan should provide the ability to cope with most disasters.
Disaster recovery is the process of resuming normal operations following a disaster. It's what you will have to do if your best efforts at prevention don't prevail. You can't do much to prevent earthquakes or major floods. But, if your vital records are properly protected before, during, and after the disaster, salvage and recovery will be much easier, cheaper, and less traumatic.
An effective recovery plan will help impose order in the stressful and chaotic conditions which typically accompany a disaster. It will give you the luxury of making critical decisions in advance. Rapid recovery will promote customer satisfaction and maintain public confidence.
Your agency's records are a valuable resource and need to be protected. This resource can be protected at very reasonable expense compared with the cost of disaster recovery. Some major disasters may be unpredictable and beyond our immediate control. Many disasters, however, can be prevented or their effects minimized at relatively low expense.
If you will take these simple, inexpensive measures to protect your agency's records and information, your chances of surviving and recovering from any records disaster are excellent.
A little planning and preparation will save an enormous amount of work and expense when disaster strikes!
This guide focuses on records only. No attempt has been made to address general disaster planning factors, such as: Life safety, communications, public order, sanitation, etc. For help in these areas contact Oregon State Police, Oregon Emergency Management Division, 503-378-4124.
For more detailed guidance in setting up a Vital Records Program, see Vital Records, Section 5.2.
Effective: January 1994
Adapted from the Oregon State Archives Records Management Manual (1994).