Monday, April 20, 2015

Vital records: disaster prevention and recovery

Vital records
  • Business records must be protected from disaster
    • 60% of organizations experiencing a business closure of >2 days go out of business within one year
Identification and analysis of vital records
  • Vital records (essential records) – those records essential to the continued life of a business, also called class 1 records
  • May take any form
    • Hard copy, magnetic tape, microform, optical disk, etc.
  • May be active or inactive records
  • “A Vital Records Program is a systematic method of selecting, protecting, and having available at time of emergency:
    • records considered essential to the continued operation of an agency or business, commensurate with its emergency responsibilities
    • records require to protect rights of individuals and the government, and
    • records that are absolutely essential to reconstruction.”
  • The ID of vital records and the implementation of the protection program for them evolves from the records inventory
  • Vital records normally comprise 1 to 5% of an organization’s records
Organization analysis
  • Organization analysis – management must determine vital functions or organization a functional organization chart is helpful
  • Ask: “What information and/or records are needed to resume business immediately following a disaster?”
Classification of vital records
  • Records are classified as vital, important, useful, or nonessential
  • Read: Disaster Preparedness & Response Appendix B, p. 38
Determining physical volume of records by class
  • Paper
    • How many square feet of shelf space occupied?
    • How many file drawers with records and the square footage of these file drawers?
    • How much total space required for Class 1(vital), 2 (important), and 3 (useful) records?
    • What should be done with Class 4 (nonessential records)?
  • Vital records in electronic form, gather for each record series
    • Series title
    • Storage media and other physical characteristics
    • Location
    • Method of protection
    • Security requirements
    • Brief rationale for categorizing series as vital
Determining space needed to house inventoried records
  • Based on physical volume of records by class
    • How much space should be allocated for each class?
    • What is estimated rate of accession at which records added to each class?
    • What is rate of transfer/disposal for each class?
    • How much space required if total allocation for each class included accessions and transfers?
Determining production necessary for safe records storage
  • Protection for paper records and magnetic media records must be considered
  • Vital records require most protection
  • Fire, main hazard
  • Magnetic media and their containers do not pose a more severe fire hazard than paper
  • Polystyrene cases and reels pose a more severe fire hazard
Analysis of risk
  • The greatest cost to the organization concerns the loss of all records classified as vital
  • Evaluate the dollar cost to the organization if all records classified as vital were lost
  • Repeat for all the other classes of records
  • Of those organizations whose records are destroyed, 35% go out of business
Fire and other natural and human hazards
  • The primary risk to records safety is fire
    • Associated risk: water or chemicals used in fire containment
  • Other possible elements of destruction include earthquakes, wind and rainstorms, broken water mains, mould and mildew, insects and rodents, dust, theft, and vandalism
Methods of protecting vital records
  • A vital records program is more important than insurance
    • Protection of the organization’s vital records ensures the continued life of the business, while insurance pays the organization after its death following a disaster
  • It is virtually impossible to provide 100% risk-free protection, need to use minimum risk storage techniques
  • A method of providing a copy of an original document
  • Duplicates can take the form of paper copies, roll microfilm, microfiche, magnetic tapes, or other media
  • Special requirements for storage must be considered
  • Dispersal is one method of providing a copy of an original document for records reconstruction by having copies distributed internally or externally
  • Examples of external dispersal include:
    • Federal income tax records
    • Bank records
    • Insurance policies
  • Normally used with paper copies only
Vital records transfer and storage procedures
  • Vital records master list identifies all vital records in each department, including
    • Department name
    • Storage location
    • Page number
    • Vital records identification code
    • Vital records name
    • Retention periods
    • Office of record (office responsible for maintaining “official records copy”)
    • Vital records protection
    • Protection instructions
Transfer of vital records
Vital records can be transferred on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Procedures for handling vital records

  1. In case of disaster during work hours, records in use should be returned to their proper places within the files if at all possible
  2. Records in use but belonging in vaults should be returned to the safe or vault at the end of each working day. Never leave out overnight.
  3. Employees should not allow important records to accumulate on desks or in in-baskets.
  4. Records normally protected may be unprotected when temporarily in other hands. Copies should be distributed when possible.
Electronic vital records protection
  • Electronic records present special problems and should be dealt with accordingly
  • Analysis of each computer application must be done
  • Procedures for backup must be established
  • An alternative site for the processing of data must be considered
Alternative site location methods
  • Reciprocal agreement
  • Cold site
  • Warm site
  • Vendor agreement
  • Commercial service bureau
  • Hot site
  • Redundant site
  • Electronic vaulting
Method Characteristics Advantages Disadvantages
Reciprocal agreement An agreement
between two or
more compatible organizations to
provide computer
time for each other
in case of a disaster
little cash
Hardware and
may change;
may experience
the same
disaster; not to
be used on a
long-term basis
Cold site An alternative
controls or
may be shared
by two or more
long-term use
If sharing, two
may need at
the same time
Warm site An alternative site
with environmental controls and some
or all computer peripherals
More expensive;
may be shared
by two or more organizations;
long-term use
If sharing, two
may need at
the same time
Vendor agreement Contracting
organization uses vendor's corporate facilities
lower cost than 
other options
May be available
for long term
use; lack of
may have similar arrangements
Commercial Service Bureau This company
provides data
processing facilities
Pay only for the
time used,
Variable service;
possibly security problems,
expensive for
long-term use,
may not have the
time and capacity for processing needed
Hot site Fully equipped facility
on continuous standby,
on a first-come,
first-served basis.
availability, ease
of plan testing, costs may be covered through business-interruption insurance
Very high costs,
possible distance
from data centre
Redundant site Duplicate of the current
data centre at an
alternative site run by
your organization
Assured compatibility, availability,
security, ease of use
Most expensive
option; trying to
keep both sites compatible through reconfiguration
and software updates
Electronic vaulting Backup is done on a
real-time basis. Data are
duplicated in real-time
and transferred to
an offsite but connected system.
Direct access, tape vaults
with communication facilities
Very expensive, new technology for disaster recovery

Source: Adapted from Brett Balon, “Disaster Planning for Electronic Records” (Proceedings of the Association of Records Managers and Administrators International 34th Annual Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, October 2-5, 1989)

Action plan
  • Contains procedures to protect electronic records
  • Action plan must be tested
Vital records protection manual
  • Lists all vital records according to department and contains both vital record code number and retention date
  • May be a separate document or part of another documentation manual
Salvage methods
  • Water-damaged materials result from 95% of all disasters
  • Need to deal with both water damage and mould
  • Salvage procedures for water damaged materials
  • Air-drying
    • Labour and space intensive but not cheap, not recommended for coated glossy paper as in magazines (pages can easily become permanently stuck together)
  • Freezing
    • Stabilizes wet materials and provides time to plan course of action if completed as soon as possible to prevent deterioration 
  • Vacuum drying
    • not recommended as heat involved is damaging to paper and photographic materials (Microwave ovens are not recommended for same reason)
  • Vacuum freeze drying
    • Safest and most successful salvage method for paper but most expensive
Recovery priority by type of records media
See chart on pp. 21-22 Disaster preparedness and response

Additional information
  • Disasters Come In All SizesThis article, from the March 2000 issue of InfoPro Magazine, talks about the basics of planning ahead for disaster recovery.
  • Emergency Management for Records & Information Management Programs
    Excerpted here are two chapters, including forms and checklists, from the book Emergency Management for Records and Information Management Programs. This material focuses on the steps for responding to an emergency or disaster and for beginning the recovery of information assets. These response and recovery steps are but a small part of a comprehensive emergency management plan that organizations need to formulate in order to prepare for disasters and prevent or minimize the loss of records.
• Access both from

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