Preparing for the Worst: Managing Records Disasters
by Ann Marie Przybyla and Geof Huth
Archives Technical Information Series # 82
View, download, or print the complete version of Publication 82 in:
For more information, consult the resources listed on the State Archives' Disaster Assistance page.
Many organizations assume they will never experience a disaster, so they never develop a strategy for preventing or responding to one. Even if they do have a formal disaster response plan, chances are it does not address the need to protect one of their most valuable assets: their records. A strong disaster management plan will help you avoid or manage events that can threaten, damage, or destroy your records. This publication provides guidance on developing a strategy for managing a records disaster and describes how to integrate that strategy into a larger, organization-wide disaster management plan and your ongoing records management program.
Records consist of information recorded on paper, film, electronic, and other media that an organization creates and receives in the regular course of its official business. A records disaster is a sudden, unexpected event that significantly damages or destroys records or prevents access to the information they contain. A records disaster can deprive you of the information you need to resume normal operations. In private industry, a loss of information can cause businesses to fail. In any organization, it can lead to staff frustration and decreased productivity, impair services to citizens, deprive you of evidence needed in court, and make it impossible to document your revenue and assets. By extension, it can cause citizens to lose confidence in your ability to do your job and protect their interests. In many ways, a records disaster can ultimately lead to a public relations nightmare.
Managing records disasters effectively can
- guarantee a secure environment for ongoing records storage and maintenance
- ensure the physical safety of employees who regularly retrieve, use, and manage your organization’s records
- identify and protect records vital to your operations
- identify and protect your archival records
- provide a framework for responding safely and efficiently to disasters when they do occur
- allow you to resume your work as soon as possible after a disaster
To manage records disasters, you must first develop a formal, written plan that specifically addresses those events that could potentially damage or destroy your records. A good disaster management plan will include strategies for
- preventing potential disasters by identifying your most valuable records and risks to those records
- responding directly to disasters if they do occur
- continuing normal business operations after an emergency has passed
- periodically reviewing and adapting your plan to reflect current conditions
Each of these four activities are discussed in detail.
Several online sources contain information on both disaster management planning and recovery. The State Archives is also available as a resource for providing direct technical assistance and advice on how to prepare a disaster management plan. Funding for disaster recovery planning, including money to hire a consultant and purchase planning software, is available to local governments through the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund (LGRMIF), as are grants to support many of the facility enhancements necessary to protect your records. Local governments can also apply for emergency funding to pay for disaster recovery efforts related to records. For further information about any of these services and grants, contact your State Archives’ regional advisory officer (RAO), or Government Records Services in Albany at (518) 474-6926.