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Records Advisory: Working with Disaster Recovery Vendors
First Things First
If your organization suffers a disaster that affects records, be sure to contact the State Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 518-474-6926. We provide disaster advice and direction to state agencies, local governments, and historical records repositories across the state. We have staff in Albany and Regional Advisory Officers located in offices all over the state, so no matter where you are we can quickly respond and help you address the situation.
Decisions about Damaged Paper Records
Since disaster recovery vendors may not be able to be on the scene as soon as the disaster event has subsided, consider conducting a quick triage, which is the process of reviewing the damaged records and determining what to do with each set. Conduct triage only when you can do it without slowing your disaster response. If the areas where your records are stored are dangerous to enter, do not attempt triage.
You have a number of options for dealing with damaged paper records:
Freeze wet records to stabilize them and prevent mold growth.
Vacuum Freeze -Drying
Records that are significantly wet and that must be retained should be transferred to a vendor for vacuum freeze drying.
If records are not permanent and are no longer needed by your organization, you can simply destroy the records immediately and keep a record of what you have destroyed.
Emergency Destruction (Government records only)
State agencies and local governments can formally request permission from the State Archives for destruction of records that have not yet met their retention period. In such cases, you must demonstrate that records are unsalvageable or that you can use other records in place of damaged records.
If the wet records are small in volume, you can air dry them.
Finding a Disaster Recovery Vendor for Paper Records
Disaster recovery firms often advise you to freeze dry all wet records and decide later what to keep, but this practice can significantly increase the costs of recovery.
Finding a Disaster Recovery Vendor for Electronic Media
Some vendors focused on disaster recovery of paper records do not address electronic records at all. If you have damaged electronic records, especially any damaged by water, consult Electronic Records Disaster Preparedness and Recovery.
Contracts with Vendors
The basic work of disaster recovery vendors is to remove all your wet paper records, both those you must retain and those that you may destroy, and freeze them to stabilize them. The vendors will then create a log of the records by box and ask you which records you want to keep and vacuum freeze dry, and which you want to destroy.
Before allowing any vendor to take your records, make sure you have a signed agreement with the vendor. This agreement must be approved by your legal counsel and it must include a description of all the costs you might be obligated to pay. Most vendors will have a stock agreement for you to sign, but you must still read through that contract carefully, ensuring that you understand it and that it meets your needs and expectations. Accepting a contract that you do not clearly understand can lead to disagreements afterwards. Do not grant vendors discretion to move forward with any activities they alone determine are necessary to protect the documents. When developing a contract with a vendor, your goal is to specify your requirements and to confirm costs and keep them as low as possible.
Disaster Recovery Vendor Services
Your vendor may offer the following services:
- Pack out (removing the records from your facility)
- Transportation (to their facility and back to yours)
- Freezing (to stabilize the records initially)
- Vacuum freeze drying (to dry the records)
- Surface cleaning (to clean dirt and contaminants from the paper)
- Inventorying the records (to itemize the records they’ve taken)
- Boxing (to transfer records to new clean boxes)
- Sterilization (by fumigation or gamma irradiation)
- Imaging (to allow you to destroy the originals)
- Destruction (of those records you decide you need not keep)
- Retrieval of records (if you need access to damaged records immediately)
Additional Disaster Recovery Costs You May Not Expect
- Recovery of engineering drawings (at rates different from boxed records)
- Recovery of ledger books (also sometimes at different rates)
- Odor removal (which the Archives recommends against)
- Equipment use (for pallet jacks, fans, conveyors, or other necessary equipment)
- Labor (beyond the cost of the services)
Sterilization of Paper Records
If your records are moldy, the best method of recovery is vacuum freeze drying followed by surface cleaning. For other biological contamination, the vendor must sterilize the records either by fumigation with ethylene oxide or via gamma irradiation.
Imaging of Paper Records
You may opt to have your records scanned rather than have the paper records returned. That choice is yours to make. However, the State Archives has reasons for questioning the need for scanning:
- Some vendors assert that the federal government prohibits the return to you of any records affected by black water, which is water contaminated with biological or chemical material. The Archives has found no evidence of such requirements.
- Sterilization has already made the records safe for use
- Scanning may add unnecessarily to the cost of the project
- All disaster recovery vendors may not be expert at digitizing records
- Without the return of the records, you cannot confirm the accuracy of the scanning
If you do opt to scan your records, you should require the vendor to follow the Archives’ Digital Imaging Guidelines.
Destruction of Records
If the vendor will be destroying records on your behalf, you must ensure that the vendor provides you with a certificate of destruction, which you can use to prove the records have been destroyed.
Return of Records
Schedule the return of your records to ensure you can be present to oversee their transfer back to your organization. Check the records against the vendor’s log to ensure that all the records have been returned to you, and verify the vendor’s work.
The Role of the Federal Government
If the county where you are located has been declared a federal disaster area, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) may be able to provide you support in the form of services, direction, and even grants for the recovery of damaged records. FEMA makes awards for records as part of its funding for overall disaster recovery for an institution. If your proposed project is deemed to be eligible by FEMA staff, then you will likely not be required to collect multiple quotes. However, if the project or service is unusual or atypical, FEMA may require you to collect multiple quotes, so work with FEMA staff before contracting with any vendor, in those cases where you are expecting FEMA funding.
For further information or assistance contact the State Archives at:
Telephone: (518) 474-6926