GOVERNMENT RECORDS NEWS

News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 2 No. 2
September, 1997

SURVIVING YOUR NEXT HURRICANE: HOW TO PROTECT AND SALVAGE VITAL RECORDS

Here in Alabama, it should be unnecessary to emphasize the importance of protecting public records from natural disaster. Whether you live on the Gulf coast, along the central plains, or in the mountains of north Alabama, fires, floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes can strike at almost any time. Besides destroying lives and property, such catastrophes wreak havoc upon records that are vital to the operations of state and local government. Special precautions must be taken to protect Alabama's records, especially vital records. Otherwise, public officials may find themselves trying to salvage information that can no longer be replaced.

In keeping with the season, this article focuses on hurricanes, but most of its recommendations are also appropriate for other natural or man-made disasters. Forthcoming ADAH leaflets will offer more information on vital records protection, disaster planning and recovery, and salvaging fire- or water-damaged records. Meanwhile, assistance on these topics is available from the department's conservation officer, Linda Overman, at (334)242-4437, ext. 229.

1. Identifying and Protecting Vital Records

Vital records may be defined as records required to carry on the government's essential operations, to protect its legal and financial interests, and to assist in its recovery during a period of emergency or natural disaster. Your agency's legislative mandate, mission, and public responsibilities will define its vital records. Generally, they will comprise less than 10% of the total records volume. Many records marked as permanent in general records schedules, or as archivalin records disposition authorities, will be vital; but other records may qualify as well. The following is a basic, but not necessarily comprehensive, list:
Accounts Payable/Receivable
Bank Account Information
Bonds and Coupons
Budgets
Building Plans and Blueprints
Capital Asset Records
Charters
Civil Defense Emergency Plans
adoptions,
Computer Equipment/Software
Documentation
Contracts, Leases, Agreements
Court Calendars and Docket Books
Deeds
Disaster Recovery Plan
Equipment/Supplies Inventories
General Ledgers
Insurance Policies
Licenses and Permits
Maps (taxation, topographical, utility)
Minutes, Ordinances, Resolutions
Payroll/Pension Fund Records
Personnel Files
Police Identification/Fingerprint Files
Property Tax Assessment Records
Student Records
Succession List of Government
Officials
Transportation Schedules/Routes
Treasurer's Reports
Utility Construction Plans
Vital Records List
Vital Statistics (births,
marriages, divorces, deaths)
Wills
Zoning Records
The best method of protecting vital records is through duplication and dispersal. The record's storage medium will dictate how it should be duplicated. Paper records may be photocopied or microfilmed on silver-halide film . (This is the only film type acceptable for preservation under ANSI/AIIM standards. For microfilming specifications, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at [334]242-4452.) Machine-readable records should be copied onto a back-up medium, such as magnetic tape or computer-output microfilm (COM). There are also different methods of dispersal:
  • With built-in dispersal, copies of vital records are routinely routed to agency staff. The agency records officer should identify staff who hold such copies and ensure that at least one copy is retained for the same scheduled retention period as the original record. Staff should also know what information from the office is routinely backed up on the agency's mainframe or server, and how to retrieve this information once system operations are restored. Copies of vital records may be held in a vault or safe inside the agency; however, if the vault or safe is not "disaster proof," copies and originals will both be lost if the entire facility is destroyed.
  • Off-site storage is usually a better method of dispersal. It involves keeping copies of vital records at a location outside the agency's primary facility, providing security in case the originals are destroyed. The ADAH State Records Center stores paper records for state agencies and operates a microfilm preservation vault for state and local governments. Various commercial vendors around the state also store microfilm, magnetic tapes or disks, and paper records. For local agencies, another possibility would be a local library or bank vault. Whatever place is chosen, the off-site facility should offer economical, high-volume storage and quick records retrieval in the event of an emergency. For agencies with an interest in this option, ADAH offers a model Records Depository Agreement that outlines the terms on which off-site facilities may store public records. For more information, contact the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

2. What to Do When the Wind Starts Blowing

While the following emergency measures are no substitute for a disaster plan, they may enable agencies that have no plan to get through the current storm season. Detailed recommendations on disaster planning will be included in a forthcoming ADAH leaflet. Meanwhile, if a hurricane approaches, these steps can be taken to protect your vital records:
  1. Take back-up computer disks and tapes, as well as microfilm, out of the office and as far away from the potential disaster site as possible. Ideally, the temporary storage area should have a properly controlled environment and a means of access to the records (back-up computer equipment, microfilm reader-printers, etc.).
  2. Wrap each computer in a plastic garbage bag and secure the bag with a tie around the electrical cord. Leave the computer plugged into the wall, as the cord will act as an anchor. Make sure the computer is turned off, and turn the electricity off at the breaker box.
  3. If you are unable to remove paper records from the site, get them as far above the floor as possible. Wrap all shelves in plastic, and tape the plastic down to hold it in place.
  4. If flooding occurs, or if your agency's primary facility is unusable, identify a temporary site or sites where agency functions can resume and records salvage operations can be started.

3. Salvaging Water-Damaged Records

Water-damaged records are usually recoverable if salvage work begins within two days. Thereafter, mold and mildew develop rapidly. Because the disaster site will be extremely humid, salvage must be undertaken elsewhere. Ideal is a clean, dry area with a temperature of 65 degrees and a relative humidity of 40%. Cover floors or tables used as work areas with plastic sheeting, and move water-damaged records with extreme care. Milk crates or similar ventilated plastic cartons are good carriers. Do not try to separate stuck-together pages as long as they are saturated. When the pages are drier, paper towels may be placed between them to absorb water. Change the towels frequently, using fans to circulate air over damaged records. Vacuum freeze-drying is the best and quickest way of drying paper records, but it is expensive and requires professional assistance. For a list of vendors, call Linda Overman (334-242-4437, ext. 229).

Damp microfiche can be air-dried on a clean, lint-free white cotton sheet. Do not unroll wet microfilm, as this may cause the emulsion layer to separate from the base film. Leave wet microfilm rolls in their containers and place them in clean water. Salvaged microfilm will not be archival-quality and must be recopied on silver-halide film. Recovery of water-damaged computer disks is problematic, and placing a wet disk in the drive can seriously damage your computer. Magnetic tapes can sometimes be hand-dried (at some risk to the data), but contact your computer equipment's manufacturer before attempting to dry the hardware. For a list of vendors who specialize in recovering computerized records, call the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

ADAH to Hold Training Session for State Agencies on RDA Implementation

On September 24, 1997, the ADAH Government Records Division will conduct a training session for all state agencies with approved records disposition authorities (RDAs). Agency records liaisons or representatives (please limit participants to two per agency) will receive instruction on procedures for implementing RDAs and annual RDA reporting requirements. Also provided will be information about agency audits, record keeping compliance, and records management. The session will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the Archives and History Building's Milo B. Howard Auditorium. For more information, call Richard Wang at (334)242-4452, ext. 240.

Records Disposition Authorities and Schedules Approved by the State Records Commission

At its meeting on July 31, 1997, the State Records Commission approved six new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the ALABAMA BOARD OF MEDICAL EXAMINERS and MEDICAL LICENSURE COMMISSION OF ALABAMA, the ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY, the ALABAMA MEDICAID AGENCY, the DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION SERVICES, the LICENSING BOARD FOR GENERAL CONTRACTORS, and the STATE and LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS COMMISSIONS.

The following new or revised general records schedules were approved by the commission:

ALABAMA COLLEGE SYSTEM: Academic Standards of Progress Records; Authorization Letters or Notices of Funding; Federal Work Study (FWS), Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and Perkins Loan Files; FWS Payroll Monitors and Timesheets; Fiscal Operations Reports and Applications (FISAPs); Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and Trade Readjustment Act (TRA) Files; NDSL/Perkins Cumulative Listings; Pell Grant Files (Title IV Student Financial Aid Files); Program Participation Agreements; Requests to View Student Admissions Records;Title IV Award Listings; and Title IV Award Summaries (12 schedules).

SECRETARY OF STATE: Federal Election Commission Reports (FEC Reports 3 and 3a) (1 schedule).

STATE-SUPPORTED UNIVERSITIES: College Work Study (CWS) and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) Files; Federal Family Educational Loan Program Files; Pell Grant Files (Title IV Student Financial Aid Files) (3 schedules).

For copies of these records disposition authorities or schedules, call the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

The Local Government Records Commission canceled its July meeting.


The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Wednesday, October 29, 1997, in the Milo B. Howard Auditorium of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Starting times are 10:00 a.m. (state) and 1:30 p.m. (local).


"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Box 300100, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100. The newsletter, and other publications, are also available on-line through the ADAH web site.

Return to the ADAH Online Publications Page
Return to ADAH Homepage

www.archives.state.al.us/ol_pubs/govrec22.html
Updated: 10/24/97