Hurricane Season Records Preparation

We are entering hurricane season and it is a good time to do a risk assessment and analysis of your work area and records storage area regarding your records and information.  You’ll be primarily dealing with natural threats or hazards.  Look at environmental and physical factors.  Excessive temperature and humidity can easily and quickly damage records regardless of their medium (paper, film, fiche, electronic).  Are your records located in the best possible location?  Near windows, water pipes, or in the attic or basement are some examples of where you should not keep your records.  Windows may leak or break, water pipes may crack or burst, roofs may leak or be torn off, and basements will be one of the first places water flows in a flood or torrential rain.

What about your vital/essential records, permanent records, and any records containing sensitive or confidential information?  These special types of records require special consideration.  You must identify your vital/essential records and store backups offsite (recommended at least 30 miles from the originals).  Permanent records should be kept on paper or microfilm—the most durable and reliable media for long-term storage and preservation.  Records containing sensitive or confidential data need to be in a secure environment including such things as locked cabinets and password protected computers, and should not be stored on a laptop computer or flash/thumb drive which can easily be lost or stolen.  Electronic records such as word documents, spreadsheets, databases, and emails with any attachments need to be protected from any potential crisis or disaster and have backups stored offsite. (Refer to Local Government Bulletin B or State Agency Bulletin Number One for standards and procedures for the care and maintenance of e-records)  Microfilm records require certain storage conditions to ensure prevention of damage including keeping the masters offsite. (Refer to Local Government Bulletin A or State Agency Bulletin Number Two for standards and procedures for the care and maintenance of microfilm)

After assessing risks to your records, you need to analyze those risks.  Think of risks that are present or potentially present in your workplace and/or records storage area.  List the potential risk (e.g., water damage) and the location where the risk is or may be present.  Next list the hazard or potential cause of that risk (e.g., water pipes or leaky roof).  Consider how likely the water pipes are going to leak or burst or the roof is going to leak.  Estimate on a scale of 1 to 10 (never or rarely to certain to occur).  Next consider the effects of that incident occurring (e.g., records get wet).  What would be the severity of those effects?  Rate that again on a scale of 1 to 10 (very low or none to catastrophic).  Multiply the first number (likelihood of the risk) by the second number (the severity of the effects) to get a risk factor.  This risk factor helps you prioritize efforts in addressing the risks.  Any risk factor 15 or higher should absolutely have an urgent priority.  Finally, list actions that should or need to be taken to help prevent or mitigate these risks and damage to your records.  This information should be passed along to those people in your organization who need to know and/or can help correct any weaknesses or deficiencies found.  Don’t procrastinate and wait for a crisis or disaster to happen.  Be proactive, plan for the worst and hope for the best.  If your area should get hit by a storm this season, be prepared and have your important documentation and information properly secured and protected.