The clean up and rebuild in the areas affected by Harvey is just beginning and will be a long and hard process. A big part of getting things back to some sense of normalcy will be the restoration of utilities, fixing roads, opening courts and schools, and many other state and local government services that are essential to the citizens in those areas. To do that, government officials will need to access their records to find the location of utility lines, which children are returning to school, what court cases have been filed, what land has been sold… the list goes on and on as to the importance of having the right information to provide services as quickly as possible.
If records are maintained electronically, hopefully backups can be brought online and computer equipment can be salvaged or replaced quickly. In the case of physical records, it is essential to examine the condition of offices, warehouses, and other locations where records are stored as soon as possible. Of course, you should only return to offices/buildings that have been deemed safe by emergency personnel.
Unfortunately, some physical records just aren’t going to be salvageable or will be too costly to send to a conservation lab for restoration. For some ideas on how to begin triaging records, TSLAC has a webinar with some suggestions. In cases where the records cannot be recovered, local officials need to document the types of records affected, the volume of records lost, and when the records were due for destruction. For non-permanent records, this internal documentation is sufficient. But for any permanent records, TSLAC will need to be notified. Local officials should submit an SLR 501: Request for Authority to Destroy Unscheduled Records to TSLAC; State agency field offices in the affected areas should submit an RMD 102: Authority to Dispose of a State Record. It is also helpful if you can include photos, a letter describing the circumstances that lead to the damage, or any other evidence that supports the information you will provide on the form.
Now, the INTENDED use for these forms is either to obtain permission and legal authority to destroy unique records that do not appear on a state or local government’s approved retention schedule, which otherwise would be permanent OR to request permission from TSLAC to destroy the paper original of a record a local government wants to microfilm. That’s it.
That being said, if permanent records are damaged/rendered unsalvageable from conditions beyond your control, submit this form to TSLAC in order to officially document and note the event, any pertinent details, and number/ type of records that were destroyed.
This does not absolve you of legal responsibility for following the retention period set by your schedules; it just provides evidence about the nature of the records’ destruction. By doing this in the normal course of business, it shows that information was not intentionally withheld or destroyed.
One final thought on documentation: make sure you are documenting the time spent on records recovery. This work is part of the cleanup efforts and may count toward in-kind matching for federal disaster funds. Track staff hours, purchases of boxes or other supplies, restoration services, and anything else that can provide evidence of recovery efforts.
If you have any questions about our forms or the process, please contact us at 512-463-7610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue to update our blog with more resource information as we have it.