How Do You Store Vital Records?
After determining what method will be used to protect Vital Records, determining where and how to store the records is crucial. The location you chose will need to be accessible within seconds to 24 hours after a disaster.
Vital Records can be stored on-site, off-site, or in specialized equipment.
On-Site Storage - means housing Vital Records in the same vicinity as your office, such as in a closet or storage area in the building. The drawback to choosing on-site storage is that if a major disaster strikes the entire building or damages it beyond repair, you have little chance of retrieving your Vital Records.
If you choose to store your Vital Records in the same building your office occupies, it is necessary to take precautions to prevent a disaster from spreading to the areas in which the Vital Records are stored. This could range from installing fire doors and walls, to following basic best practices to protect your records. Best practices range from actual physical location to working conditions within the storage area.
The following should be taken into consideration and resolved for each office which has Vital Records in their active files:
- Does the storage area have ventilation?
- Does it have proper temperature and humidity controls?
- What security measures are in place to stop unauthorized access to the area?
- Is the building itself secured against fire, flood and other disasters?
- Is the equipment used for storage adequately safe from disasters and sabotage?
- Would you feel safer storing the only copy of a Vital Record on-site or off-site?
Once the on-site storage location has been chosen, the following concerns should be addressed:
- Check for potential fire, water or sewer hazards.Any corrections or repairs should be made immediately (leaking overhead pipes may cause a disaster). Records should never be stored directly under any type of pipes.
- Staff members should know the location of the vital records and access to materials should be restricted to authorized personnel.
- Aisles and doorways should be kept clear at all times.
- Inactive records should be transferred on a regular basis to the University Records Center (URC) for storage.
- Staff members should know the location of all ABC fire extinguishers.
TIP: ABC fire extinguishers deal with three types of flammable materials: A = wood and paper, B = liquids and grease, C = electrical. Contact Environmental Health and Safety for more information on types of fire extinguishers. Basements or ground floor areas should be used for storage as a last resort since they are most susceptible to water and sewer damage.
Basements or ground floor areas should be used for storage as a last resort since they are most susceptible to water and sewer damage.
Off-site storage means storing the records away from the office, in another building or out of the geographical area. There are several options for off-site storage, including hot sites, cold sites, and records centers. Both hot and cold sites are usually affiliated with offices that rely heavily on the recovery or availability of databases or electronic records for continuance of their normal operations. However, these sites can also be used by offices that rely on paper or microfilm records. For our purposes we are going to apply the concept of a hot-site to all media formats.
Hot site -
- An area identified prior to an emergency/disaster as the operation center or meeting place from which the office staff will continue operations or restart normal operations. Hot sites contain everything your office has identified as critical for operation (How to Identify Vital Records), ready for immediate use. This method of protection can be costly and is best used by offices which will require computer systems to be up and running immediately after a disaster, or by offices with the responsibility for organizing and running recovery procedures (i.e., police, physical plant, computing and communications). Prior to establishing a hot site, an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of maintaining a hot site should be completed. Hot sites require continuous updating of equipment to ensure the area is ready for use. Additionally, in most instances, the site must be in a location that allows personnel to arrive there quickly.
Cold site -
- An area identified as a back-up location in case the original office is unusable after a disaster. It differs from a hot site in that there is no pre-purchase of equipment or supplies which are stored at the cold site prior to an emergency. Although it is much less costly, re-establishing operations at a cold site involves more time and effort than moving operations to a hot site. An analysis should be done to ensure that establishing a cold site will be cost effective. If the cold site is used to store Vital Records, the cost of duplicating and delivering the Vital Records to the site must be considered in the cost analysis.
The use of Specialized Equipment, such as vaults, fire-resistant cabinets and/or fire-resistant safes, represents another type of on-site storage. While this equipment may provide some initial protection against fire damage, it may not be immune to water damage. Fire-resistant equipment is often used as a last resort when there is very little office space or no storage areas available to hold duplicated Vital Records.
Disadvantages of specialized equipment include:
- The possibility of spontaneous combustion when a drawer is opened after a fire, the result of oxygen being released back into the drawer's atmosphere.
- Inadequate protection from extreme temperatures. If the fire is hot enough, the paper records will burn in the drawer.
- The high cost of specialized equipment.
- The susceptibility of specialized equipment to water damage.
- Materials used in construction will make specialized equipment heavy and burdensome, which can be a hazard after a fire because of increased weight from water gain. The weight load of the equipment may be too heavy for some floors in older buildings.
If specialized equipment is going to be used, it should be designed specifically for the type of record medium it contains and used exclusively for Vital Records.
Satisfactory fire-resistant cabinets/vaults are rated according to the maximum number of hours they can be exposed to fire and maximum temperature while still protecting the contents. For example, a rating of UL 150-3 means that this piece of equipment has an Underwriter's Laboratory Class 150 rating with 3 hours of protection from fire damage. Vendor catalogs will give the specifications and equipment costs according to level of resistance. However, keep in mind that the "hours of protection" will decrease as the temperature of the fire increases.