Identifying the Vital Records in your office is one of your most critical tasks. It needs to be done immediately so that you can arrange for protection prior to a disaster. By applying the steps listed below, your office will be able to identify the records that may be necessary to continue office functions after a disaster.

Step 1: Identify key functions and responsibilities

Identify the key functions or responsibilities of your office based on the following criteria

  • Operational - Any functions which are vital to the operation and continuation of your office or the University as a whole.
  • Legal - Any functions which provide proof of the University's legal stand on an issue.
  • Emergency - Any functions which are needed during an emergency, i.e., telecommunications or emergency rooms.
  • Fiscal - Any functions which prove the University's financial standings, i.e. accounts receivable or general ledgers.

Tools to help you identify the unique functions of your office may include:

  • Functional/Organizational charts. If these exist in your office, they are a good place to start as they provide a comprehensive list of your office's normal functions.
  • Department Records Retention Schedules. These retention schedules provide a list of all records unique to your office. The schedule will also show if a copy exists elsewhere within the University.
  • Emergency Operations Plan for UW. Although the plan is geared towards emergency personnel (i.e., police, fire department, facility operations), it will help identify what office is responsible for specific functions in the event of an emergency. The plan does provide information regarding the key emergency functions for offices and it is suggested that you read through it to determine if any specific responsibilities are listed for your office.


Step 2: Identify your Vital Records

Once you have identified the key functions/responsibilities of your office, answering the following questions will help you to identify your Vital Records. Once you have done this, use the Vital Records Checklist to help you answer the following questions.

  • What function will we be unable to do if this record is destroyed (i.e., can the work be carried out or continued if this record is gone)?
  • How critical is our inability to perform this function?
  • What will be the consequences to the University if these records are lost? Will any client, employee, or student of the University suffer loss of rights or be severely inconvenienced if these records are lost?
  • If these records have to be reconstructed, what will the cost be in terms of time, money and labor? Will the information in these records have to be reconstructed or retrieved in a matter of hours, days, or weeks?
  • Can these records be replaced from another source?
  • Are these records on computer, disc, microfilm?
  • Are these records duplicated in a different format?
  • Is the format easily accessible after an emergency?

Other considerations to determine if records are vital:

  •  Uniqueness of the record.
  •  Relationship of one record to another.
  •  The type of information needed during and following an emergency.