After you have identified any Vital Records in your office, you need to provide a protection method that best suits the record format. The protection method should be based on several factors, including:
- How vital the record is
- The format of the record
- Access and retrieval needs
- Types of hazards the record faces (as determined through a Risk Assessment)
- Difficulty, cost, and effectiveness of protection
Vital Records should be stored in a format that will last as long as the records are needed. If a Vital Record is in electronic format, it should be saved in a format that is readable without the need for proprietary software; Portable Document Format (PDF) is a good example. If a Vital Record is maintained in a format only readable by specific equipment (e.g., microfilm reader, a particular proprietary software or operating system, etc.), procedures for obtaining access to the necessary equipment must be established. Similarly, if Vital Records are stored in a secured location, be sure to have easy access to any information or passwords needed to access the records in the event of a disaster.
Duplicating Vital Records
The main protection method for Vital Records is through Duplication and Dispersal. Because paper copies are both fragile and easily misplaced, it is best for Vital Records to be duplicated digitally. A simple solution is to scan them onto a network drive or cloud storage. Although scanning many documents can be time consuming initially, once a scanning process is implemented, scanning will only need to be done as new paper documents are received. Before beginning the scanning process, it is important to refer to the UW Scanning Requirements. Click here to get started on a Records Management-approved scanning policy for your office.
If your Vital Records already exist electronically, Duplication and Dispersal mean that the electronic records are regularly backed up to an off-site location. For disaster recovery purposes, it is best practice that the backups be located a minimum of 15 miles from wherever the primary copy is stored. In addition to offerings managed by your department or UW-IT, the University offers two options for cloud-based storage, which are backed-up by their service provider: UW Google Drive and UW OneDrive for Business. Both of these options allow existing documents to be uploaded and new files to be saved to the cloud as they are created. While both presented cloud services are FERPA-approved, only OneDrive for Business is also HIPAA-approved. To learn more about ensuring access to records stored in the cloud, refer to the Records Management page on best practices for utilizing cloud-based applications.
Sole-Copy Vital Records
If a Vital Record must be stored solely on-site, the following concerns should be addressed:
- Check for potential fire, water or sewer hazards. Any corrections or repairs should be made immediately. Records should never be stored directly under any type of pipe as a leaking overhead pipe can easily become the cause of a disaster.
- 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.
- Staff members should know the location of all ABC fire extinguishers.
- Keep records on shelves or in cabinets; never store them directly on the floor.
- Basements or ground floor areas should be used for storage as a last resort since they are most susceptible to water and sewer damage.
The use of specialized equipment, such as fire-resistant vaults, cabinets, or safes is often used as a last resort when records must remain in physical form and located on-site. Disadvantages of specialized equipment include:
- The high cost of specialized equipment.
- Inadequate protection from extreme temperatures. If the fire is hot enough, the records will burn/melt in the drawer.
- While fire-resistant equipment may provide some initial protection against fire damage, it may not be immune to water damage.
- There is the possibility of spontaneous combustion when a drawer is opened after a fire resulting from oxygen being reintroduced back into the drawer's atmosphere.
- Materials used in construction will make specialized equipment heavy and burdensome. The weight load of the equipment may be too heavy for some floors in older buildings.
Regardless of which format or location your office stores their Vital Records, it is recommended that your office also develop a plan for the continuity of business operations in response to a disaster. Consult with UW Emergency Management about the UW BARC program to get started. To learn more about what steps you should take to safeguard your Vital Records, please refer to our reference on Disaster Prevention and Disaster Recovery.