What is a Vital Record?

A Vital Record is defined as any recorded information, regardless of format, that is A) unique to the department or University, B) impossible to reproduce, and C) critical to establish or preserve:

  • The function and mission of the University
  • Normal operations after a disaster
  • The legal or financial position of the University and its stakeholders
  • The rights and interests of the employees and clients of the University
  • The continuous operation or reconstruction of any University owned buildings

Vital Records may exist in any format (e.g., paper, photo, database, electronic file, etc.). They can be either active (currently in use by the office) or inactive (in storage/not used on a regular basis). If destroyed, the loss of a Vital Record would have severe consequences for both the office of record and the University as a whole.

Why Are Vital Records So Important?

Identifying and protecting your Vital Records allows you to re-establish normal operations in your office soon, if not immediately, after a disaster. By knowing your Vital Records, you will be able to concentrate on restoring operations rather than finding necessary information or spending money and time on restoring unnecessary records.

The identification and protection of your Vital Records is crucial as it allows you to:

  • Minimize the disruption of normal business operations after a disaster.
  • Reduce the economic consequences of the disruption.
  • Prioritize recovery and/or salvage of Vital Records and assets (i.e., equipment) rather than using time to recover unnecessary information.
  • Comply with legal and regulatory requirements.

In addition to the practicality of identifying and protecting your Vital Records, your office has legal obligations with regard to your records and their protection. UW Administrative Policy Statement 57.11 states that, "Each individual University office has primary legal responsibility for the proper care and management of its records." This includes the protection of records in the event of a disaster.

The Revised Code of Washington Chapter 40.10.010 requires state agencies to provide adequate protection of their Vital Records by the most economical means possible. As the University of Washington is considered a state agency, this chapter applies to University records. Protection methods accepted by the State are outlined in Protecting Vital Records.

Federal guidelines may also apply to offices that receive funding in the form of federal grants. When an audit occurs in an office that has received a federal grant, failure to provide requested records because of a disaster is not considered an adequate response.