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Vital Records Protection

Vital Records Protection
Dedicated to providing educational information about the protection of vital records from fire, disasters, theft and other dangers



Frequently Asked Questions

Providing answers to questions most often asked about vital records protection
  1. What is the official definition of a Vital Record?
  2. Why do Vital Records need to be protected?
  3. What forms of recorded data are usually categorized as "Vital"?
  4. What is a Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) plan?
  5. What does BC/DR have to do with Vital Records Protection?
  6. Doesn't Vital Records Protection fall under the category of "Records Management"?
  7. Isn't this just one extra expense no one needs in today's cutthroat economy?
  8. How does an organization assess the threat to Vital Records?
  9. What special measures should be taken to protect computer media?
  10. Should I have all of the Vital Records in my organization digitized?
  11. If an organization stores all Vital Records at an offsite location, they are adequately protected, right?
  12. OK, so can't standard filing equipment offer fire protection?

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1. What is the official definition of a Vital Record?
Vital Records are defined as: records containing information essential to the survival of an organization in the event of a disaster. Vital Records typically make up a small percentage of the vast amounts of the recorded data which is created by a typical organization - normally 5%. The range can vary depending on the business of the organization. However, a legal, medical, accounting and/or governmental organization may have a much higher proportion of active case files which are regarded as Vital Records.

 
2. Why do Vital Records need to be protected?
Vital Records will document an organization's legal and financial positions and preserve the rights of employees, customers and stockholders in the event of a disaster. If a Vital Record is lost, damaged, destroyed or otherwise rendered unavailable, that loss becomes a disaster-within-a-disaster, affecting critical operations needed to recover from the initial disaster.

 
3. What forms of recorded data are usually categorized as "Vital?"
Some common examples include:
  • Contracts/agreements that prove ownership of property, equipment, vehicles, products, etc.
  • Operational records such as current accounting and tax records, current personnel/payroll records, account histories, and shipping records
  • Current client files
  • Current standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Produced reports and summaries
  • Software source codes (to include both licensed programs and systems and custom developed applications)

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4. What is a Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) plan?
A Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) plan serves as the main resource for the preparation for, response to, and recovery from, a disaster that affects any number of crucial functions in an organization.

 
5. What does BC/DR have to do with Vital Records Protection?
The foundation for developing a Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery plan lies in developing a method for the protection and preservation of Vital Records.

 
6. Doesn't Vital Records Protection fall under the category of "Records Management"?
A Vital Records program can be developed within the context of a formal records management program; however a formal records management program is not essential.

 
7. Isn't this just one extra expense no one needs in today's cutthroat economy?
Products (and services) which increase the protection of Vital Records should be viewed as an investment, not an expense like some other office equipment such as copiers, computers, faxes etc.

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8. How does an organization assess the threat to Vital Records?
The first step is to identify specific risks, such as: facility and equipment hazards that can result in flooding to records storage areas, risky storage practices that increase the risk of fire, and periodic electric storms or tornados that could endanger digitally stored Vital Records. With electronic data you also need to consider poor care or storage - simple things such as spilled coffee, poor handling, etc.

 
9. What special measures should be taken to protect computer media?
Paper and media require different levels of protection. paper is more durable than media and can tolerate a wide range of humidity levels and heat up to approximately 400°F before igniting. Media such as diskettes, CDs, and tapes cannot survive either the higher temperature or the humidity levels found in the paper rated products. They must be stored in an environment that will stay below 125°F and 80% humidity in order to be protected.

 
10. Should I have all of the Vital Records in my organization digitized?
No. Not all records are good candidates for digitization. In many cases, it's cheaper to store paper records than to digitize them.

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11. If an organization stores all Vital Records at an offsite location, they are adequately protected, right?
Offsite storage of Vital Records can be a viable option for archived records, however, but for current information, such as daily backups and transaction records, storing Vital Records offsite requires such a high degree of discipline and coordination that it will become extraordinarily expensive and time consuming to try to move daily backups to an offsite location. At the end of the day, its just not feasible to rely 100% on offsite. Organizations still have to address the question of how to guarantee Vital Records are secure and fire-protected while they remain onsite.

 
12. OK, so can't standard filing equipment offer fire protection?
This thinking, attractive to management because it "seems" cheaper, is erroneous and potentially dangerous. Remember, you're attempting to protect your most vital information assets, and it is highly advisable to seek the highest quality. Price should not be an overriding factor in your decision. It is imperative to seek products that are tested by Underwriters' Laboratory (UL) or other nationally known independent testing labs. It has become best practice for companies to use fireproof file cabinets to store their documentation.

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