Front page > Flood
A Record Flood
VSARA is saddened by the personal and work-related losses and damages suffered by state employees. Our records analysis staff assisted several public agencies in the days following Tropical Storm Irene as agency staff tried to assess the condition of their records and information infrastructure and continue their operations, albeit limited.
We are deeply impressed by the dedication and perseverance demonstrated by agency staff and volunteers throughout the state. They tried to recover and salvage records, hardware, and equipment essential to government functions, the State of Vermont, and our citizens; and worked to make the best of out of a bad situation.
- Responders need records to react effectively to the situation and to continue operations.
- Government agencies need records to provide essential services.
- Individuals need government records to prove their identity and re-establish their lives.
Your agency's Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) is the "go-to" document for preparedness and mitigation strategies in an emergency. In addition to addressing physical infrastructure and systems, your continuity plan should include detailed information on how to protect and ensure continued access to essential records in case of natural disasters or human-caused threats.
Essential records should be evaluated, identified, and incorporated into a continuity plan. It is crucial to have an accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date plan in which essential records critical to the continuity of operations are secured and the plan is readily accessible to agency staff.
Many continuity plans currently lack important documentation, information and guidance in the section on essential records. VSARA had been preparing to implement a FEMA-endorsed training called Intergovernmental Preparedness for Essential Records (IPER) in mid-2012. We are now committed to rolling out this training as soon as possible. In addition, VSARA is committed to assisting agencies so that all the necessary plans, skills, training, resources, and contracts are in place to respond as quickly, responsibly, and as effectively as possible in any given emergency.
Whether your agency was affected by Irene or not, below are some basic strategies and steps for identifying your agency's essential records. VSARA's records analyst team is also available to help agencies further expand their continuity plans by identifying essential records. If records have been damaged or your agency is being relocated, we can assist in the development and implementation of interim plans.
Identifying Essential Records
Essential records provide an agency with information it needs to conduct business under other-than-normal conditions, and to resume more normal business afterwards. These records, combined with other components of a continuity plan, allow the agency to continue functioning under a range of adverse conditions, whatever their intensity and duration.
Determining which of your records are "essential" requires a great deal of thought, and opinions will vary widely. All records are useful to your agency in some way, though usually not all are essential to your immediate continuity of operations. However, some agencies, based on their functions, roles, and responsibilities, may legitimately designate a more substantial percentage as essential. It is also important to note that as disruption time due to the emergency increases, more records become essential.
Essential records are either dynamic or static. Dynamic essential records contain information that can change periodically -- for example, phone trees. In order to be useful in emergency situations, dynamic essential records must be kept up to date.
Static essential records contain information that does not change over time, such as birth records, final permits, court orders, etc. These records may also be referred to as vital, mission-critical, or business-critical records.
Records are considered essential when they:
- Are necessary for emergency response
- Are necessary to resume or continue operations
- Protect the health, safety, property, and rights of residents
- Would require massive resources to reconstruct
- Document the history of communities and families
Essential records require special protection strategies, such as back-up systems, or copying and dispersing files and resources off site. These strategies ensure that essential records are not only protected from the effects of an emergency, but are also accessible during and after an emergency.
Which of Your Agency's Records Are Essential?
Essential records are generally those which support essential functions for which the agency is responsible by law, and will differ from agency to agency. Essential functions are the functions that enable a government to provide vital services, exercise civil authority, maintain the safety and well-being of the general population, and sustain its jurisdiction's industrial and economic base in an emergency.
Essential functions are those that must continue under all circumstances with minimal disruption, and cannot be interrupted for even a short period of time without compromising the agency's ability to perform its mission.
Step 1: Identify and Analyze Your Agency's Business Functions
Review agency and department statements, internal directives, laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to your agency's mission; and talk with key stakeholders.
Step 2: Determine the Essential Business Functions
Analyze and prioritize business functions based on what functions your agency must perform under adverse operating conditions.
- Is there anything that your own agency or department does that is critical to the larger agency or government of which it is part? If your operation were shut down, how greatly would it affect the rest of your agency, other agencies, the government as a whole, or the public?
- Which of these critical functions are performed only by your own agency or department and not elsewhere?
- For the functions essential to your agency or department and not done elsewhere, are there alternative methods of carrying out those functions during the emergency and recovery periods?
After eliminating the business functions for which there are alternative methods of support, what functions are left? These functions constitute your essential business functions.
Step 3: Determine the Essential Records That Support Essential Business Functions
- Do you consider any of these records to be invaluable? If these records were lost or unavailable because of an emergency, would there be any dramatic effect on your agency's ability to perform its essential functions?
- Are there records your agency or department creates or maintains that the public would need in an emergency?
- How soon would you need duplicates if these records were lost or unavailable during an emergency?
- Think about what records your agency creates or maintains that may be essential to other agencies or emergency services, but are NOT essential to your essential functions (for example, building plans or the floor plan of your agency).