Local government employees who have attended one of our workshops on disaster preparedness have probably heard the term “essential records” before. Unexplained, however, the term can be a little unclear. Other publications have used the terms “vital records” or “business-critical records” to describe these same records.
What are essential records? Simply put, they’re the records that are the most necessary for you to have during a time of emergency. Important historical records like minutes, charters, and other “founding documents” are certainly essential to preserve from a disaster. But not all essential records are permanent records.
Non-permanent essential records are those records that are necessary to ensure continuity of operations within your agency: payroll, personnel, case files, loans, accounts receivable, and others. As government agencies you will also have to consider which records will be most necessary to citizens trying to find their footing after a major disaster.
Good disaster plans will have strategies to ensure the survival of essential records in case of an emergency. One of the best strategies is to keep duplicates of these records in off-site locations. Even if you don’t have a disaster plan in place, though, just knowing which of your records are essential, and where they are, will make you more prepared should an emergency situation–minor or major–arise.
One final example of an essential record: your disaster plan itself. If the only copy of your disaster plan is inaccessible because emergency professionals haven’t declared your building safe for entry yet, it won’t do you much good!
If you’d like more information on how to prepare your agency for emergency situations, please see Tom Vincent’s earlier post on disaster preparedness. In addition to the websites linked in his post, the Council of State Archivists and the North Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board have some excellent resources on their websites, here, and here, respectively.