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Be Prepared: Making Sure Your Business Records Can Withstand a Superstorm

Date: December 5 2012

When Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeastern United States, more than 7.5 million businesses and households in 15 states and the District of Columbia were left without power, according to numbers compiled by CNN from local power providers. Flooding all along the Eastern seaboard also caused billions of dollars in damage to hundreds of thousands of businesses, shutting many of them down.
How many of them were prepared for such a disaster and will be able to survive is yet to be known, but chances are that a tremendous number of them will not because they had not developed an emergency management plan to help them get through the immediate emergency, resume business, and maintain their competitive position and financial stability.
Being prepared for an emergency includes protecting the organization’s most critical assets. While protecting employees, facilities, and equipment is at the top of the list for most organizations, they may not think about how important it is to protect their vital records, which are critical to their ability to resume operations. Without access to their vital records and information, organizations will have difficulty serving customers, securing new business, or keeping up with the day-to-day activities needed to function in the face of a disaster.
As shown in figure one, there are three classes of vital records organizations need to act immediately to protect:
  1. Records needed for emergency operations, such as business continuity plans, emergency management communication lists, and personnel contact lists
  2. Records needed for resumption and continuation of business, such as current customer or client files, in-progress accounts payable and accounts receivable, and current contracts and agreements
  3. Records needed for legal or audit purposes, such as accounts payable and accounts receivable files, existing contracts and agreements, and unaudited financial records
Vital Records (Class 1) Priorities for Access
Vital A
These records and information are essential for emergency operations.
For quick access, physical protective storage must be close to the (physical) disaster response site, where coordination of emergency support information and resources (on-scene operations) activities take place. Electronic replication methods are available for immediate access of information.
Vital B
These records and information are essential for immediate resumption and continuation of business following a disaster.
For quick business resumption, physical protective storage must be close to the (physical) disaster recovery site,  where disaster site recovery and restoration actions take place. Electronic replication methods are quickly accessible and backups can be quickly restored. Note: For optimal benefit, the (physical) disaster recovery site and the (physical) disaster response site should not be in close proximity to each other.
Vital C
These records and information are essential for legal or audit purposes.
Physical protective storage is accessible and outside the disaster area.
Source: ANSI/ARMA 5-2010 Vital Records Programs: Identifying, Managing, and Recovering Business-Critical Records. ©2010 ARMA International, Used with permission.
Surviving a disaster goes well beyond protecting vital records, though. To ensure that your organization is prepared for, can respond to, and will recover from a disaster, act now to develop a comprehensive emergency management plan. Because personnel and monetary resources will be needed, top managers and employees must support the concept.
After assembling a team consisting of representatives of various organizational functions, including emergency management director, procurement officer, financial manager, safety officer, information technology manager or CIO, records manager, facility manager, operations manager, and human resources manager, the next initial step is to prepare a proposal for top-level management following these steps:
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine costs and benefits of an emergency management plan.
  • Conduct a business impact assessment, analyzing all business functions and the effect a disaster may have on them.
Comprehensive emergency management planning yields many benefits for the organization’s records, information, and assets if an emergency event occurs. Stakeholders can gain comfort by knowing that measures have been taken to protect the organization from loss. Emergency management planning benefits that should be promoted in a proposal include:
  1. Quick resumption of operations. When personnel establish a plan, train others, complete preparedness activities and test the plan, they are ahead of the game and ready to handle an emergency. Even more important, if an emergency occurs, personnel have a good chance of controlling it. Quick resumption of operations leads to continued profitability or revenue flow and adds value to an organization and the products and services it delivers.
  2. Improved safety. The courts could hold an organization negligent for not having a plan when an even caused an injury or took an employee’s life. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all employers to develop and implement an emergency action plan that includes protection procedures for personnel during and after an emergency. Materials and supplies can be replaced; personnel are not recoverable. The emergency management plan should address key activities, such as training and risk mitigation, that will help keep people safe.
  3. Protection of vital assets. As discussed above, emergency management planning includes plans for protecting the organization’s vital assets. The plan protects shareholders’ investments, secures employees’ jobs and retirement benefits, safeguards research, protects personal information, and maintains customer confident and trust. When the benefits of immediate resumption of operations and protection of personnel are understood, benefits of protecting material assets will be recognized as well.
  4. Reduced insurance costs. An emergency management plan is a close partner of business and security. The plan should contain specific information about assets and risks, low-cost preventative measures, and the cost of each protection program, such as a computer hot site, offsite records storage, or back-up hardware. Additionally, the plan contains schedules for periodic facility inspections and personnel training.
  5. Improved security. The process of preparing an emergency management or business continuity plan includes a review of present security procedures to protect facilities, personnel, records, and information from theft or acts of vandalism or terrorism. The plan should include detailed procedures to monitor and control access to the facilities that contain vital records and information. Security is an important part of the mitigation phase of emergency management.
  6. Compliance with laws. Leaders of organizations have the responsibility of taking reasonable measure to protect the organization’s assets, records, and information. Court cases set the legal precedent that organizations must have an established emergency management plan. In addition, a plan may be required by law, regulation, or contract/agreement.
  7. Reduction of errors from shock factor. Without a plan, people will react haphazardly to an emergency, making mistakes or not reacting at all,  leading to greater damage. Emergency response planning exercises or mock drills place people in “what if” situations that increase awareness of how to behave in real events. People that know what is expected of them in emergency situations will be less fearful and behave more effectively.
Developing an emergency management plan may seem overwhelming, but ARMA International is here to assist you as a key partner and resource. It’s a big job and it’s an important one; for resources to ensure your company is ready for anything, rain or shine, please visit
Emergency Management for Records & Information Programs is a valuable resource to assist all who are responsible for the protections of their organization’s information resources. The text is an organized guide through the essential phases of emergency management: prevention (mitigation), preparedness, response, and – ultimately – recovery. It is currently available through the ARMA Bookstore for $25, a $10 discount.
About ARMA International
ARMA International ( is a not-for-profit professional association and the authority on information management and governance. Formed in 1955, ARMA International is the oldest and largest association for the records and information management profession with a current international membership of more than 10,000. It provides education, publications, and information on the efficient maintenance, retrieval, and preservation of vital information created in public and private organizations in all sectors of the economy. It also publishes the award-winning Information Management magazine.

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