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Disaster Plan: Mystery Surrounds Loss of Digital 9/11 Records, Docs & Art 2011/08/21

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Best Practices, Digital Preservation, Education, Electronic Records, Intellectual Property, Privacy & Security.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A few weeks ago, nydawg member NYU Professor Howard Besser shared this article from the AP.  As an archivist and records manager, I shudder to think that all copies of each lost asset was only stored in one place, and that no copies were stored offsite, stored in at least two geographically different locations.

“Besides ending nearly 3,000 lives, destroying planes and reducing buildings to tons of rubble and ash, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks destroyed tens of thousands of records, irreplaceable historical documents and art.  In some cases, the inventories were destroyed along with the records. And the loss of human life at the time overshadowed the search for lost paper. A decade later, agencies and archivists say they’re still not completely sure what they lost or found, leaving them without much of a guide to piece together missing history.

“You can’t get the picture back, because critical pieces are missing,” said Kathleen D. Roe, operations director at the New York State Archives and co-chairwoman of the World Trade Center Documentation Project. “And so you can’t know what the whole picture looks like.”  . . . . “The trade center was home to more than 430 companies, including law firms, manufacturers and financial institutions. Twenty-one libraries were destroyed, including that of The Journal of Commerce. Dozens of federal, state and local government agencies were at the site, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

from Northeast Document Conservation Center

But the story goes on to point out that nobody notified NARA!  I would think that most of these federal agencies would have disaster plans and policies, (check out the Library of Congress’s 404 page not found, or here or NARA and NARA from 1993 but maybe I’m wrong.   Fortunately, you can probably find assistance at NDECC dPlan….

 . .  . “Federal agencies are required by law to report the destruction of records to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration — but none did. Federal archivists called the failure understandable, given the greater disaster.  After Sept. 11, “agencies did not do precisely what was required vis-à-vis records loss,” said David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, in an email to The Associated Press. “Appropriately, agencies were more concerned with loss of life and rebuilding operations — not managing or preserving records.”  He said off-site storage and redundant electronic systems backed up some records; but the attacks spurred the archives agency to emphasize the need for disaster planning to federal records managers.

Said Steven Aftergood, the director of the project on government secrecy at the watchdog group the Federation of American Scientists: “Under extreme circumstances, like those of 9/11, ordinary record keeping procedures will fail. Routine archival practices were never intended to deal with the destruction of entire offices or buildings.”

Read “Mystery Surrounds Loss of Records, Art on 9/11” , and when you’re ready and think you can get some institutional support, you might want to check out some great resources including:
the Society of American Archivists’ [SAA] annotated resources site for disaster plan templates, articles and other useful information; or a
useful guide from NARA Emergency Preparedness Bibliography (which is only 5 years old) or this from
NARA Disaster Preparation Primer from 1993
which doesn’t mention digital or electronic.



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