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Disasters and records

Unfortunately disasters do occur and they often affect records and recordkeeping systems. This page is designed to provide quick and easy access to information you might need, if you are dealing with a disaster.

Managing a disaster | Managing recovery | Damaged records | Before a disaster strikes!

Managing a disaster

If you are dealing with a disaster which affects records or recordkeeping systems, you should:

  • Activate your counter disaster plan for records and recordkeeping systems

  • Contact your insurer (check the Protocol for assessors pdf 23kb)

  • Check the Guidelines on counter disaster strategies for records and recordkeeping systems for appropriate salvage and recovery information and techniques
  • Assemble all equipment and resources you will need for your recovery operation (includes fans, dehumidifiers, trolleys, disaster bins etc)
  • Remember to salvage and recover vital records first!
  • Photograph and document the disaster; you will need records of the disaster for your insurance claims, reporting to management, and to State Records.

  • Contact State Records if records are damaged or destroyed (contact Government Recordkeeping on 8247 8627 or  State Records will also be able to provide advice and guidance on salvaging the records (contact our Senior Conservator on 9673 1788).

Managing recovery

You will need to:

Assess the damage to records

  • What records are affected by the disaster?

  • What physical format are the records (eg paper, photographs, maps and plans, video, tape etc)? 

  • Take photographs of the disaster and the damage to records.

Determine the extent of the damage

  • What damage has been done to the records?

  • Can the damage be repaired?

  • Are the records stored in boxes?

  • Are the boxes wet, but the contents dry?

  • Are records wet, damp, only a little wet, or soaked?

Identify your recovery priorities

  • Use your organisation’s vital records recovery list or recovery priority list to determine which records you will need to recover first.

Identify need for expert assistance

  • Identify and determine whether you will need to call in expert assistance for the recovery (this will depend on the nature and severity of the disaster and the quantity of records affected). 

  • In making this decision, you will need to liaise and discuss external assistance with management and your insurer.

Establish recovery operations

  • Decide on a location for your recovery operations

  • Organise necessary equipment and resources for recovery

  • Start moving records to the recovery operations location for treatment.

Your organisation's counter disaster plan should cover these steps in more detail.

See our protocol for assessors and our recovery checklist for more tips on recovering records. 

Damaged records

Once records have started to be recovered, you will need to identify the records and make decisions about what to do with the records. 

It will be necessary for you to make decisions about the records using authorised retention and disposal authorities and in consultation with your organisation.  Importantly, you will also need to follow your organisation’s disposal authorisation processes.

Copies, publications and ephemeral records

  • If the affected records are identified in organisational policy as ephemeral and can be disposed under Normal Administrative Practice, then you may not need to recover the records and the records can be destroyed. 

  • HOWEVER, care must be taken to ensure that only records able to be disposed of under Normal Administrative Practice are destroyed.

Time expired records

  • If the affected records are covered by retention and disposal authorities, have been retained for the minimum retention period, and are no longer required for administrative, legal, financial, audit or business needs, then your organisation may decide to dispose of the records rather than recover them. 

  •  REMEMBER to document the disposal of these records and follow your organisation’s disposal authorisation processes.

Records needed for business purposes or State archives

  • If the affected records are:

            • still required for ongoing business

            • not covered by retention and disposal authorities, or

            • identified as State archives

  • then you must contact State Records to discuss these records.  Contact Government Recordkeeping on 8247 8627 or

Remember, you must contact State Records before you make arrangements for the disposal of records damaged in the disaster. 

Before a disaster strikes!

Its important to plan and prepare for disasters.  You need to:


State Records would like to acknowledge the use of the University of Technology Sydney's records recovery assessment tool in the development of this guidance for NSW public offices.