Hurricane Sandy Reminds Us: Good Recordkeeping is Essential for Disaster Recovery

A week and a half ago, when everyone on the East coast was preparing for Hurricane Sandy, most of us were thinking about water, flashlights, sump pump backup power, and gasoline. How many people took the time to make sure that they had their vital personal records accounted for and safeguarded in the event that the storm did more than take down some branches in the backyard? Those of us who were lucky enough to weather the storm without sustaining significant damage can look at those who lost everything and use the jolt of “That could have been me…” to prompt us to take measures to protect one of our most important personal assets.

Personal vital records include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Birth/marriage/death certificates, divorce decrees;
  • Adoption records;
  • Passports, driver’s licenses, health insurance cards, work IDs, other photo IDs;
  • Current photographs of household members;
  • Contracts, leases, and mortgages;
  • Deeds for real property and titles for your cars;
  • Insurance policies (homeowner’s, auto, health, dental, life, etc.);
  • Records and access information for all financial accounts (bank, credit card, investment, etc.)
  • Records of legal proceedings;
  • Wills and estate plans;
  • Immunization and medical history records;
  • Prescriptions (medical, vision, etc.);
  • Tax returns and supporting documentation;
  • Emergency information (e.g., contact information for family, friends, doctors, insurance companies, and contractors and utility companies);
  • Household inventory (provides replacement value evidence for insurance purposes);
  • Social Security cards and records;
  • Educational records (transcripts, diplomas, etc.);
  • Employment records (resume, employment history, reference contact information, salary history);
  • Military service records;
  • Records for your pet(s); and last, but not least,
  • Unique records that have sentimental value (family photographs, video, keepsakes, etc.).

Many of these records can be replaced if you lose them, although that will take a lot more time and effort (and money!) than protecting the ones you already have. Some of your records can’t be replaced. These are records that you’ll survive without, but they’re the ones that you’ll truly regret losing (e.g., the video of your baby’s first steps, or letters from a deceased loved one).

You should keep your vital records together (in one container if possible) so that you can take them with you if you need to evacuate and you should update them regularly. These records may be electronic or they may be physical (paper, photographs, videotapes, etc.) Your plan for maintaining them should take their format into consideration. You may want to keep copies of certain records in a safe deposit box or with a trusted friend or relative (who doesn’t live next door, in case they suffer from the same disaster!) This is also a good option for cases where you don’t have a chance to get the records before the disaster strikes. A fire-proof safe in your home is another good storage option. Another option, if you have chosen to digitize records as a backup, is to use online storage, which may be a service offered through the company that provides your home internet connection (or you can choose from any of a large number of companies that offer this as their primary service). Just make sure key people (e.g., your spouse, children, your lawyer, or a trusted friend) have access to the records in the event that you are unable to do so. They will need to know the physical location of the records (and know how to gain access to that location) or will need login information for the server where the records are stored.

Identifying, locating, and safeguarding your vital records is not a quick and easy task, but it can save enormous amounts of time and money and is the best way to prevent important records from being destroyed in the event of a disaster.

Step 1: Review your records and identify which ones are the most important to you and your family. This is a good time to destroy your obsolete records.

Step 2: Put originals together in a container you can take with you or in a home safe or a bank safe deposit box.

Step 3: Make copies (electronic or photocopies) of these records for active use and to serve as a back-up if the originals are destroyed. Keep a copy with someone you trust or keep an electronic backup online.

Step 4: Make sure everyone who should know how to access these records knows how to do so. Likewise, make sure that you keep the records as secure as possible. This is personal and confidential information that you do not want just anyone to gain access to.

Taking these steps to protect your personal records will not only help in the case of a disaster but will also support your regular household operations as it provides an opportunity to organize your records and purge the obsolete ones. Happy recordkeeping!

Guidelines for scanning university records

I’ve put together this set of best practices for units that are considering (or are already actively) digitizing paper records and using the electronic version in place of the paper original. This is intended to help you make sure that you are scanning records at an acceptable level of quality for university purposes. Please address any questions to me (Anne Marie Phillips, University Records Manager).

In order for scans of university records to meet Princeton’s needs for adequate recordkeeping, the following minimum requirements must be met:
  1. The scan must be complete (e.g., for a given credit card statement, every receipt and missing original receipt form must be included);
  2. The scan must be legible. Review scans for legibility periodically as a part of regularly conducted quality control. Considerations for legibility include ensuring that:
    1. The scan is not blurred or indistinguishable;
    2. Each individual document is captured completely; and
    3. The resulting image is not crooked or skewed.
  3. The document must be scanned at a resolution that will capture the finest significant details of the original, typically a minimum resolution of 150 dpi;
  4. The scan must be saved in PDF or TIFF format and must not be further altered; and
  5. The scan must be saved in a location that is known, identifiable, secure, and backed up on a regular basis by OIT or by in-unit IT staff. As with paper records, scanned records must be accessible when needed, and kept in a secure location to prevent accidental or intentional alteration or loss.

Please note that these standards are the minimum required and will be acceptable for most non-permanent records. In some instances higher standards may be appropriate. For example, if an original document is faded or badly printed, the scan may need to be done at a higher resolution or the image may need manipulation to make it legible. The ultimate goal, in adhering to these standards, is to produce reproductions of the original records that will serve as acceptable supporting documentation for internal and external audits, audits by regulatory agencies, and legal matters. Scans that are not legible, complete, and secure, yet accessible to authorized people when necessary, are not acceptable forms of supporting documentation. If you have any questions about these guidelines, please contact the university records manager, Anne Marie Phillips.

Financial records retention information announced in the General Ledger newsletter

The July 2011 issue of the General Ledger Newsletter, a newsletter from the Office of Finance and Treasury, highlights the accounts payable records in Princeton’s current record retention guidelines. The intention of this statement is to clarify the office of record (i.e., who has ownership of and responsibility) for these records. I will cite the main points here, and include additional information after each point.

  • The Office of Finance and Treasury is the office of record for payment vouchers (e.g., travel vouchers, employee vouchers, vendor vouchers, etc.), purchase orders, and supporting materials (e.g., invoices, receipts, etc.).

When a request for payment is processed by Accounts Payable, the transaction and its supporting evidence are captured in the financial systems in use by Accounts Payable. Accounts Payable then becomes the “office of record” for these records, and assumes the responsibility for maintaining them for the appropriate retention period. The department should maintain the original records for 90 days or until the payment has been verified and reconciled in the departmental account, whichever is longer.

  • This policy does not include the financial records of sponsored research.

While Accounts Payable also processes payments for sponsored research projects, we will be treating the financial records of sponsored research separately, primarily because of their longer-term retention requirements. Please continue to maintain these records as before. The Office of Finance and Treasury and I will follow up with specific retention information for these records within the next 6-8 months.

  • Finance and Treasury will provide departments with copies of previously submitted documents upon request.

As I mentioned above, departments should retain original records until they’ve been verified and reconciled. The 90-day period should reduce the need for departments to request copies of those documents they have previously submitted. In the event that a copy is needed, however, please request it via e-mail: invoices@princeton.edu.

  • Departments are the office of record for departmental credit card statements and receipts.

Yes, this means what you think it means. Departments must retain the records (monthly credit card statements, credit card transaction receipts, etc.) that document the use of departmental credit cards. These records must be retained for 7 years and then destroyed. Please maintain the records in such a way that you can provide these records if needed.

But wait! There’s more…

  • Departments may, if they so choose, scan credit card receipts and other documentation and destroy the originals, provided that they scan them to a legally acceptable standard.

We are currently working on documenting some commonsense scanning guidelines, and they will be published here, as well as announced in other venues. You may expect these shortly.

Please check here regularly for more news and information on all types of records retention topics, and feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have.

Let the records management begin!

Welcome to Princeton University’s records management blog. My name is Anne Marie Phillips, and, as University Records Manager, my job at Princeton is to help you manage your records and information in ways that will make your work easier, ensure that you are in compliance with Princeton’s information management goals and responsibilities, and identify records that are of permanent value to Princeton that should be transferred to the University Archives when they are no longer being actively used in your office. University records include paper files, electronic files, e-mail, databases, photographs, and more; if it is evidence of the work you do, it is a record.

I will use this blog to provide you with news, information, and helpful hints that will bring records-related issues to your attention, answer your records management questions, and give you ideas and methods for achieving your own records management goals.

The types of entries you can expect to find here include:

  • Records-related news items (e.g., Ohio State University Hacked – Records of 760,000 Compromised);
  • Links to Princeton-specific records information, including policies, procedures, and records schedules (which indicate how long you should keep records and what to do with them when they’re no longer needed);
  • Discussions of specific records issues (e.g., managing e-mail, setting up a workable filing system, etc.); and
  • Best practices guides and FAQs.

Please feel free to submit ideas for discussion, and to make comments and suggestions. If you need a records consultation or detailed information specific to the records in your office, please e-mail me at ap2@princeton.edu.