Without the safety of a vault door to protect your business, a fire can destroy the vital records of your organization at any time. A burned document is irretrievable and unrecoverable. A loss of this magnitude is devastating to a business financially. It disrupts operations and endangers legal rights. Perhaps the worst part is that historical data disappears permanently.
An organization must plan well in order to circumvent a loss of this kind. For instance, a records disaster plan covers fire risks and assesses prevention measures for the loss of records through fire damage, including:
- Fire threat assessment and actions to mitigate or eliminate them
- A comprehensive, thorough inventory of all documents, their location and value
- Electronic records backup procedures
- Dispersal and duplication of essential paper documents
In the event of a fire, you should never try to save records before vacating the building. Furthermore, never enter a burning building in an attempt to collect documents regardless of their perceived value. Additionally, only enter a building after a fire to assess the damage once the fire department deems the building safe.
The two ways to protect documents from fire damage are passive and active fire protection.
The Basics of Passive Fireproofing
Passive fire protection is always at work, despite its name. Fire-resistant materials make up the construction of records storage facilities or the overall construction of an entire building. Passive fireproof coatings help both supporting structures maintain their integrity longer. These layers permit emergency exits, stairways and roof structures to remain accessible to emergency teams and firefighters longer. Examples include the following:
- Fire-Resistant Sheetrock or Dry Wall: All dry wall is naturally fireproof, which slows the spread of fire because it resists burning for about 30 minutes.
- Fire-Resistant Safes, Vaults and File Cabinets: A fireproof safe, vault and file cabinet is an ideal method to protect valuable documents or artifacts. Safe & Vault manufacturers have different classifications when it comes to fireproofing.
Active fire protection is an important factor in maintaining the safety of a structure from fire with the action of moving parts, whether automatic or manual. Some examples include systems such as:
- Mist Systems: This type of active fireproofing developed from the sprinkler system which releases droplets of water to cool the room and displace oxygen to rob the fire of its fuel and extinguish it.
- Water Sprinklers: This system is the most common and cost-effective suppression element and is designed to flood a room and extinguish a fire by soaking it.
- Chemical Systems: Wet or dry chemicals are used to put out fire when water supply is unavailable. They are highly effective, but require significant cleanup efforts.
- Aerosol Systems: An aerosol that is potassium-based can stop a fire and prevent flames from reigniting for an hour.
- Gas Systems: This type of active fireproofing depletes the air of oxygen, which robs the fire of its fuel.
According to archives.nysed.gov, custodians of records have myriad alternatives for protecting archives and records. By combining passive and active fireproofing techniques, the highest level of protection is possible. Making the right decision involves assessing your unique circumstances, researching all available options and consulting with State Archives personnel and the state and local governmental code enforcement division.