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and Disaster Preparedness Plan for Vital Records


It shall be the duty of any agency with public records to cooperate with the Librarian of Virginia in conducting surveys and to establish and maintain an active, continuing program for the economical and efficient management of the records of such agency. Code of Virginia, Section 42.1-85. In compliance with this mandate, Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) has established a records retention program to ensure the proper scheduling, storage, and disposal of College records.

The Virginia Public Records Act of the Code of Virginia "establishes a single body of law applicable to all public officers and employees to ensure that the procedures used to manage and preserve public records will be uniform throughout the Commonwealth."

In addition to being a mandate of the Code, following sound records management practices is good business. Public officials are legally responsible for creating and maintaining records that document the transactions of government as it conducts business. These records provide evidence of the operations of government and accountability to its citizens. Public officials must maintain this information according to established retention requirements- regardless of the format in which they are kept (i.e., paper, microforms, electronic records, magnetic tapes, or digital optical disks).

Importance of Program

The Virginia Public Records Act was established to ensure that state and local public records are protected throughout their life cycle. The Library of Virginia maintains the Virginia Public Records Management Manual. (Chapter 6 deals specifically with electronic records.) The Library of Virginia is responsible for the overall development of retention and disposition schedules. The schedules are available at

The VHCC Records Management Program will assist the College by:

  • Aiding and assisting College officials in making informed policy and program judgments.
  • Maintaining good business practices since proper records management creates efficiency.
  • Improving access to important information thereby making it easier to retrieve data in a timely and efficient manager.
  • Eliminating unnecessary duplication of records.
  • Providing for the systematic destruction of records in accord with College, Virginia Community College System (VCCS), Federal, and State policies while ensuring that records are not prematurely destroyed.
  • Providing administrative, fiscal, and legal accountability and documenting rights and responsibilities.
  • Allowing information to be open for observation and access, while safeguarding privacy and confidentiality.
  • Assuring the fullest possible historical documentation of the College’s actions.
  • Ensuring the College complies with laws governing public records.
  • Protecting the College during litigation and audit by ensuring that required records exist. Definition of a Public Record

Definition of Public Record

The Virginia Public Records Act defines a public record as: "Information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency or employee of state government or its political subdivisions. Regardless of physical form or characteristic, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business." Formats can include paper, microforms, electronic records, magnetic tapes, maps, disks, photographs, film and sound recordings.

Remember that "public record" means that it is a government record; however, it does not mean that these records must always be available to the public. Public records must be available for appropriate access throughout their retention period. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act of the Code of Virginia (Sections 2.1-340 et. seq.) governs access to public records.

Custody of Records

The Virginia Public Records Act does not divest agency heads of the authority to determine the nature and form of the records required in the administration of their agency. The law does require that public records in an agency's custody have proper oversight.

What Is an Official VHCC Record?

The documents on your desk, on your computer, on the VHCC network, and in your file cabinets are one of three things:

  • Official Records
  • Non-Record Materials
  • Personal Papers

The following two steps can help you further determine what a record is:

Step 1. Determine the purpose, value, and adequacy of the documentation.

What is the purpose of the documentation?

  • Was the material mandated by statue, administrative rule, or any other state or federal regulation?
  • Does the material support a financial or legal claim or obligation?
  • Is the material required to operate the department’s programs or provide support functions?
  • Was the material created or received in the conduct or transaction of official VHCC business?

What is the value of the documentation?

  • Does the material have administrative, operational, fiscal, legal or evidential value?
  • Does the material have historical, research, or informational value?
Does the material have administrative, operational, fiscal, legal or evidential value?

Is the documentation adequate?

  • Does the material provide evidence of, or verify:
    • the department’s actions that ensure its continuity?
    • the department’s actions that demonstrate the consistency of those actions?
    • formulation of policies, procedures, or decisions?
    • board, committee, or staff meeting minutes?
Does the material provide evidence of, or verify:

Step 2. Ask yourself the following series of questions:

  1. Have you answered “yes” to any of the questions in Step 1? 
    • YES – Go to question 2 
    • NO – Go to question 5
  2. Are you or your department the creator or office of record for the documentation? 
    • YES – Go to Official Records section 
    • NO – Go to question 3
  3. Did you comment or take action on the document? 
    • YES – Go to question 4 
    • NO –  Go to Non-Record Materials section
  4. Is the retention or the document necessary to support the decision trail of your comment or action? 
    • YES – Go to Official Records section  
    • NO – Go to Non-Record Materials section
  5. Have you answered “no” to all the questions in Step 1? 
    • YES –  Go to question 6 
    • NO – Go to question 2
  6. Does the material consist of non-official or private information which pertains solely to an individual’s own affairs and does not relate to or have an effect upon the conduct of the College’s business? 
    • YES –  Go to Personal Papers section 
    • NO – Go to Non-Record Materials section 

Official Records

  1. Any documentation related to the department’s official duties or activities. Examples may include:
    • Decision papers
    • Correspondence (memoranda, letters, e-messages)
    • Data files
    • Reports
    • Official Publications
    • Supporting materials sufficient to document and/or explain the document trail/decision making process for administrative, legal, fiscal, programmatic, and historical purposes.
  2. Official records may be original materials or copies of original materials—regardless of media or format. These records must be maintained for the period specified on the Library of Virginia’s Records Retention Schedule.


  1. Materials that do not contribute to an understanding of the department’s operations or decision-making process.
  2. Materials that have no substantial administrative or operational value
  3. Extra copies of official records retained elsewhere that serve as:
    • Convenience copies kept solely for ease of access and reference
    • Information/Reference copies of records sent to individuals or departments that are interested in, but not action upon, the information
    • Technical reference documents needed for general information



  1. Diaries and journals not prepared for the transaction of official business
  2. Papers accumulated by an employee prior to employment with the department
  3. Privately purchased books and publications that do not relate to official business


Designation of a Records Officer

In Section 42.1-85, the Act states that each agency and locality "shall designate as many as appropriate, but at least one, records officer to serve as a liaison to the Library of Virginia for the purposes of implementing and overseeing a records management program, and coordinating legal disposition, including destruction of obsolete records." The records officer is responsible for the following:

  • Developing and implementing VHCC’s records management program based on policies and procedures of the Imaging Services Division of the Library of Virginia.
  • Working with departmental records coordinators in maintaining the College’s records management program.
  • Distributing Library of Virginia records retention and disposition schedules throughout the College. Assisting staff in surveying records that are unique to the College in order to compile and implement accurate and current records retention and disposition schedules.
  • Assisting in identifying records that can be destroyed in accordance with retention guidelines. Approving the accurate and timely destruction of records by reviewing Certificate(s) of Records Destruction (RM-3 form), pursuant to Library of Virginia policies.
  • Identifying all vital, archival, and permanent records. Ensuring records are properly maintained, protected, and accessible for the length of time cited in applicable records retention and disposition schedules.
  • Participating in decisions concerning the reformatting and storage of records.
  • Coordinating the development of a Disaster Recovery Plan for Vital Records to provide for the protection and recovery of institution records in the event of a disaster.

Statutes Related to Records

In addition to the Virginia Public Records Act, there are three other statutes in the Code of Virginia that relate to public records management:

Program Objectives

VHCC’s Records Management Program is designed to provide the right the right the right the right the lowest possible cost. Records management is also the process of maintaining information in a format that allows for its timely access through the following:

  • Developing policies and procedures for managing records and information.
  • Conducting a survey or inventory of records (in all formats).
  • Establishing and following retention schedules as available at
  • Identifying and using technology appropriately to create, store and retrieve materials.
  • Destroying obsolete records in a timely and systematic manner and documenting their destruction.
  • Storing inactive records in a cost-effective and secure location.
  • Identifying and preserve vital records (those that are essential to conducting and continuing business operations).
  • Identifying and preserving archival (historic, permanent) records.
  • Developing a disaster preparedness plan to protect and recover records in the event of a disaster.

Retention Schedules

A retention schedule lists records series and provides instructions and special guidelines for their care including how long to retain them, how to maintain them, and procedures for disposing of them. Retention schedules reflect the length of time that records have administrative, legal, fiscal or historical value.

Remember, retention periods should be followed! Records cannot be destroyed before the stated period, nor should they be retained longer than the stated period (unless they are needed for an investigation, litigation or audit).

There are two types of schedules – General and Specific.

  • General Schedules apply to records that state agencies and localities have in common (e.g., fiscal, administrative and personnel records). General schedules (GS) 101 through 111 and GS-2000 are used by state agencies for the records they have in common. They are available at
  • Specific Schedules apply to records that are unique to a state agency's operations and mission. The schedules identify records that the agency produces, collects, receives or retains in carrying out its special functions. VHCC does not currently utilize any specific schedules.

Records Destruction

The Virginia Public Records Act requires that you have a valid retention schedule before destroying public records. The destruction of records is documented on the Certificate of Records Destruction (RM-3 form). The form is found on the Library of Virginia’s web site at The form is also located in the DOCS folder on the VHCC Z drive.

Destruction Procedure

The following steps document compliance with legal requirements for destroying public records:

  1. Refer to a retention schedule at
  2. Ensure that the retention period stated on the schedule has passed. When calculating the destruction date, refer to the last month and year in the date range. If the records are only identified by year, verify if it is indicating a calendar year or fiscal year.
  3. Ensure that all known audits, investigations or litigation are resolved.
  4. Complete a Certificate of Records Destruction (RM-3 form). The form is located in the DOCS folder on the VHCC Z drive.
  5. Obtain signatures of the VHCC Records Officer and the person requesting destruction of the records (if this is another individual). The Records Officer must approve all dispositions. These signatures constitute approval to destroy. The Accountant (Mary Snead) serves as the Records Manager at VHCC.
  6. Identify the person who can verify the records were destroyed.
  7. Once the records have been destroyed (see next section), the Records Manager will send the original RM-3 form with signatures to the Records Management and Imaging Services Division of the Library of Virginia and will send a copy to the originating officer.

Methods of Destruction

The nature of the information in the records, as well as its format, dictates the method by which they should be destroyed. Frequently, disposition by recycling or daily waste pick up is appropriate. However, when records contain personal, private or confidential information, they must be destroyed so as to prevent unauthorized access to them.

Trash. Many records (usually paper) may be destroyed by simply placing them in a trash receptacle. Records disposed of in this manner must not contain private, sensitive or confidential information.

Electronic Data: To protect individuals who may have private or confidential information stored in an electronic format, you must be certain that the data is obliterated-the data must be "wiped," not merely deleted. Special software programs will wipe data and make it permanently irretrievable and inaccessible.

Recycling (also known as pulping): This is an acceptable method of destruction for paper records with no special disposition requirements. Private or confidential records can be recycled if the recycling company and its personnel are bonded, and will certify that the information has been protected.

Shredding: This is the most popular method of destroying private or confidential information. Shredders come in a variety of sizes and capacities. Some vendors will bring equipment to your facility and shred documents on site. If records are to be shredded on the vendor's premises, certified shredding is recommended.

Below is a general list of items generally recommended for shredding:

  • Anything containing a social security number.
  • Anything containing a name and date of birth.
  • Anything containing a credit card number or EmplID.
  • Academic information regarding students identified by name and/or social security number. This includes, but is not limited to: graded exams, term papers, transcripts, class rosters, and student/team projects.
  • Other information regarding students, including, but not limited to: records of disciplinary proceedings, membership in student organizations if social security numbers are used.
  • Medical records.
  • Any other information considered confidential in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act (Buckley Amendment), 20 USC, Section 1232.

Many divisions at VHCC have at least one shredder. In fact, throughout our VHCC campus you will find dozens of shredders. The Copy Center houses our main “heavy duty” shredder and for large amounts of files, it is recommended you utilize this shredder.

The following statement is included on the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules:

Custodians of records must ensure that information in confidential or privacy-protected records is protected from unauthorized disclosure through the ultimate destruction of the information. Normally, destruction of confidential or privacy-protected records will be done by shredding or pulping. “Deletion” of confidential or privacy-protected information in computer files or other electronic storage media is not acceptable. Electronic records must be” wiped” clean or the storage media physically destroyed.

Records Reformatting

Reformatting from paper to another medium often is viewed as the cure to records storage woes. However, while records conversions can make a significant improvement in efficiently managing information, they should be carefully considered. Reformatting is not always the best solution to a recordkeeping problem, and it usually is not the least expensive solution. Before implementing a reformatting plan, explore alternatives, such as applying retention schedule requirements regularly, using a records center for storage, and purging files.

Records should not be converted or reformatted solely for space-saving purposes. An analysis of the records should be completed before any final decision is made. Consider the following when evaluating the necessity and practicality of reformatting:

  • Historical or otherwise valuable records that are in bad physical condition.
  • Records that have a long retention period, are permanent, vital or historical.
  • Records that have a high retrieval rate.
  • Records that are needed by multiple users simultaneously.
  • Records needed at multiple locations.
  • Records that have important research value.
  • Records that are oversized and bulky and meet one or more other criteria for reformatting.
  • Records that need to be stored separately for security reasons.
  • Records that incorporate workflow (i.e., purchase orders, claims).

Legality of Reformatted Records

Both Virginia and federal laws recognize the legal status of copies made from various sources, including electronic data stored on optical media (refer to Code of Virginia, Section 8.01-391, Copies of Originals as Evidence). The law of evidence allows copies produced from originals to be admissible as evidence as long as the final reproduced image:

  • Accurately reproduces the original.
  • Was made or received during the performance of the agency's or locality's official business.
  • Is satisfactorily identified and authenticated by a custodian of the original record.

However, when an image can be easily manipulated or changed, the burden of proving the information is acceptable as evidence increases.

Authenticating records. The following procedures will facilitate the authentication of records recorded, stored or reproduced:

  • A written policy statement and procedures formalizing the recording, storage or reproduction of public records.
  • A list of users and their access privileges maintained and audited regularly.
  • An audit trail documenting who scanned or edited images and when this occurred.

Disaster Preparedness Plan for Vital Records

Each agency shall insure that a plan for the protection and recovery of public records is included in their comprehensive disaster plan. Code of Virginia, Section 42.1-91.

Most records disasters don’t make headlines. Everyday problems such as leaky roofs and pipes take a toll on records. A singly soaked box of records can spell disaster if the information is valuable and irretrievable. The Records Management and Imaging Services Division of the Library of Virginia offers disaster preparedness training workshops and advice, including a site visit, if a disaster does strike. In addition,

As stated above, each Virginia institution is responsible for ensuring that there is a plan for the protection and recovery of public records. The purpose of records disaster preparedness is to provide guidance with regard to the recovery and restoration of critical documents and information that may be damaged or lost in a mishap or disaster. “Critical documents” are defined as documents and/or information necessary for the successful day-to-day operation of the institution. The value of records is listed below:

  • Administrative or operational value—materials that assist the institution in performing its primary functions.
  • Fiscal value—materials that establish the institution’s financial rights and obligations.
  • Historical, informational, or research value—materials that explain or clarify the institution’s history.
  • Legal or evidential value—materials that demonstrate the institution’s compliance with legal requirements or materials that document the institution’s functions, activities, or structure.


Implementation of the provisions of this plan will depend largely on the nature of the cause of damage to records. Causes such as a leaking roof or a broken water line usually result in localized damage which is limited to an office or to a floor of a building.

Causes such as fire or severe weather often result in more widespread damage. In such cases, it is possible that the VHCC Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan will be activated. The provisions of the VHCC Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan will take precedence over the Disaster Recovery Plan for Vital Records. When the VHCC Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan is in effect, the Disaster Recovery Plan for Vital Records is to be activated only when clearance to enter the affected building(s) and begin assessing damage to records has been give. VHCC Emergency Procedures are located on the Campus Police web site at

In all situations, the safety of students, faculty, and staff is of the utmost importance. Fire or severe weather may cause structural damage that renders a building unsafe for occupancy. In the case of flooding, the possibility of electrical shock exists even when there has been no structural damage. Personnel should not enter a damaged building until it has been inspected and deemed safe for occupancy.

Type of Records

Electronic Data. In this case, records are maintained in an electronic format and are stored on personal computers or network servers. These records include, but are not limited to: admissions files, academic transcripts, financial records, human resource records, e-mail, and web page files.

Paper Files. Even with the use of electronic data storage, there remains a significant amount of paper records that are considered critical to the institution. These records include but are not limited to: admissions files, academic transcripts, financial records, human resource records, and various communications and directives that were created before the advent of the widespread use of electronic data storage. Additionally, there exist many paper records of an archival nature that, while not necessarily critical, are of great historical value to the institution.

Prevention of Loss and Damage

Electronic Data. The prevention of the loss of electronic data depends on routine backing-up of server files. The Information Technology Department performs at least one back-up job each week night M-TH and a complete Exchange email server back-up at least once each week on Friday and incremental back-ups each week night M-TH. A complete back-up of the home directory, roaming profile, web and other servers is performed each week on Friday with incremental back-ups each week night M-TH. Back-up data is written to a RAID 5 array in the back-up server and then moved to portable hard drives. These portable hard drives are periodically transported to the offsite storage location 10 miles from VHCC. All media is transported in a fire proof lock box by a second Information Technology Department employee. All back-up media withdrawals and deposits are logged. The Director of Library and Instructional Services is responsible for electronic data maintenance.

Paper Files. Most but not all critical paper format academic records are stored in a fireproof vault when not being used.

Some of the critical paper administrative records (financial, human resources, etc.) are stored in fireproof cabinets, but the voluminous nature of these records prevents storing all of them in such facilities.

Disaster Recovery

Given that the institution’s electronic records are properly backed up and stored on a daily basis, the remainder of this plan will focus on the recovery and restoration of paper records and will deal with the most probable causes of damage—water and fire.

Departments within the institution should approach disaster recovery for critical records in the following manner:

  • The department manager(s) of the affected area(s) should contact the Building and Grounds Superintendent and the Records Manager with necessary post-disaster clean-up.
  • An incident report should be filed with Campus Police.
  • When possible, digital photographs should be taken of the damage.
  • Department managers and others designated responsible for specific records will be responsible for the initial assessment of the nature, extent, and severity of the damage to records in their respective areas. Since successful recovery depend s on quick action, this initial assessment should be conducted as soon as possible after discovery of damage.
  • Once the initial assessment has been completed, the department manager should contact the Buildings and Grounds Superintendent and Records Manager for assistance in determining what steps should be taken to increase the likelihood of successfully recovering the damaged documents.
  • Actions necessary to recover documents can range from simply aid drying damp records to hiring restoration specialists for severely damaged records.

Typical Steps in Restoration from Water Damage

  • Use air conditioning, fans, and dehumidifiers to reduce humidity.
  • Label and separate dry, damp and saturated records.
  • On the advice of the Records Manager or a restoration specialist, saturated records may need to be frozen in preparation of freeze drying. Depending on the volume of records involved, freezers in the HVAC department may be used for this purpose until suitable offsite freezer storage can be located.

Restoration Methods for Water Damage

  • Air Drying. This process is quick and effective with small quantities of records with secondary damage. In this process, records are separated and spread out in a cool, dry location. Fans and air conditioning are used to circulate dry air over the documents. This process is usually complete within 72 hours.
  • Dehumidifiers and Air Movers. This method is used with large quantities of records that have received secondary damage. In this process, the documents are often left in the original containers and dehumidifiers and air movers are brought into the facility. Depending on the volume of records involved, this process can take weeks to complete. Because there is the possibility of residual damage if this process is not done properly, this process should be used only after consultation with a restoration specialist and only if dehumidifiers and air movers are available in sufficient quantity and capacity.
  • Freezing. Freezing is appropriate when documents have received direct damage. Usually done by a restoration specialist, this process involves separating records and placing them in special containers in commercial freezers. Depending on the volume of records involved, this process can often require several months to complete.

Restoration Methods for Fire Damage

The full recovery of records damaged due to fire is less probably than records damaged by water. For this reason, duplication and offsite storage of critical records is vital.

Documents damaged by fire that are recoverable will have a permanent smoke odor. In cases where it is necessary, a process called “dry cleaning” may remove most, if not all of the smoke odor. This process is usually done by a restoration specialist and requires treating each page of the affected records with a special solvent and allowing them to dry.


While no records disaster plan assures successful resumption of business operations, such a plan greatly increases a favorable survival or recovery. Prior identification and protection of vital records, a clear plan for reconstruction and salvaging these records, and prior thought about the necessary steps to take after a disaster allows a department to enter a crisis situation with confidence and direction.

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    Last updated: 6/23/2009 3:28:27 PM