SOAS University of London

Records Management Guidance: Vital Records - Introduction

What are vital records?

Vital records are those records that are necessary for an organisation to continue to operate in the event of a disaster. There are four key areas of risk: Flood; Fire; Security; Infestation/ environmental pollution etc. Vital records will enable SOAS to continue functioning in the event of a disaster which may destroy all other records.
Vital records include those records which are required to recreate the School’s legal and financial status, to preserve its rights, and to ensure that it can continue to fulfil its obligations to its stakeholders in the event of a disaster. Vital records may be in any format such as paper, electronic, microfilm etc.

Why do we need to identify them?

It is necessary to identify vital records to ensure that the records remain secure, accessible and easily locatable, even during a disaster. The vital records form a vital part of disaster recovery and business continuity planning.
It is also important that we are targeting resources effectively. SOAS needs to protect the right records, not spend a large amount of resources storing non-essential records in the most secure way whilst leaving vital records open to vulnerability.

How can I identify our vital records?

On average, less than 5% of records are identified as vital. Although losing most records will cause inconvenience, you can often work around or recreate records. Vital records are the ones required in order to operate.
There is no definitive list of vital records and what constitutes a vital record will vary from section to section across the School. To identify your vital records you should consider the following:

  1. Identify the key functions, business processes and stakeholders of your department e.g. teaching and research, student registration and administration, handling accounts etc.
  2. Identify the impact of not providing these key functions
  3. Identify the records needed to support or document these functions and processes. The summary report of the information survey of your department may help with this.
  4. Identify which of these records are vital i.e. Can the functions these records relate to be re-established in the event of the loss of these records? If so, the record is not vital. Also consider that records can be vital for varying lengths of time. E.g., a current student record of marks is vital as the information is needed to know whether a student can graduate whereas records of a student’s marks 20 years ago are less important.
  5. Identify how long you can carry out these key functions without the records
What next? Find out more about how to identify and protect vital records