What is a Disaster?

A disaster is defined as a "sudden or great misfortune" or simply "any unfortunate event." More precisely, a disaster is "an event whose timing is unexpected and whose consequences are seriously destructive." These definitions identify an event that includes three elements:

  • Suddenness
  • Unexpectedness
  • Significant destruction and/or adverse consequences

However, a fourth element, lack of foresight or planning, is sometimes added. Disasters occur with unnerving frequency. Their adverse consequences increase for those who do not prepare for predictable contingencies. A disaster prevention and recovery plan can help protect all of the University's assets including people, jobs, records, vital records, and facilities.

Disasters are not restricted to records and information resources. The death of an essential employee, a poisoning, an explosion, a fire, or a chemical spill are disasters that adversely affect the University. The University, as a whole, must protect all of its assets. Your plan must be tailored to meet the needs of your department, facility, and types of information.

The plan can easily get out of hand by adding unnecessary costs which will make the plan appear unfeasible to management. Your plan must include a clear definition of your department's records (records refer to all recorded information, regardless of the media or characteristics) to be protected in the disaster plan. Elements to avoid in your plan should include the reconstructing or salvaging of reference material, convenience copies, and non-essential files.

University records vary greatly in value. Whether stored electronically or on paper, the plan must identify historical and vital records -- records that document your department's origin, growth, development, operations, and civic contributions -- as well as records that are essential to the resumption and continuation of business after a disaster. A current list of vital records is necessary to determine the extent of any information disaster. Procedures for protecting and reconstructing vital records stored on magnetic media, optical disk or microforms differ from those protecting and salvaging information contained on paper. Disaster plans must include and provide for all media on which records are created and stored.

Reviewed 2011-03-09.