Division of Archives and Records Service

MayDay! MayDay!

Kendra Yates
April 30, 2015

Not all disasters happen naturally.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, most fires in libraries, archives, and related cultural institutions are deliberately set.

On November 17, 2012, arsonists set fires in the library of San Juan High School in Blanding, Utah, which resulted in more than $2 million of damage. Computers and over 20,000 books were destroyed, including irreplaceable historical collections, according to the San Juan Record.


San Juan High School’s library in the aftermath of a deliberately-set fire. Photo courtesy of The Moab Times – Independent.

How can you recover or protect records that are essential to keep business functioning, or vital to the mission of preserving your cultural heritage?

In honor of Heritage Preservation’s MayDay initiative, we encourage administrators and records managers to educate themselves and their agencies regarding their disaster response and recovery plans.

Take a look at this amazing visual case study by Susan Page, at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which details how archiving professionals responded following a fire at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, MD.

NARA provides disaster response and recovery information for state, tribal, and local governments on its website. Records managers can access an emergency assessment checklist, a list of records recovery vendors, and guidelines for topics such as mold and mildew prevention, fire recovery, salvaging water-damaged materials, and nuclear or biological contamination of records. NARA also provides blog posts about disaster recovery efforts, like the one that took place after the Military Personal Records Center (MPR—now known as the National Personnel Records Center) burned for five days in July of 1973.


Remains of the fire that swept through the sixth floor of the Military Personal Records Center (MPR—now known as the National Personnel Records Center) in St. Louis on July 12, 1973.

The National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) has published a short technical bulletin, entitled “Protecting Vital Records,” which guides agencies through the process of establishing a vital records program. By identifying, properly managing, and storing backup copies of records, you can increase your agency’s ability to resume business after a disaster—natural or otherwise—and better ensure the preservation of our heritage.

Staff members at the Utah State Archives provide consultation about organizing and scheduling records, as well as historical record preservation; we also provide in-agency training. Contact us at or 801-531-3863 with questions or to schedule an appointment.