Friday, May 12, 2006

Data Storms

Records and data are a major part of life today. Government agencies record births, deaths, property sales, etc. in great detail and have to retain that data for very long times. With the advent of computers, it is too easy to create more detailed records. Many of those end up on paper, which takes up a lot of room. This leads to some significant problems.

All these records need to be kept somewhere. The original push to turn the Hemphill-Wells building into the library was caused by the County's and City's need for more room to store records. The Ed B Keys building will become a vast records warehouse. That will help with the space problem for a while, but there are still other problems.

The records stored by the city and county are critical for the functioning of the community. Titles, deeds, marriages, divorces, births and deaths all are to be stored in this warehouse. Some of these records go back over a hundred years, and need to be retained indefinitely. Loss of some of these records could be devastating.

In 1973, a fire in St Louis destroyed the official military records of many Army and Air Force veterans. Alternate sources of records were used to reconstruct some of the data, but many WWI and WWII veterans were impacted because their service records no longer existed.

Katrina and Rita caused loss of many records. Some of them can be reconstructed by sources such as the records of loan companies, title insurance companies, etc. but that will take time and will delay reconstruction. Some records and their copies were completely destroyed. The rebuilding of this data caused unexpected problems. The tragedy of Katrina and Rita continues in unexpected ways.

The good news is that most new records are digital. Your marriage, divorce, automobile license, drivers license, property sales, etc. are all recorded electronically. There are some concerns that need to be addressed to prevent the data from being lost because of lack of a compatible program to read information in proprietary formats, but that can be solved.

The paper records we have are a different story. They can be lost because of a number of natural or man-made problems. Simply copying them on paper or microfilm and sending them off to another place is a very expensive process. There is a better solution. These documents can be scanned and converted to digital format. Once that happens, the records take up much less room and copies can be stored remotely easily. Once a record set has been scanned, verified, and backed up remotely the paper record can either be returned to the archive or recycled and the space used for new records.

If we do this right our records will be safe.

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