Operation Teapot and Vital Records in Business Continuity Plans

There’s no doubt about it. Governments think up the strangest codenames for their secret activities. The innocent sounding Operation Teapot referred to a series of tests by the US Federal Civil Defense Administration to find out what impact a nuclear explosion would have on towns and infrastructures. Part of that impact involved business records and equipment storing those records. Don’t worry (or worry less, in any case) – the test was done in 1955. However, certain conclusions from those tests with regards to business continuity plans continue to be valid today.

The crux of the matter for business continuity is that records that are vital for an organisation need to be identified and stored apart from other records. What those records are will depend on the nature of the organisation. Likely documents include the business continuity plan itself, staff contact and deployment information, maps and building plans, employee records, customer records, social security and pension records, licences, deeds and contracts, and people authorised or holding company credit cards for buying necessary supplies. As a rule of thumb, organisations like FEMA indicate that vital records should not account for any more than 10 per cent of the overall quantity of records maintained by an organisation.

While the threat of a nuclear explosion may have diminished since 1955, other common sense rules apply to securing vital records. The first one is to have a vital records security plan as part of the overall business continuity plan, remembering that vital records include not only those vital for an organisation to function, but also those that prevent a situation of legal or financial danger. Other rules include sensible storage locations, out of harm’s way with respect to fire or floods. As vital records may well only be valid in original paper document form, they may require other storage planning compared to other information that can be replicated or stored electronically.