The onerous task of archiving incident records


Above: A scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

One of the more laborious and least appreciated tasks at a large wildfire or other incident is assembling and storing the paper and electronic records. These official government documents from a fire provide a record of significant events and actions taken, provide information to address payments and claims and must be collected under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Some records have permanent value for developing lessons learned and long-term value for managing natural resources. Documentation Unit Leaders are assigned to incidents to be responsible to assemble the files.

As the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire in Colorado and Wyoming was winding down after 97 days, the incident management team (IMT) realized they had filled 26 boxes. And they needed to make copies for all three of the primary agencies that were involved.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has established very specific, detailed guidelines for maintaining incident records. They have even established a permanent Incident Records Subcommittee.

records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

The photo above is obviously what the NWCG wants to avoid.

The IMT at the Beaver Fire looked for alternatives to creating scores of boxes of paper that would most likely end up sitting in a dusty warehouse for decades.

Below is an excerpt from a Rapid Lesson Sharing document explaining how they dealt with the task.

…As this incident progressed, the documentation grew and grew. The Documentation Unit Leader (DOCL) was maintaining three sets of documents so that each of the agencies involved would have a set.

In August, the Incident Business Advisor (IBA) assigned to the Beaver Creek Fire recommended that the agencies order an Archivist to scan and catalog all the documents related to the fire. At first, the agencies were hesitant to agree to this request due to a concern that a complete set of these documents could not be provided.

But eventually the agencies did agree and the Archivist (a DOCL) started this work.

The documents are now scanned and named following the established document system. The original set of documents will be stored by the incident agency.

Each agency will now have a complete set of the indexed incident documents for the Beaver Creek Fire available electronically. If a hard copy is needed, it can be printed or obtained from the archived paper files stored at the Forest’s headquarters.

LESSON: Consider utilizing an Archivist to organize incident documents in an electronic format for easy access by multiple entities.

Congrats to the IMT for saving mountains of paper and telling others about their success story. However, a few more details would have fleshed out the lesson they learned. For example, how did they physically scan the documents — what hardware and software did they find useful. And what file formats are the documents in? Would the electronic record they made meet the national guidelines for the one official record that would serve everyone’s needs, including those required by the Freedom of Information Act?

The photos below are from an Incident Records Training PowerPoint presentation, and show how paper documents are stored.

records archive
Example of archived incident documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived maps, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

Fun fact about the making of the warehouse scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (see photo at the top of our article). The warehouse is a painting, not a real warehouse or a computer generated graphic. A hole was cut in the painting through which the live action was filmed. From VashiVisuals:

Michael Pangrazio created some of the most famous matte paintings in Cinema history. His work in Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984) and 65 other films is some of the most memorable ever. By the 1990’s almost all matte paintings were produced using computer software and the analog method slowly and sadly faded away.

The warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark took 3 months to paint onto a sheet of glass. The glass was positioned right in front of the camera and it extended the set deep into the background. This example is often called the most effective and beautiful matte painting ever.

The live action in the scene was shot through a hole in the matte painting.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

2 thoughts on “The onerous task of archiving incident records”

  1. In a hundred years will people be able to access the electronic format of records? It’s getting difficult to get into programs and storage of 30 years ago as my partner a writer discovered since her material was stored on big floppy disks used in a very modern of the time Leading Edge computer of 1986. Lucky for us we found some hard copies to scan. Kodachrome film seems to retain color well after 70 plus years but will the material it’s on dry up and crack? Perhaps in several hundred or a thousand years people/visitors from other worlds will be finding memory sticks/thumb drives and think oh, what are these? I like the idea of storing away some records on good quality paper, in airtight boxes, in a deep dry cave for the future to ponder. It worked for the dead sea scrolls to some degree.

    1. I’ve wondered that myself even on non-fire archives. I have scrapbooks in the family with photos of relatives from the 1800s. My grand kids may never see family photos if they can’t open a .jpg file! Hopefully there will be archivists who will maintain the ability to open “ancient” file formats and memory devices from a couple decades ago.

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