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2.11.3 Records

Contents The need for records Records management challenges Types of data and information needed Selection of records for retention Quality requirements and standards for record keeping Records management strategies Recording media Coding of information Records storage facilities

A ‘record’ is an item of information about a site in question. The information may be represented or coded in a variety of ways and on a variety of materials. Typical examples are text, numerical data, maps and drawings on paper, photographic images on film, or digitised information on magnetic (tapes and floppy disks) or optical (CDs and DVDs) storage devices (see Figure 2.16).

Figure 2.16 Monoliths used as markers to delineate a radioactive waste burial site: granite marker plot M, in the Palos Forest preserve, Cook County Forest preserve district, photograph courtesy of R. Del Tredici
Figure 2.16 Monoliths used as markers to delineate a radioactive waste burial site: granite marker plot M, in the Palos Forest preserve, Cook County Forest preserve district, photograph courtesy of R. Del Tredici

A second important property of a record is that it is not an end in itself but that it has a purpose. The purpose is to document and convey knowledge and information.

To ensure that records do not cause in future generations an effect opposite to the one that is intended, it is most important to put much emphasis on the transfer of information, for example, by means of education. The need for records

Records should serve two main purposes:

  1. To provide possible and actual users of a site with information on possible or actual hazards;
  2. To provide those in charge of controlling or mitigating such hazards with the necessary operational information.

Different stakeholders are likely to require different types of record. As a result, efficient and effective stewardship and the related decisions should only be based on documentation containing all the information relating to the site in question. It should constitute the institutional memory and cover the following fields and corresponding physical records:

  1. Documents related to the decision making process, for example, working documents justifying the decision taken.
  2. Historical records, for example, operational records that help people to understand the site and its surroundings and provide information on the origin of the potential hazards due to the site, decommissioning records, and records on remediation measures undertaken and remediation verification.
  3. Records that document the current state of the site and are ‘live’ documents that are necessary during the next phase, for example, the transition phase or the stewardship phase of the life cycle period; in this case, environmental management plans, environmental monitoring results over time (such as groundwater quality and discharges) and inventories.
  4. Records and maps of the site showing the geographical location, topography, geomorphology, site boundaries, geology, hydrogeology, hydrology, water balance, meteorological information (and changes over time), site investigations and characterisations (including those relating to any pre- and post-remediation activities).
  5. Incident and accident records associated with potentially contaminating events, records of active and non-active waste disposal sites and chemical stores.
  6. Factual records relating to environmental parameters used in contaminant fate and transport modelling, for example, rock porosity, hydraulic conductivity and sorption coefficients.
  7. Interpretive records relating to the predictive behaviour of contaminants through time, quantitative risk assessments.
  8. Official records of decisions, such as licences and permits, and legal opinions on applicable laws.
  9. Copies and excerpts from official records deposited elsewhere, for example, in land registers, cadastres, deeds, registered mortgages, securities and deposits, registered land use restrictions and rights of way or access have been a long standing means of conveying important information on sites. They may record not only ownership but also other important information, including use restrictions and rights of access.
  10. Church books and registers frequently date back to the early seventeenth century and may record events that are of interest in mining areas. Records management challenges

At many contaminated sites, an extended period of time may be required in order to complete the active remediation, which may then be followed by institutional controls to allow passive remediation of the residual hazards. The storage of important site records must therefore be carried out for periods that may range from some decades to hundreds of years, or even thousands of years, though this is probably rather optimistic. Storing (physical protection) the records securely over these periods of time in itself is not sufficient, they must also be understandable and accessible (protection of the contents). There are many significant technological issues associated with long term storage of records, and many unknowns with regard to reasonable practices:

  1. The current practices of storing records in hard copy form (e.g., paper) and in electronic form give rise to technological issues with regard to longevity.
  2. The design and operation of records storage facilities to prevent loss events is of considerable importance. This is especially important in areas of the world where natural and human-made hazards are significant.
  3. Accessibility to records requires sound approaches to their indexing. Because many sites requiring long term institutional controls may be large and complex, large volumes of records should be accessible over long time frames; hence indexing methods should be established with great care.

A decisive management issue is the classification of the importance of records, and the establishment of retention periods for the different classes of record. The development of classification criteria is not a simple matter: questions of relevance and quality arise, and may be viewed differently by different groups of stakeholders. Older records are often less in quantity and of lower quality than comparable newer records – in terms of the level of detail in the records. However, being the only records available for the period in question, they may still have to be retained.

Establishing and operating dedicated effective records management facilities may be costly and the need for them is often not very well appreciated by certain groups of stakeholders, in particular when they do not see any immediate benefit for themselves. Records are often deposited with existing (national) facilities, such as archives and libraries. Cataloguing and storage practices may need to be adapted to stewardship needs. Types of data and information needed

Typically, data on the type of residual contamination (chemical and physical properties), its exact geographical location and the type of remedial and other countermeasures should be included. In addition, and in particular for sites where long term changes in chemical (seepage and groundwater) or geotechnical properties are to be expected, it may be important to retain specific monitoring data. However, different stakeholders may have different data and information needs. Views on types of record to be kept and to what extent may vary between the organisation responsible for the site and other stakeholders.

Experiences relating to information needs in existing projects have shown that:

  • All current and future stakeholders will require information in summarised form.
  • All stakeholders are concerned about loss of information and knowledge.
  • Detailed data needs vary on the basis of responsibilities and are not entirely defined.
  • A variety of stakeholders require access to photographs, aerial photographs, maps and other spatially related information.
  • Access to post-closure monitoring data will be required should such monitoring be necessary.
  • Access to pre-closure monitoring data will be necessary for those in charge of regulatory compliance verification.
  • All stakeholders require access to data on monitoring institutional controls.
  • Public stakeholders have a need for information related to the impacts of contaminants.
  • The information needs of former site workers are rather distinct from the needs of other stakeholders, and are defined through regulations and/or litigation procedures.

Other experiences have identified a range of information types that typically would be searched for by stakeholders:

  • Custody and long term care licensing;
  • Site operations and treatment systems;
  • Property information;
  • Site surveillance/inspection reports;
  • Legal documents;
  • Site maintenance information;
  • Site specific legal agreements;
  • Community relations/public involvement;
  • Institutional controls;
  • Health and safety;
  • Use and operations history;
  • (National and international) environmental policy;
  • Permits;
  • Programmatic plans;
  • Completion/closure reports;
  • Physical site data;
  • Waste management and disposal;
  • Environmental data;
  • Site specific technical studies;
  • Radon and environmental hazards and related monitoring data;
  • Correspondence on decisions;
  • Groundwater and surface/leachate water monitoring;
  • Quality assurance;
  • Records.

The following spatially related information has been experienced to be of greatest interest:

  • Monitoring locations;
  • Site boundary;
  • Institutional control boundary;
  • Contaminant plume;
  • Groundwater compliance monitoring network;
  • Topographic contours;
  • Aerial or satellite images;
  • Potentiometric surface contours;
  • Disposal cell boundaries;
  • Monitoring well lithology and completion log.

The data needs and the interest in information may change over time, however. It is likely that the interest of the public may diminish after a few years, and only those data relevant to potential redevelopment may remain of interest. Selection of records for retention

A major challenge in record keeping anywhere is the decision about which records to retain and which records could be disposed of. As has been discussed above, the importance that is attached to a certain record may change with time and depend on the stakeholder concerned.

A categorisation of records according to levels of importance, such as critical, necessary or useful, might be helpful in deciding which material requires most attention and in focusing resources on its preservation. A road map that indicates in which way the importance of a certain record changes with time might be a useful management instrument.

The timescale of retention of individual records would be determined by the needs of the stewardship programme. Certain records would be reclassified as time progresses; for instance, operational records would become historical records. A risk assessment may need to be undertaken in more complex cases to achieve a balance between the possible cost arising from no longer having certain records available and the cost of storing these records. It may actually be cheaper to store all records indiscriminately than to scrutinise them and make selections – with the risk of destroying some that may later be deemed valuable. For certain types of record there may be legal requirements to retain them for a specified period of time; for example, tax offices may require that documentation supporting tax returns be kept for a certain number of years, or a contractor may be required to retain certain records for warranty purposes.

In addition to the operator and their successors, for example the steward, the regulator may also have collected various types of record. Often, these duplicate records may have been generated or held by the operator and may provide a certain redundancy. Different rules and regulations for retention may apply for the regulator and other government authorities. Some governments may have a well established system for assessing and retaining records. The regulator may require the operator to prepare a summary report on records held. Quality requirements and standards for record keeping

A number of generic quality requirements may be formulated that may serve as guidelines for records management and for the selection of record formats and materials. Records ideally should be:

  1. Robust;
  2. Independent of time, or flexible enough to cope with changes over time;
  3. Not reliant on individuals, organisations or technologies;
  4. Able to withstand catastrophic events and attempts at sabotage;
  5. Reliable, i.e., capable of capturing, managing and delivering all the information that needs to be collected and collated;
  6. Transparent, i.e., the structure of the information management system should be open and clear (not a ‘black box’), and software tools to be of the open source type and to allow export of data in a structured and standardised form;
  7. Structured, i.e., records created with a contextual purpose in mind and containing metadata (data about data) should ensure that the context is clear in order to aid understanding.

The International Standards Organization has produced standards for information and document structures, records management and metadata structures that describe records. The International Council on Archives has produced standards designed to ensure that records are described, indexed and managed in a form that enables users to access records relative to their required context.

It is recognised that metadata are an essential instrument to ensure the integrity of records. Contextual information would be captured as an integral part of the management of records and the running of the archive. Contextual information should provide an excellent source of structural information that can be used to locate records from a range of different perspectives. It should provide links between ideas, relationships between records and a variety of associations between entities (people, organizations, etc.), records and publications. Contextual information is perceived as providing a road map to records and related information.

The collection and management of contextual information should not be the exclusive province of a sole archivist but rather the responsibility of all those involved in information creation, preservation, publication, management and use. Records management strategies

It is quite conceivable that an agreement should be reached between the (former) operator, the steward and the regulatory authority as to where copies of all (historical) records should be collated and kept. A single institution may be made legally responsible for keeping the records, but this institution may delegate the actual record maintenance to another institution or outsource the work. In either case the ultimate responsibility would remain with the nominated steward.

During transition periods, the management of remediated sites may face certain continuity problems:

  1. One extreme is the critical situation when a site has been forgotten because all records on it have been lost;
  2. Private operators may not be able or willing to guarantee to remain responsible for the long term, especially if no specific financial arrangements are made and the scope and extent of liabilities are not clearly defined.

A proper and formalised information management strategy should help to minimise losses of crucial and valuable information and records, thus ensuring continuity. While loss of records may be common throughout the whole life cycle, records are particularly vulnerable during the transition phase from operation to stewardship. The reason typically is that the records may have little or no value to the outgoing operator and the steward may not yet have the necessary infrastructure and management structures in place. Major losses of records frequently occur where a period of loss of institutional control has occurred, for example during a period of neglect between the end of active operation and the onset of an orderly remediation programme, during instances of war or civil unrest and in the case of ‘orphan’ contamination. Experience shows that maintaining some activity on a site throughout its life cycle improves the probability of maintaining records. Alternatively, a depository for all collated records could be found until a final decision on the value of the records can be made on the basis of stewardship needs.

In addition to attempting to ensure the physical protection of records, various other strategies to protect the information they contain may be considered. Duplicate records at two or more separate locations are an obvious solution. Given the concern about the longevity and viability of private enterprises and even national institutions, a centralised facility to collect and preserve records may be considered. Such redundancy may also be valuable in the case of catastrophic events at the place where the records are kept. One of the locations may even be at international level, which would offer some protection against the effects of war or civil unrest in a region. In order to maintain the memory of a site, it should not be necessary to have all records as duplicates.

Within one country, different types of information pertaining to a given site may be held at different locations, for example, the land register, environmental agency or local authority, which may reduce the risk that a complete set of records is lost in a single incident. The various databases may be physically or conceptually interlinked to provide a comprehensive management system.

An important medium for preserving and transmitting generic information on sites and their spatial extents may be maps, including geological, hydrological and land use maps. Some of these maps, geological maps, may be standardised tools that have been in use for at least 130 years. Sites with restricted use could be indicated by special map signatures.

It is important that not only the records themselves be retained but also the means and tools for understanding them. In the case of analytical data, for instance, this would be information on sampling and analytical procedures. This also extends to the physical capability of reading, for example, digital records.

In addition to storing information, electronic databases may be used to communicate with stakeholders and the public in general. These databases may contain information not only on sites that still have residual contamination above levels of concern but also on sites that have been remediated to the current levels of no concern. There is value in retaining information on such sites for two reasons:

  1. They could serve as examples or role models for successful implementation of a remediation programme.
  2. The view of regulators of what constitutes a level of no concern can change (and has changed) over time. Sites that have been remediated to standards applicable at the time of remediation may later, with more stringent regulations, be considered contaminated again. In this way, some degree of institutional memory of these is preserved. Recording media

Since records may have to be kept for very long periods, the media used for storage are of crucial importance. On the basis of past experience with record keeping, a few basic requirements on the media and technology for recording can be formulated. These requirements include that records ideally should:

  • Be readable without the aid of proprietary technology;
  • Be capable of duplication and transfer to new media without loss of information;
  • Preserve the context surrounding the information contained and its use.

The advantages and disadvantages of different recording media are summarised in Table 2.12. However, as has been discussed above, not all records may need to be stored for a very long time. Therefore, the choice of recording medium can be made appropriate to the length of the required retention time. Records of only short term relevance may be stored on ordinary office paper or proprietary magnetic media, whilst those records that need to be preserved for a very long time would need to be made on special papers or even on such exotic materials as silicon carbide.

Medium Advantages Disadvantages

Paper Easily readable (by the current generation)
Relatively robust
Degrades slowly
Relatively easy to duplicate
Relatively inexpensive, so inexpensive to store duplicates in several places

Occupies significant space
Inks and paper degrade in the long term
Easily destroyed by fire and water
Film, photographic records Relatively cheap
Negatives require smaller storage space than paper

Media degrade
Easily destroyed by fire and water
Microfiche Storage space significantly smaller than that for many other media
Can be read using relatively simple technology (magnifying glasses)
Degrades in the long term (though some fiche media have been developed that potentially last longer than paper)
Requires a tool to be read

Digital records Can be retrieved relatively easily, rapidly and from a number of areas
Storage space (disks, servers, etc.) very small, and one source that is networked can be read by a number of readers
Easy to attach metadata
Easy to arrange contextually or by multiple contextual relationships
Easy to copy

Require specialist software to be read
Life expectancy of software very short
Relatively sophisticated machines required to access records
Silicon carbide slabs Very durable in the long term
Corrosion resistant
Wear and abrasion resistant
Do not require sophisticated environmental controls to ensure no degradation

Require sophisticated equipment to form the record (e.g., laser engraving tools)

Table 2.12 Types of media and their respective advantages and disadvantages

In addition to concerns over the long term stability of the base medium, the stability of the actual inscription and possible detrimental interaction of the chosen materials with the base medium need to be assessed. It is known, for instance, that certain inks will fade or that they will destroy the paper due to chemical reactions. Inks that form a stable inorganic compound (e.g., iron gallate or soot) after the medium has evaporated are preferable to those that rely on organic polymers. A concern is the cheap modern papers and computer inks that seem to be in general use currently to produce hard copy records. These papers may not be acid-free, and the inks or dyes are usually based on organic polymers or use binders such as those employed in laser printing technology.

Over the past two or three decades, digital data processing, and hence storage of digital records has become ubiquitous and it is now more prevalent than other forms of data storage. The main incentives have been the high data density that can be achieved, with the associated savings in storage space, the versatility of the digital format, which allows use of the stored information for a variety of purposes, and the ease of data retrieval for further use.

Given the rapid changes in information management technologies, preserving data is a major issue for a programme that must extend into the indefinite future. Many systems that were once considered high technology simply no longer exist. For instance, data stored on 5.25 in. floppy disks are now virtually useless, as very few users have been able to retain the necessary hardware (disk drives) and associated software. A similar future awaits the 3.5 in. floppy disk and other magnetic media (e.g., tape streamers) in the light of rewritable CDs and DVDs becoming common. Optical disk (CD and DVD) technology is also being challenged by issues such as media durability (disk delamination) and the changing wavelength of the light source used to read or write disks. The problem of rapid technological change and the associated technical obsolescence has been widely recognised and extensively discussed for many years, but without any agreement on how this can be resolved.

Considering data preservation, most newer digital media may be much less robust than printed books or other paper documents because:

  1. They are less chemically stable than even poor quality paper.
  2. They deteriorate more rapidly even when stored unused in good environments.
  3. Digital data are machine dependent, i.e., they must move within machines to provide their information. Simply reading the data incurs wear on the media.
  4. They are totally system dependent for retrieval of their information. When the system (hardware, software or both) is no longer sustained, the information will be lost unless it is migrated to a newer system.
  5. Digital information technologies rely on ever greater data packing densities, making the information ever more vulnerable to large losses from small incidents.
  6. Failure of many newer digital media is often unpredictable and sudden, and may result in total loss of the information recorded.
  7. There is little experience with the maintenance and preservation of many newer types of media.

Technological obsolescence is a major concern, particularly since technical developments are not driven by, and do not take into consideration, long term information preservation needs:

  1. Accessibility of digital information depends entirely on intricate edifices of hardware, operating systems, applications software and storage media.
  2. Most systems are heavily proprietary, which leaves those concerned with long term preservation dependent on the marketplace.
  3. Changes in technology are almost wholly driven by business and market forces; libraries, archives and other government institutions have virtually no influence on these developments.
  4. Although there are many crucial standards, both formal and de facto, in the digital domain, developments in technology often outpace the standards setting process.

A data mining procedure, i.e., transformation of existing records into current and long term formats might be needed to preserve records. In other words, digital media typically have very high maintenance requirements compared with those of other media, for instance paper. When deciding on the medium, these disadvantages may need to be balanced against the advantages of ease of data retrieval. In general, it appears that digital media may be of more value for data preservation on the ten year time span than for the long term. Coding of information

Preserving physical records is one thing, ensuring their readability another. Conceptually, reading is composed of two steps: the transformation of the stored information into a medium that is accessible to humans and the decoding of the information into a format that is understandable to them. Some storage media require only simple tools for retrieving information, for instance a projector or microscope suffices to read a microfilm, while magnetic storage devices require sophisticated and often proprietary hardware. The decoding required means, for instance, that textual information be available in a language that can be understood by the user. In addition, the conventions of formulas or drawings must be understood. Necessary decoding keys can often be obtained from the context but sometimes the context itself is coded.

Typically, redundancy and a widespread use of the coding system are likely to aid readability over prolonged periods of time. Thus, plain text is a good candidate. Bar codes, on the contrary, have very little redundancy and require a special key for deciphering. This key is not common cultural knowledge at the time they are created and may easily be lost.

Symbols and pictograms are another issue. People with limited experience of other cultural contexts and historical perspectives might easily overlook the fact that the understanding of the meaning of symbols might be lost or that the meaning itself might indeed change. For instance, in the Western world it is generally accepted that a bright red or yellow colour is often used in warning symbols. Colours, however, have different connotations in different cultures; the colour of mourning is black in the Western world while it is white in East Asia. Therefore, it is dangerous to take the meaning of symbols for granted and to rely on them for conveying particular messages. Records storage facilities

A spatial separation between the locations where records are kept and the locations of any problems is usually necessary to provide for conditions conducive to records preservation and for reasons of accessibility. In other words, the records should normally be stored in an archive remote from the site under stewardship. Various proposals have been made to overcome the problem of providing for the long term stability of records stored at a given site. These include two dimensional bar codes and button memories.

In designing records management facilities the fact has to be taken into account that certain records, for instance those on monitoring and maintenance, are ‘living’ records. Their continuous, even if not daily, use requires ease of access while providing security for longer periods of time. Therefore, certain records may have to be in close physical proximity to the steward. A possible strategy for providing both easy access and security is to maintain duplicate records. In such a case, however, mechanisms for duplicating such records in a way that ensures an exact copy are required. Typically the primary working records are paper copies or digital files, while the archived records are often transferred onto microfiche in order to reduce space requirements.

Facilities for storage of records for the short or intermediate term (say up to 25 years) are typically located in suitable accommodation, for example, the basement of the buildings in which the record creating institution is based. Records of higher importance and of wider public interest are often transferred to a state archive after a certain period of time. Records that are deemed to be of historical interest are candidates for the public archives. This is particularly true when the record creating institution ceases to function. The laws of countries usually specify the time for which records have to be kept. In many cases it is unlimited, i.e., for the lifetime of the recording medium. In exceptional cases, restoration or other procedures to extend the lifetime, or measures to transfer the information to other media, are taken.

Records that are to be kept for an a priori unlimited period of time in some countries are copied onto microfiche, which is then stored, for instance, in underground mines or similar facilities. The reason for placing the microfiche underground is a comparatively low risk of fire, natural disasters and major accidents such as plane crashes.

There is not much experience yet on how well these facilities would function over the very long term. The only long term experiences with storage of written or printed records are with monastery or university libraries that have been in existence for close to a thousand years. Although their continuing existence is an example of continued institutional control, there are many more examples where such control has failed or the institutions have been deliberately dissolved.