Not on the Records: Disasters, Records and Disaster Research

November 1996 (VOL. 14, NO. 3)

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It is conventional wisdom that record keeping falls apart in disasters. Yet that is not documented in the research world. Drabek’s (1986) exhaustive review of empirical studies has no reference to records. Quarantelli’s (1983) work focused on a narrow subset of records: medical records in mass casualty situations. There are, in fact, problems with records and disasters. Some records which would be useful have never been made. Others are lost or damaged, inadequate or inaccurate. Even backups may not be available. There is also a problem with toxicity. The increasing links between humans and toxic events raise issues about the safety of records after an incident. This paper explores the types of records that would be useful to have about disasters and looks at how they should, or could, be created. Attention is also given to the question of records research strategies, as a means for- among other things- tapping the knowledge of disaster research pioneers before their information is lost.