by Teresa Cooper and Jordan Janisse
A condensed version of this article was originally published in the Manitoba Child Care Association journal, Bridges, December 1999 (Vol. IV).
Has your centre ever been the victim of a burglary or theft? A water main break? A fire? What about mice or insects? A power failure? Has your computer died unexpectedly? Have you ever had a staff member intentionally damage or take centre records? Has your centre ever tried to gather materials for an anniversary celebration, and discovered that there are almost none to be found?
If any of these things have ever happened to your centre, you know the kind of problems you had to deal with. If you have never had them happen, consider your centre lucky. Although some of these things cannot be anticipated, your centre can do many things to protect a valuable asset of the centre - its records and information. A centre cannot operate without children, but it will also not operate for very long without its records.
Disaster planning - it sounds like something for big corporations and governments. Unfortunately, no business, big or small, is immune to theft, fire, flood, mice, sabotage, or computer failure. And no business will run for long if the records and information it needs every day is lost, damaged, or incorrect. In addition, licensed child care centres in Manitoba are required by the Child Day Care office to maintain certain records as part of the licensing conditions. Child and attendance records must be kept for two years, and menu and emergency evacuation drills records for one year, for example. Whether you keep your information in a series of cardboard boxes, a filing cabinet, or a computer, disasters can happen.
What are some disasters my centre could face? What can we do to protect ourselves?
Fire and flood (due to water main breaks, heavy rain or high water levels) are probably the most damaging of the natural disasters we face in Manitoba. Ensure adequate smoke and heat detectors, and consider fire-resistant storage cases for especially valuable records. For water damage, avoid locating offices in basements of buildings if at all possible, or store records as far from the floor as you can.
Theft of equipment from the centre's office is also a very serious situation. Computers are popular targets for thieves. Good locks, barred windows and security systems are a start. Also consider attaching the computer to a sturdy desk, the wall, or the floor using special computer cable locks. Have insurance on your computer equipment so it can be replaced if the thieves are successful. Electronic data processing insurance may also be available to help cover your electronic records. Speak to your insurance professional for more information.
Computers are only machines, but we sometimes think that machines are immortal. Computers will fail. Unfortunately, they do not always warn you of their impending death! If your centre uses a computer for record keeping and accounting, make sure the computer is properly maintained and data is backed up regularly. Perform backups daily for applications you use all the time. Always have a set of disks for backups, so in the event that one disk fails or is damaged, there will still be other backups available. For example, have disks for each weekday, each week of the month, and each monthend. Store backup disks or tapes in a safe location, where they will not be damaged or accidentally used for another purpose. Consider storing month end backups away from the centre, at your home, the home of a trusted staff member, or a safety deposit box and update them often. Replace backup disks and tapes regularly - like computers, they will fail, often without warning. Run hard drive maintenance utilities such as Norton Utilities to keep the hard drive in optimum working order. These utilities can also be used to help repair damage to your computer caused by a power failure (whether caused by a child or a storm!). Locate your computer in a cool, dry, non-dusty location and have malfunctioning cooling fans and disk drives repaired promptly. Computers are wonderful tools for your administrative work, and you will not want to spend a day without yours.
Vermin are another possible threat to your centre's records. Mice and rats can easily turn a cabinet or box of records into cozy nesting material! Carpenter ants are fond of paper, and will also use it to build their nests. If your centre has records that are infrequently used or materials that are the centre's historical archives, check them occasionally for infestation. If there is evidence of mice or insects in your centre, they will probably be in storage areas as well.
Sabotage or theft of records by staff members is hopefully a very rare situation. However, it can happen. Take advantage of built-in security features in the computer software your centre uses, and ensure that only staff who need access to the applications are given usernames and passwords. Some applications also allow you to decide how much access that staff person should have when he or she is actually using the application. Restrict access to sensitive parent, staff and accounting information by keeping filing cabinets locked. If possible, keep those records in an office that can be securely locked.
Emergency Preparedness Canada has developed a booklet called Business Resumption Planning: A Guide. It explains business resumption planning and how to prepare a resumption plan. The booklet is available at http://www.ocipep.gc.ca/info_pro/self_help_ad/bus_e.asp. It can also be obtained by calling Emergency Preparedness Canada at (613) 991-7035.