The Loss of Court Records to Fire and Flood
“There is nothing that was salvageable,” said New York State Office of Court Administration Executive Director Ronald Younkins. “They had an outside company that specializes in restoration of documents and disaster recovery. They came and — nothing.”
On March 22, 2015, a seven-alarm fire consumed 85,387 boxes of court records from all five boroughs of New York City. These records ranged in dates from 1873 to 2006. According to Younkins, recreating every file would be “impossible,” but OCA will address requests as the come.
“Even if the case file was destroyed, there might be minutes of the proceeding still available,” Younkins said. “This has to be done on a case by case basis.”
Hurricane Katrina was another disaster that destroyed many paper and microfilm records in Louisiana and Mississippi. One month after Katrina, Hurricane Rita struck Louisiana again hitting Cameron Parish hard and leveling 90% of the town’s buildings and homes.
[endif]--Downtown, the only structure left standing was the Cameron Courthouse. Built in 1937 to replace the old wooden structure that had been destroyed by fire, this facility was built with disaster mediation in mind. But despite this, the records in the courthouse basement were not immune to the storm surge from Hurricane Rita.
Before the hurricane hit, Clerk of Court Carl Broussard and his staff of eight hurriedly moved 400 boxes of records – including pending cases and the last five years of criminal records – up to the second floor. Due to their efforts, those records were saved. But unfortunately, all of the legacy records that remained in the basement were destroyed. The records they saved still had to be digitized as quickly as possible as the oppressive humidity caused the rescued documents to mold.
The State of Florida is well versed in cleaning up after disasters. In June of 2012, days of heavy rain from Tropical Storm Debby coupled with a failed sump pump at the Suwanee County Courthouse resulted in raising water in the basement. As the flood waters entered Courthouse, the records kept in the basement were in peril. Jim Craig, Director of Micrographics, was contacted by Barry Baker, Clerk of the Suwannee County Court, to assess the records and find ways to recover the wet and damaged volumes. “Saving these documents was quite an undertaking,” says Jim Craig. “Eric was on the ball and ordered two refrigerated semis for delivery Monday morning. First thing Monday morning we triaged the volumes removed from the basement over the weekend. Wet volumes went in to the semis, undamaged volumes were eventually moved to the backlot into air conditioned storage containers and the damp volumes were dehumidified at the Live Oak library. Once all the records were safe, and the drying out was in process, the worst affected volumes were transferred to Micrographics for scanning. “We digitized many damaged volumes. In the digitization process, we made use of Image Processing Controls to improve the image quality. With IPCs, we virtually eliminated the water stain damage from the final scan.”
Today, the County has beefed up the water extraction systems and runs regular drills to confirm operational integrity. Vital records are still stored in the courthouse basement and as time and money permits, those records are being digitized. Additionally, the new records center is designed with risk mediation in mind. Jim Craig goes on to say, “All in all, the effort put into this salvage operation by the Suwannee County Clerk staff and the Live Oak community resulted in minimal loss. Micrographics was happy to play a part in that success story.”
If you have any questions about mitigating loss of your paper files and microfilm, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be attending the 2017 Winter Florida Clerk of Court Conference on February 28th – March 2nd. If you’d like to meet with us during the conference, contact us for an appointment.
Since 1980, Micrographics has been working with Florida Clerks to reduce costs and increase staff productivity by implementing comprehensive, scalable, and secure solutions. These solutions include integrated records conversion services, data storage, and workflow design. Plus, we sell Fujitsu scanners and scanner maintenance at highly competitive prices and also offer scanner rentals. Micrographics has converted millions of documents and is proudly recognized as one of the most successful companies in the document and information management processing industry. We currently work with a majority of the County Clerks in Florida addressing both current records and antiquity projects. In addition to Clerks, we have performed preservation and antiquity projects in both domestic and British publishing houses, National Geographic, UF Foundation, UM, Cuban Heritage Collection, Menorcan Historical Society, and the Lawrence Lewis Foundation. Micrographics meets or exceeds SOF admin codes, and the Library of Congress scanning specifications.