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Documenting Disaster Response: Why the Record Is Important - Part 2
Monday, May 20, 2013 6:25 AM

In Friday’s installment of the Lonestar Leaguer, Bob Mellinger, CEO of Attainium Corp and David M. Samuels, senior litigation partner at Michelman & Robinson, LLP explain why it is critical to accurately record everything that occurred during a disaster situation. In today’s article, Mellinger and Samuels explain what should go into those records, and what should not.

What to put in and what to leave out
You need a chronology so everyone will understand in what order things occurred. In any disaster situation, you are usually getting information piecemeal, and decisions often must be made on little input. Without complete input, you can make bad or poor decisions that you would not have made if you had all the information at once. As an example, consider the happenings on 9/11. When the first jet hit the first tower, a decision was made to have everyone in the second tower stay put. Was that a good decision? Based on what we know now, it was not, but those in charge only had minimal information at the time.

It is not necessary to have a verbatim report of what was said. It is critical, however, that the information is correct and factual; in that way, it may then help others remember what happened, who did what, who spoke to whom, etc. The names of people who were in charge and tasked with various actions, or who witnessed certain transactions will be especially helpful, as will the follow-up of whether and when things got done and what the outcomes were. 

The essential information to document includes time, action, who did/ordered it, and the outcome. You can choose to use a form or not, or to just keep a notebook. What matters most is accuracy and objectivity.

Do not include any damning statements. For example, if someone trips and falls over electrical cords improperly secured, don’t record that Mr. X said, “Five others tripped over those cords and I told management each time.”

Omit any statements about what people think. For example, if Ms. Q doesn’t agree with a decision, it’s probably not a good idea to report her statement, “I thought they were doing the wrong thing all along.” Leave out all opinions or statements that are not completely factual. 

In Conclusion
It’s not at all unusual for a lawsuit to be filed several years after an incident, so you need to be prepared even while hoping it doesn’t happen. Finally, when you exercise your plan, keep the same kind of notes that would result from a real incident. This will help you determine if the right information is being recorded and, if not, how to improve the document.