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Records management

Key points
  • It is difficult to forecast the duration of an emergency: plan for the long term. This applies to file planning and physical storage requirements.
  • Digitization should not be considered if project planning or resources are not adequate. Digitization of projects must be approved by RAS in advance.
  • No records may be destroyed without RAS authorization in advance.
  • Use of non-UNHCR approved tools can compromise information security.


Information and records management is vital to an emergency operation, because good information is key to sound, rapid decisions, action, and reporting. Well organized information makes communication and sharing of knowledge easier. Quick and easy access to information optimises work and facilitates audit. Specific concerns in an emergency include:

  • Individual case file management and registration.
  • Handover of information to new staff.
  • Evacuations.
  • Accountability.

The Records Management Support team (RAS), based at Headquarters, provides specialized global support and services on electronic and paper recordkeeping to HQ and in the field. A strong recordkeeping system is a foundation of sound governance and UNHCR's accountability

Main guidance

When and for what purpose?


A strong recordkeeping system is vital when:

  • Setting up new offices in an emergency.
  • Expanding operations or services.
  • Moving office premises.
  • Preparing staff for evacuation.
  • Closing an office.

For what purpose?

A strong recordkeeping system makes it possible to:

  • Establish efficient office paper filing processes.
  • Establish secure electronic recordkeeping systems.
  • Meet anticipated physical storage requirements, notably for individual case files.
  • Facilitate information handover when staff rotate.
  • Protect sensitive information while making information available to staff for operations, including during an evacuation.
  • Facilitate audit and accountability functions.


Associated risks

Poor recordkeeping generates a range of risks.

  • Information chaos. Information that is poorly filed is not available to those who need it for information or action.
  • Information breaches. It can lead to inappropriate disclosure of confidential information.
  • Data loss. Information can disappear if digital storage is not adequate.
  • Fire, flood, theft or loss. All these are more likely to damage physical records.
  • Inability to evacuate vital and sensitive records.

Steps to be taken


  • Establish an Office File Plan. Identify information needed for the smooth running of an emergency operation and create an office file plan. Base your file plan on core functions and the UNHCR Operation File Plan. Make sure it is intuitive and easily understandable. Both the paper and digital environment should mirror the file plan.
  • Ensure that information is secure physically and digitally. This can be done by holding files in secure, suitable premises where physical risks (fire, water damage) do not arise.
    • If the office has reliable access to the internet, contact RAS to request a workspace in e-SAFE.
    • If the office does not have access to the internet, create a filing structure in a shared drive using the file plan/structure, ensure that storage is sufficient and that enough sharing tools are available, and put in place adequate back-up procedures for safeguarding digital information. Back up your digital information in at least 2 ways, and store it away from the server. If security permits, create one back up location that is off-site.
  • Allocate secure storage space for individual case files. Create secure procedures for retrieval, circulation, general management and protection that cover file movements throughout the office. Make sure the storage space is not subject to fire or flood risks and that rooms can be locked and access restricted.
  • Identify vital records without which the office could not continue to operate, and create an evacuation plan for (digital and paper) records of importance.
  • Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for recordkeeping. Ensure that all staff are aware of the systems in place, how to use them, and where they can be found. Ensure that SOPs and the File Plan are updated to enable a smooth handover.
Example of a vital records plan

Example of a vital records plan


Resources / inputs required

  • An Officer with overall responsibility for the operation's recordkeeping.
  • Focal points with recordkeeping responsibilities in each office and functional area.
  • UNHCR-approved electronic recordkeeping tools and user licenses.
  • Dedicated physical and digital storage facilities that are secure.

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