National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program

Safety, Risk Management, and Continuing Operations for Samples and Data

The Report from the Workshop on Envisioning a National Geoinformatics System for the United States (2007) advocates “sustainability” as one of eight key points of the system.  

Continuing Operations

Continuity of Operations (COOP) is a  plan and set of procedures put in place to ensure that agencies and facilities are able to maintain order, communication, and functionality in the event of natural disasters and unplanned events.

COOP plans typically list expected threats, from earthquake, fire, and extreme weather, contain inventories of hazardous materials, and cite specific roles and responsibilities, evacuation plans, and resources available for interim response (fire, medical, alternative immediate storage of holdings and data).  Need for hazard insurance policies varies widely; the U.S. federal government and its component institutions are “self insured”, but repositories that are under other governmental, university, and private administration commonly need and have commercial policies.

Specialized safety and procedural planning and documentation may be important at certain specialized establishments.  At the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) the necessity for staff and employees to work for long periods in refrigerated environments (to -33° F) and to operate specialized and potentially dangerous equipment (e.g., bandsaws, circular saws, planers) has led to the writing of an “operations plan” document (National Ice Core Laboratory, 2008), and to a long-term program of safety training for new staff and visiting clients, focusing in part on the needs for awareness of physical and mental effects of cold environments on work performance and personal safety.

The safety, insurance, and documentation needs of many repositories are dictated by their integration into the physical facilities and regulatory frameworks of the broader organizations to which they belong.  At the large Denver Federal Center complex in Lakewood, Colorado, both the Core Research Center and the National Ice Core Laboratory are in a single large building within the federal complex, and their safety plans, reporting requirements, and emergency response procedures are subject to the broader regulations of the building and federal complex.

Data Backup

Physical security of digital data is commonly addressed by means of physical duplication of records off-site.  This is in some cases done informally by keeping discs, computers, or hard drives in remote locations with systematically scheduled updates planned. Digital data may also be uploaded to off-site servers: the NICL collections database is located both at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo. facility and at the NICL Science Management Office at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. 

Needs for effective COOP plans may involve the preservation of the knowledge of individual experienced staff members, and effective management of human resources in general.   The Florida Geological Survey has instituted an “internal wikipedia” system, by which employees make continually updated written contributions to the tabulated documents of procedural and historical knowledge of the institution; high school student volunteers systematically work on the institution’s “green books”, which are well logs on paper, to transcribe or scan them into digital form, as part of a larger effort to scan paper records to convert to digital form, and to give students hands-on experience in the earth sciences, as educational outreach.  

How can you contribute?

If you have any success stories, suggestions, or contributions you would like to share, please send an email to the USGS National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program at  We will work with you to highlight your best practices and share them online.