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Protecting Vital Records from Arson and Protest Movements

The National Fire Protection Association reports that arson is the leading cause of fire in the United States. Serial arson and arson for insurance reasons have in recent years experienced an increase due to fires set for political reasons. In the United Kingdom, over 50% of fires were arson fire as presented by the Fire & Rescue Services.

Annual losses exceed $1.4 billion, and in the last decade, over $120 billion in direct losses. In recent months, the statistical reports on the motivation for fire initiation have changed. The causes listed as vandalism, extremism, and political terrorism, have increased in recent months. Antifa and BLM consistently threaten to “burn things to the ground” as a means to effect political change.

Government buildings, such as town halls, fire stations, and police stations, are now considered desirable targets as their destruction disrupts local government. Antifa in recent days stated a directive to destroy the history of America. Any destruction of America’s history and culture is considered as part of their motivation for rioting and arson attacks. Arson in this case has a motivation of furthering a political viewpoint.

Arson fires have been set as a means to escape financial obligations because terrorism and rioting and arson have blighted downtown shopping areas, and it is predicted this will become more prevalent. The business owner may seek to use arson as a means to escape leases that will in the current market be diminished in value. Collecting on insurance and relocating away from the center cities may become more prevalent.

Government authorities must react to discourage the arson of government buildings that are typically in the center cities where demonstrators march in protest and thus set the cover for arsonists to achieve their goals. Protestors might view the destruction of the town hall or the police stations as serving their end goal of destabilizing the American model.

The town hall with its deed books, birth and death records, and military records, as well as voter rolls, and of course, the most valuable of documents — the historical records that serve as valued artifacts of the American culture.

Mayors, selectmen, town clerks, and other government officials, must consider their ability to withstand a deliberately-set fire. It is not just the goal of creating instability and images for the cable news and culture warrior web site but the actual goal of destroying the documents that represent our culture.

Attacks on police stations and court buildings may have the goal of destroying evidence vaults, eliminating the very records that would serve to prosecute the arsonists and rioters for their criminal behavior.

Through the years, town halls have used vaults to protect their most vital and valued records, but the old-style vaults are not as effective as the new-style modular fireproof vaults that have within their design model the ability to make the vault capable of protecting vital records by automatically sealing the vault in the event of arson or other fire.

The cutting-edge vault has the ability to close the vault doors and seal the fire dampers and cable trays automatically, so in a quick-acting arson fire, the vault contents are protected.

Modular fireproof vaults have been fire tested and therefore have a Laboratory Listing to provide proof to the owner that the contents of the vault will always be protected and that the construction technology that is used by the architect will in fact perform in any type of fire. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has designed many standards on how to protect the vault, the records center, and the building in general.1

Unfortunately, some of the greatest collections reside in vaults constructed over 40 years ago, and there was no effective design guideline to provide the proper specifications. Today, Connecticut and Massachusetts have created engineering specifications that define the proper construction techniques.2
1 NFPA 232 Protection of Records
2 Technical Bulletin #1 issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Performance Standards
of Safes and Vaults and State Laws (Chapter 66, §.11 MGL) and Connecticut’s Fire Resistive
Vaults and Safes and Connecticut Regulations §11-8-1 through §11-8-12.

Today, a proper vault will have the ability to protect not only paper documents but computer media, server rooms, and historical documents — and a stand-alone technology that causes the vault door to automatically close at the first detection of smoke or heat in the area of the vault.

In an arson fire, inhabitants of the building may evacuate at the first sign of a threat and move to a designated area just as they do in an active shooter drill. The UL-listed and labeled vault chambers are designed to be able to protect the contents of the vault enclosure in any event. The vault doors and fire dampers also close upon activation of the clean agent fire suppression, thus providing great safety for the records stored within a town hall, police station, or historical museum. Standards issued by state archives, and in some cases, the secretary of state, require the vault openings — such as those for environmental control within the vault, the electrical penetrations portal, and the vault door — to seal the entire chamber in the event of a fire. And these openings can be controlled through the alarm panels — Should the central alarm fail or become disabled, the vault will close due to its proprietary design capabilities.

In the end, it is the owner or the responsible party (town or city clerk or owner of the business) who is held liable or responsible for the loss of records. Current planning for new construction, such as town halls and police stations, must involve planning to make the modern-day vault protective for any type of fire initiation. Fire marshals or other fire prevention specialists should be part of the planning team.3
The author of this article, Hugh Smith, has been involved in fireproof vault design since 1980, and has served on the NFPA Technical Committee for the NFPA 232 Standard since 1999.

FIRELOCK® Data Protection Systems (“FIRELOCK®”) has installed over 1,700 modular vaults over the last 40 years in locations worldwide. Modular fireproof vaults are also designed to resist earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes so they are able to preserve the client’s vital records and media from any and all threats.

3 Arson and the Fire Investigation – A Property Conservation Resource from Factory Mutual

Why FIRELOCK® Vaults are cutting edge
Smoke activated hydraulic vault door closers
Heat activation of all vault devices and closers
Linked to Clean Agent Fire Suppression
Inner Day-gate security control
Fire Rated for Paper and Computer Media
Environmental Control Ability for historical artifacts