Reference Number: 
CTAS-203

Disasters. By their very nature, they are unexpected events. Severe weather, earthquakes, floods, or fire can strike anywhere at anytime with little or no warning. Disasters can irreparably change individual lives, halt the normal commerce of business and industry, and, as the tornado in Montgomery County in 1999 violently demonstrated, disasters can even disrupt the operation of government. 

With all the ancient and venerable courthouses still standing in our state, you might consider it a rare occurrence for county government offices to be seriously damaged. But consider this telling statistic: Tennessee’s neighbor to the South, Georgia, has had more than 100 courthouse fires in the course of the history of that state.[1]

The occurrence of disasters cannot be eliminated, but they can be prepared for and their impact can be lessened. Tragedies such as the devastation to downtown Clarksville by the tornado that struck there only highlight the importance of having a good disaster recovery plan in place. Even though a number of county offices were damaged or destroyed by the storm, they were able to recover, relocate, and return to providing services to the residents of Montgomery County in a remarkably short time. Their ability to do so was at least as attributable to planning, preparation, and procedures in place before the storm as it was by emergency responses after the fact.

In order to lessen the impact of a disaster, there are two things every county should do.

  1. The county should develop a disaster contingency plan.
  2. The county should institute a vital records protection program.



            [1]  Protecting Records—A Guide for Local Governments, by Harmon Smith, issued by the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (published March 1992), p. 6.