Don’t Avoid the Avoidable – 3 lessons from the National Records Leaky Roof

3 Simple Questions that could Help you avoid the avoidable

Continuing the entertaining theme of writing our blogs to music, today’s opening entry comes from a great Scotsman, with a great song.  Yes, it’s Rod Stewart’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”

And that is a question that the National Records of Scotland may be asking themselves this week.  Or, more accurately:

  • Why did they not see the rain coming when it was on the weather reports?

  • Why did they not move their archives out of high risk areas before the rain came? and….

  • Why were they not “Fixing a Hole (Where the rain gets in)” (Paul McCartney) whilst the sun was shining?

National Records of Scotland. Picture: Richard Rogerson/Creative Commons 2.0

National Records of Scotland. Picture: Richard Rogerson/Creative Commons 2.0

Last Tuesday, after hours of heavy rain, a leak developed through a glass dome in the roof of the National Records of Scotland’s (NRS) New Register House on Princes Street.

NRS were quick to patch the leak in their PR, stating, “there was no significant damage to records or building fabric”.  And with everything digitised, the NRS may be right that the damage was insignificant (although some physical records are reported as unrecoverable).  But it appears from media sources that the incident was eminently avoidable.  For instance:

  • The leaky dome had been repeatedly reported by different staff before the heavy rain.

  • The reports were not forwarded to the relevant department.*

  • The weather warnings came 3 – 4 days ahead of the deluge.

“The Moral of the Story” (Watsky, 2014) is that the best sort of crisis is the one you don’t have to go through.  And the important element of Business Continuity which allows you to successfully avoid crises is a threat analysis, as follows:

  • What is the threat?

    • Water damage to records

  • What could cause this?

    • Many possible but one would have been “water ingress from leaking roof”

  • How can we reduce the impact of the threat?

    • Fix the dome, don’t store the records underneath it, or both

It sounds so blindingly simple, and yet so many businesses and public departments fail to do it.  No-one in their right mind would store personal documents and photographs underneath a roof which they knew to be suspect, so why do it with public records?  Although the damage to the birth, marriage and death records may have been slight in this case, I suspect that the damage to the NRS’s reputation for competence will last much longer.

A simple but thorough analysis of all your business risks, before a crisis occurs, will save you time, money, reputation and inventory, and “Won’t Let the Rain Fall Down on You” (The Critters (slightly paraphrased) 1995).


Toby Ingram, OBE

Senior Consultant,
Sector Lead: Academia & Heritage


Additional Links:

Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Sign up with your email address to receive news and updates