Technical Bulletin 1

Performance Standards of Safes and Vaults

Issued by the Supervisor of Public Records
May 18, 1995

Version 2 (1996)


Chapter 66, s.11 MGL requires the officers in charge of state departments, county commissioners, city councils or selectmen to provide fire-resistant rooms, safes or vaults for the safekeeping of the public records of their governmental unit (2 Op. Atty. Gen. 1899, p. 48). Pursuant to s. 1 of this statute, the Supervisor of Public Records is authorized to promulgate standards for the construction and use of these vaults, rooms and safes (8 Op. Atty. Gen. 1929, p. 594).

Effective Date

These performance standards become effective on May 18, 1995.


All vaults for the storage of public records shall provide the minimum level of protection specified hereunder. The Supervisor of Public Records does not specify any particular materials or technique for the construction of public records vaults. The Supervisor will approve vaults for the storage of public records upon receipt of the certification of licensed or registered fire protection and structural engineers that the proposed construction will have a fire resistance and structural integrity equivalent to or greater than that specified in the following performance criteria.


A vault size of 5,000 cubic feet or less is considered optimal. Where large volumes of records must be protected, it is permissible to construct a vault with a capacity of up to 25,000 cubic feet. It must be realized that, because of the volume of combustible materials stored within it, this larger structure is at greater risk of fire and should be equipped with a fire suppression system.

Media Protection

All vaults intended for the storage of paper records shall be so constructed that, when fitted with the 6-hour required hereunder shall, in the event of fire in the surrounding structure, maintain an internal temperature of 350 or below for a period of not less than 6 hours. These standards provide the maximum available level of fire protection for paper records, but cannot safeguard film or magnetic media against either hear or humidity. If magnetic media have not been copies and dispersed or otherwise duplicated for protection, vaults or portions thereof used for the storage of this media must be equipped with data safes or an inner core designed to minimize temperature rise and moisture intrusion. These safes and cores shall be so constructed or equipped that, in the even of fire in the surrounding structure, the internal temperature and relative humidity shall remain below 125 and 80%, respectively for a period of at least 2 hours. It is the responsibility of the records custodian to provide all media with the level of protection specified above and to provide the Supervisor with the engineer’s certification to that effect.


Except in Type I or Type II-222 fire resistive construction as defined by NFPA 220, Standard on Types of Building Construction, all vaults shall be ground-supported and structurally independent of surrounding structures. Supporting structures for vaults shall be sufficient to support the full weight of the vault structure and its contents.

Since shrinkage or volume change, stresses may result in hairline cracking that will be detrimental to the vault structure, all concrete members should have a minimum reinforcing as specified in the ACI Code, and all masonry walls should have minimum reinforcing as specified in Paragraph 1113.5.3 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Building Code.

All building members supporting the vault shall be noncombustible. All structure materials used in the construction of a vault shall have a fire resistance rating of 6 hours. All interior fittings and finish shall be noncombustible.

If connected to the building in any manner, the connection shall be made so that in the event of the collapse of the building, the surrounding building members may move or fall without affecting the fire-resistive qualities of the vault. All beams or bearing members adjoining the vault shall be designed to release freely in case of failure. Vault construction shall not be used as a support or bearing for the structural members of the building. Walls shall have sufficient lateral strength to withstand impact of collapsing building members, or toppling machinery or equipment.

Construction of vaults below grade level should be avoided whenever possible because of the dangers posed by the "cooking" effect of fallen debris, flooding from natural causes or fire fighting efforts, and the difficulties of maintaining proper environmental control.

In non-fire resistive buildings, the vault roof shall be designed to accommodate a minimum live load of 350 pounds per square foot. In all cases, ample accommodation should be made for protection against impact loading by falling equipment or building members and against accumulations of burning debris.


Walls, roofs and floors shall be effectively waterproofed. No combustible membrane or coating shall be used except on a roof exposed to the weather.

Provisions shall be made to prevent the entry of water at door openings.

Ample drainage shall be provided to prevent rain or fire fighting water accumulating on the roof.


Wall penetrations shall be allowed only for access, HVAC systems, sprinkler systems, electric lighting and limited energy circuits. Wall openings shall be as small as possible and shall be sealed with approved or listed fire-rated materials and devices to prevent smoke, heat, flame or water penetration. Conduit, if used, shall be sealed inside and outside.

Roofs shall not be pierced for any purpose.

Floors shall not be pierced, except that floors of vaults constructed on grade may be pierced to allow the passage of sprinkler piping or HVAC ducts.

Vault Doors


Vault doors shall be equipped with combination-type locks with an Underwriters’ Laboratories approved relocking device designed to hold the door in case of mechanical, explosive or torch attack on the door. The lock mechanism shall be of the type enabling a person locked inside the vault to open the door easily from the inside. All day gates shall be similarly equipped.

Vault doors shall be equipped with smoke or heat-actuated release mechanisms to close them in case of fire.

Environmental Control

For paper and magnetic media, a stable environment with an average temperature of 70F or below and an average relative humidity of 30-50% shall be maintained. A temperature below 70F and a relative humidity of 40-45%, with fluctuations limited to no more than +2 F and +3% RH, is considered optimal. Storage facilities for first-generation silver halide microfilm shall maintain a constant temperature of below 70F and relative humidity of between 20 and 30%. If it is not possible to meet these optima, minimization of temperature and humidity fluctuations shall be the guiding concern. These parameters should be accomplished by controlling the external environment surrounding the storage space. Where this is not feasible, the storage space may be equipped with a heating/ventilation/air conditioning system. All equipment related to such a system shall be located outside the storage space.

Fire Detection Systems

Automatic fire detection systems shall be installed in accordance with NFPA 71, Signaling Systems for Central Station Service; NFPA 72, Protective Signaling Systems; and NFPA 72E, Automatic Fire Detectors. The systems shall be relied on only when there is an assurance that the alarms will bring prompt response at all times.

Fire Suppression Systems

Vaults may be equipped with automatic sprinkler protection installed in accordance with NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

Class A fire extinguishers or a standpipe systems with a small hose, suitable for use by the occupants of the building, shall be provided in a convenient location outside the vault door.

Wiring and Lighting

All wiring shall be in conformance with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code. Fixed lighting only shall be provided in the vault. Lighting shall be limited to explosion proof or vapor proof lamps and controlled only from a 2-pole switch located outside the vault.


All shelving shall be of noncombustible construction and as fully enclosed as possible. All shelving shall be a minimumof 3 inches above the floor of the vault. Electrically powered mobile shelving shall not be installed.
Records and containers shall be separated by at lest 6 inches from any piping or conduits within the vault. Where sprinklers have been installed, a clearance of 18 inches shall be maintained below sprinkler heads.

Safes and Record Containers

Safes and insulated record containers to be used for the storage of paper records shall provide protection equivalent to that of Underwriters’ Laboratory Class 350, rated for 4 hours. Equipment for storage of magnetic and photographic media shall be Class 150 rated 2 hours. Combinations of equipment or the use of inserts or liners to achieve equivalent levels of protection are permitted. Ratings by recognized testing laboratories other than Underwriters’ Laboratories shall be recognized.

Cetification to Supervisor of Public Records

Prior to storage of public records in a newly constructed or renovated vault, the contracting agency shall provide the Supervisor of Public Records with signed and sealed certifications from all relevant engineers that the foregoing standards have been met or exceeded. No vaults which are not so certified may be used for the storage of public records.

For More Information

For more information, please contact the Records Management Unit. The Records Management Unit is available to help government officials and their staffs with records management. Analysts can assist you with:
Technical Assistance, including:

  • Development of records management programs
  • Records inventory
  • Analysis of record-keeping systems
  • Appraisal and scheduling of records
  • Implementation of schedules

Training Sessions and Presentations. Analysts will plan an agenda tailored to the records management needs of your agency or department. Analysts frequently speak at meetings of professional associations. Sample topics include:

  • Records Retention and Disposition
  • Safety and Security of Records
  • Records Lifecycle
  • Care and Handling of Records
  • Public Records Issues

Publications. The Records Management Unit publishes technical bulletins, project reports, the Records Management Manual and the newsletter, FYI. To obtain copies of our publications, visit our Web site or contact us at:

Massachusetts State Archives
Records Management Unit
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
617-727-2816 Phone
617-288-8429 Fax