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Protecting Our Freedoms

Here's how the National Archives is re-engineering the handling of our nation's most revered documents.

Protecting Our Freedoms

In this time of heightened sensitivity to our national security, symbols of America’s freedom would seem a likely terrorist target. Even before September 11, the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., was looking at ways it could better protect the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States. The world of industrial material handling provided the solution.

The current display mechanism for these documents was deemed unreliable in the face of attack by terrorism or other disasters. It consists of a scissors-lift-type device that was installed in the early 1950s. This system retrieves the documents from a vault 20 feet below the rotunda floor level and moves them into their display cases. The new system would position the documents significantly closer to the display cases, moving them laterally and retracting them significantly faster.

“We wanted to improve the security system by getting the documents back into their vaults quicker in the event of an emergency,” says Marvin Shenkler, project consultant. “The conservators were also concerned about the potential for continuing document degradation by the constant up and down movement. The movement of the new system will be a lot smoother and will cause a lot less deterioration on the charters themselves.”

In renovating the Archives Building Rotunda, NARA chose to work with Diebold to construct the vaults and with HK Systems to provide a document transfer system consisting of three shuttles, three door hoist systems, two document carts and electrical controls and programming.

The new shuttles will transfer the documents in and out of the vaults at the beginning and end of each viewing day. The shuttle mechanism will be anchored to the floor on a steel structure. HK Systems is supplying the electrical controls and PLC logic to operate the shuttles at the command of the Rotunda Security. Each vault will be built with six-inch-thick hardened concrete walls and feature a guillotine door that is lifted by a hoist system similar to a storage/retrieval machine’s rope drum design.

The three shuttles will transfer the documents into the glass display cases for viewing by the public. The documents will be encased in a sealed titanium and aluminum alloy case, mounted onto the shuttle top plates at a 25-degree angle for display. Each of two shuttles will be four-feet-wide, accommodating the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The third, which will transfer the four pages of the Constitution, will be 12 feet wide.

The vaults will be built on-site by June 2002. The shuttle system will be operational by July 4, 2003, when the Rotunda will be reopened. In the meantime, there’s still time for your company to get its bid in for the naming rights to the “Charters of Freedom” Theater; $7 million would snag you those rights. But if all your company can afford is $1 million, it can get its name engraved on a plaque inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Archive Building. Under that will be a “wall of honor” for smaller donations. If interested, contact Marvin Shenkler at (202) 219-0717, ext. 299.

For more information on HK Systems, call 800-HKSYSTEMS or log on to

TAGS: Archive
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