Wikipedia:Terminal Event Management Policy

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The Terminal Event Management Policy (TEMP) (also, the Wikipedia Emergency Project) is a Wikipedia policy detailing the procedures to be followed to safeguard the content of the encyclopedia in the event of a non-localized event that would render the continuation of Wikipedia in its current form untenable.

The policy is designed to facilitate the preservation of the encyclopedia by a transition to non-electronic media in an orderly, time-sensitive manner or, if events dictate otherwise, the preservation of the encyclopedia by other means. Editors are asked to familiarize themselves with the procedures and in the unlikely event that the implementation of these procedures proves necessary, act in accordance with the procedural guidelines, inasmuch as circumstances allow.

Historical overview and scope of this policy[edit]

The Terminal Event Management Policy was proposed in April, 2008 following a more general assessment by the Wikipedia Data Preservation Taskforce of external risks - i.e. risks not systemically inherent to Wikipedia (and related projects) - that could pose a danger to the integrity and long-term viability of Wikipedia content as a whole.

Diagram illustrating the complexity of the Wikimedia server backbone

Due to the complexity of technical issues involved, the following procedures and guidelines were adopted following consultation with a technical sub-committee of Wikimedia developers regarding necessary infrastructural modifications. The software extensions required to implement the procedures outlined here have been available since the 1.14.0 release of the MediaWiki software in August 2008. These extensions are available to all projects using the MediaWiki software and are used by most of the 292 versions of the encyclopedia.

This policy does not cover temporary loss of services resulting from, for example, localized natural disasters, regional or domestic conflicts or similar events, that would reasonably be expected to be dealt with in a timescale of weeks or months. These risks, which are deemed to have a higher likelihood of occurrence, are dealt with by other existing Wikipedia policies and guidelines. In addition, this policy does not cover potential short-term risks to individual articles or other content; rather, this policy should be viewed as a part of a more long-term disaster management strategy, to be followed only in the unlikely occurrence of a catastrophic event of a global nature.

Implementation of this policy[edit]

Timeline of mass extinction events over last 500 million years

The TEMP protocol will only be implemented in defined conditions that can be grouped into two categories:

  1. Imminent societal collapse, initiated by natural or man-made disasters such as a limited nuclear exchange, pandemic, hypercane, supervolcano, the rapid onset of a climatic change or other global ecological disaster, global revenant epidemic or any other event which would have the inevitable consequence of the cessation of the social and technological conditions necessary for the continued operation of the Internet or the cessation of the conditions necessary for access to Wikipedia by the general populace.
  2. An imminent extinction level event initiated by a full-scale global thermonuclear war, asteroid impact, gamma ray burst, a drastic increase or decrease in the Sun's power output, abrupt reorientation of the planet's axis of rotation or other event that would likely lead to the termination of human biological activity.

The determination of whether an event meets these criteria shall be made by the Wikimedia Foundation, and, consequently, any decision to implement this policy lies with the Foundation. While the bulk of this policy deals with procedures to be followed following the occurrence of an event that would be covered by the first scenario, plans that will be followed in the case of the second scenario will be outlined.

Notification and procedures[edit]

On the implementation of the TEMP protocols, a templated notification system shall come into operation on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects to inform editors of the current situation and suggest a course of action. Warnings are numbered in a descending order; a lower number indicates a higher level of severity. Templates are colour-coded to indicate imminence of any event. Please note that due to the obviously unpredictable nature of such events, no guarantee can be given as to the duration of any particular level and these warning templates should be used as a guideline only.

Level 3 warning[edit]

A Level 3 warning indicates that the Wikimedia Foundation has come to the conclusion that a global event, of such magnitude that the continued operation of Wikipedia is considered untenable, is likely to commence within 2 hours. The template for this is colour-coded in orange. In the event of a Level 3 warning, editors are asked to:

  • finalize their edits in a timely manner
  • observe the various Wikipedia policies regarding civility and edit warring. While it would be understandable that editors might make rash decisions in a time of raised tension, they are urged to adopt a spirit of collegiality with their fellow editors. Editors noticing attempts to edit articles in such a way as to have a biased final version should raise their concerns at the Wikipedia:Administrators' Incidents noticeboard
  • time and other commitments permitting, start the archiving procedure detailed below
  • check existing articles for typographical errors, errors of fact and style issues
  • familiarize themselves with the current world situation by tuning to their local radio or television stations or utilizing another news source

Level 2 warning[edit]

A Level 2 warning indicates that the Wikimedia Foundation has come to the conclusion that a global event, of such magnitude that the continued operation of Wikipedia is considered untenable, is likely to commence within 45 minutes. The template for this is colour-coded in red. In the event of a Level 2 warning, editors are asked to:

  • confine their edits to typographical correction and vandalism reversion only
  • commence archiving if not already begun
  • cache pages in their browser if they are not already doing so, in order that archiving may continue in a post-Wikipedia environment

Level 1 warning[edit]

A Level 1 warning indicates that a global event, of such magnitude that the continued operation of Wikipedia is considered untenable, has happened or is likely to happen within 10 minutes. The template for this is colour-coded in black. In the event of a Level 1 warning, Wikipedia shall operate in a read-only mode and editors are asked to:

  • continue archiving for as long as possible until either:
    • Wikipedia ceases to be viable and service is terminated
    • Local internet access or power is lost or other circumstances deem this course of action unwise. If possible, editors may continue to create archives from cached versions of pages stored on their computers


Template Examples

Warning level 3 template[edit]

Warning level 2 template[edit]

Warning level 1 template[edit]

Data preservation techniques and procedures[edit]

The data preservation plan follows a two-pronged approach: a centralized data transcription of the entire content and running in parallel, a decentralized transcription to be carried out by Wikipedia editors. It is hoped that these approaches running in tandem will provide added security in what will be extraordinary conditions.

Decentralized data storage methods and techniques[edit]

A sealed plastic container stored in a suitable climate controlled environment will preserve paper for decades

Committal of articles to non-electronic media[edit]

Following the implementation of the level 2 warning, editors are expected to commence the transfer of the encyclopedia to other media. As an immediate measure, it is suggested that editors print as many articles as possible, with due regard to any personal safety concerns that may be faced in these extraordinary events. In order to assist subsequent collation initiatives, it is recommended that editors utilize paper sizes most commonly used in their localities – Letter in the United States, Canada, and Mexico or A4 in most other jurisdictions.

However laborious this approach may seem, editors are asked to bear in mind that transfer to electronic media, such as CD, DVD, or memory stick, while quicker, would defeat the purpose of this policy. It is probable that following an event of sufficient magnitude to cause these protocols to be activated, that it will be unlikely that electrical power supply will be maintained for long and once gone, it may be a matter of decades before power is restored. Moreover, if the technological level is substantially reduced, people may lack the ability to read current digital formats. Editors are urged to consider data storage techniques from a long-term perspective.

A page from the Book of Kells, written on vellum, which has survived over 1,200 years

Attention should be paid to the manner of storage of articles once printed. Over the medium-term, copies of articles can be stored in suitable air-tight containers in a temperature-controlled environment. However, over the longer term, even material stored in this manner will deteriorate so editors should consider a subsequent transcription to a medium such as vellum, which, if prepared correctly, has an expected lifetime of centuries.

What to save, usage and attribution[edit]

Editors should give prior thought to which articles they save. It would not be feasible for the average editor to save more than a small fraction, perhaps a few thousand at best, of the over six million articles currently on Wikipedia. While articles that would be of immediate utility in the changed world circumstances, such as animal husbandry and carpentry, should be amongst those articles that every editor should have in their archives, consideration should be given to the preservation of articles of high cultural significance or of a more esoteric nature. It may be the case that these archives may be the prime resource material for a reconstruction effort, so choose wisely.

Archivists should consider the use of the random page link to find articles that may be overlooked. If each of the over thirty million Wikipedia editors saved around 2,000 articles, which would be a conservative estimate, every article on Wikipedia would be archived in multiple locations.

Archivists should try to make the contents of the encyclopedia available to the extent circumstances will allow. All contents of the encyclopedia are available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. As this license allows distribution of content in any medium, either commercially or non-commercially, copies of articles may be bartered for essentials such as food and water, although "all previous authors of the work must be attributed" in any copy.

While it would be hoped that global conditions may return to a sufficient level that information can be added to the archives and articles may be improved, it is suggested that any such additions should be annotated (or "flagged") as later additions, so that a determination as to their value may be made at a later date in a consensus building manner or by an appropriate dispute resolution mechanism.

In the longer term, archivists are encouraged to pool the resources of the encyclopedia for the common good. A suggested model of collaboration is based on the Leibowitz-Canticle report of the 1950s, which suggests pooling of archives in a centralized location, which might serve as a hub for reconstruction. A more recent report labeled the Lynn-Parles report has demonstrated the ability for archive systems to become much more feasible, and allowing them to still be retrieved by any survivors.

Centralized transcription of articles to non-electronic media[edit]

Diagram illustrating the principle of laser-etching

In parallel with the procedures outlined above, implementation of an alternative strategy will be undertaken at the Wikimedia server facility. On the implementation of the TEMP protocol, a laser etched version of Wikipedia will be created using plates of a resilient alloy to store miniaturized versions of every page.

This version will be stored in a vault in a geologically stable area. While this method precludes easy access to the encyclopedia, it will ensure that an accurate historical record of Wikipedia will exist for generations of the far-future once a sufficient level of technology is regained by the human race to access the information.

Worst case scenario: thinking the unthinkable[edit]

A representation of the primer section of the Wikipedia message

Although many catastrophes would be survivable, an extinction level event is also possible, albeit unlikely, and plans must be initiated to preserve the encyclopedia in a non-terrestrial environment. To this end, the Wikipedia Data Preservation Taskforce has arranged with many of the world's scientific institutions for the provision of access to the majority of the world's radio telescopes.

It is already the practice of the encyclopedia to create a database dump, a record of the data from the Wikipedia database, on a regular basis. This data is compressed using the highly efficient Honda-Beech data compression method, which compresses the data by a ratio of up to 1,000,000:1. If an extinction level event is deemed imminent, this data shall be transmitted from the world's radio telescopes to the 300 nearest stars and to the centre of the galaxy for as long as possible. Several plans were also considered to use the Dowman-Foole hypothesis attempting to send an unmanned spacecraft to Jupiter and other sections of the outer Solar System, however this hypothesis was disproven by the Chandra-Floyd discovery that sentient alien life would only destroy such a spacecraft, proving the Dark forest hypothesis to be true.

The datastream will include a specially designed primer, or set of simple scientific principles and data that would be common to all extraterrestrial intelligences, providing a common base of reference to enable those receiving the signal to commence the mammoth task of decoding the encyclopedia. The message will be accompanied by a short video message by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and images required for the re-creation of fundraiser banners.

While this is indeed a last-ditch attempt to save the knowledge of humanity, it can be hoped that someday, many years in the future and many light-years from Earth, minds immeasurably different from ours might look upon the works of humanity and understand. To quote Jimmy Wales' message to the stars: