1.1 Assess and Reduce Risk | 1.2 Risk Treatment
Section 1: Disaster Prevention and Mitigation
Preventative measures will help mitigate the chances that a disaster will occur and/or will minimize the effects when one does occur. Proper building and collection security, repairing faulty or exposed wiring, and installing storm shutters are all examples of actions that will reduce the likelihood of theft, electrical fires, and storm damage. Good storage, staff training, and collection knowledge can prevent a host of potential disasters that audiovisual archives may face, especially long-term disasters where damage builds over time, such as continual mishandling and tape deterioration.
The activities outlined here and in Section 2: Disaster Planning are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be thought of as sequential. Both preventative actions and preparedness measures can be tackled in parallel. Start with a risk assessment (Section 1.1) to identify priority areas, and begin to address both preventative measures, such as fixing a leaky roof, while simultaneously performing preparedness actions, such as gathering supplies in case a typhoon threatens to make the damage worse before roof repairs are complete.
Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. A leaking pipe that goes unnoticed for a few months and that results in mold growth is not the same as a catastrophic fire or Category 5 hurricane. Some damage might not be evident immediately, and performing a risk assessment survey will help you prepare for the threats most likely to affect your collection.
The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and the International Centre for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) have developed a useful model for managing and reducing risks to cultural collections using a 5-phase risk management cycle.1 This simple structure, outlined below, provides a framework for managing risks to collections of audio, video, film, or other formats. By following the ICCROM model, collection managers can address and subsequently eliminate large and small-scale disaster risks to their collections.
Establish the Context
Perform a valuation of the collection by looking at the organizational context. Are all items valued equally? Do you place higher value on original recordings than you do on commercial recordings? Value may be determined by national significance, high historical or cultural value, or how well an item fits the institution’s mission. Some items may be assigned high value because there are no duplicates of that content.
Appraising audiovisual materials is a subjective task that requires collection and subject matter expertise; in large institutions it will likely require the input of many staff members. In small institutions or individual collections there may only be one person who can perform appraisal. At minimum, determine arough sense of the priority items or collections. Identification of priority items will be relevant to preparedness planning and will be critical during a disaster recovery operation.
Identify risks to your region, city, building, and collection. Review the history of disasters. Look at possible risks and think through prospective scenarios that may cause damage. This information will guide how you prepare for an emergency. Sometimes the biggest threats aren’t obvious, so be sure to carefully look at all levels of risk. For example, you might not think much about the aging electrical system in the building, but this can actually be a significant fire hazard. Risks may include rare events (flood, fire, earthquake, war) and cumulative events (water leaks). Write simple descriptions of potential scenarios that illustrate what could happen in an actual emergency in order to document risks and bring them to life.
Categorize risks by their frequency and their likely impact. For each one, determine how often the event is likely to occur and how much value will be lost in individual items as well as in the collection as a whole. For example, scratches on an LP caused by a collapsed shelving unit will not likely damage the entire disc and in many circumstances can be repaired. However, the same collapsed shelf could permanently destroy wax cylinders and other fragile formats, thereby affecting a larger percentage of the value and content of each impacted item. Depending on the number of affected items and the total size of the collection, the percentage of the collection affected could be insignificant or very large.
Prioritize risks based on your analysis. Rate risks according to the probability of occurrence and the level of impact. For example, is a flood likely to happen in your area in the next ten years? Is it likely to cause major damage to collections? If so, this should be a high priority. Is poor labeling and tracking likely to cause important items in the collection to become lost within the next year? If so, this is also a high priority. Risks that are less likely to occur frequently or will have less of an impact are comparatively lower priorities.
Take steps to minimize or reduce identified risks. While you may want to address the biggest risks first, these may also be the most challenging. Don’t let the biggest tasks prevent you from taking steps to treat the lower-priority risks, especially if these are relatively easy to resolve.
This section highlights areas that typically need attention to reduce risk to collections. This is not an exhaustive list, but it describes solutions for common risks, including those that might be overlooked.
Building Structure and Systems
The building that houses a collection is the first and at times the only line of defense against disasters. Yet, quite often the building itself or weaknesses within it pose the greatest threat to audiovisual collections. Leaking pipes and electrical fires are often the origin of disasters.
When possible, work with the building’s maintenance and facilities staff to identify potential hazards and correct them. Incorporate preventative actions into maintenance scheduling for your collection andbuilding.2 This includes activities such as regular cleaning of the work and storage areas, inspection of the facilities, and maintenance of the plumbing. If the collection is at a very small institution, conduct a thorough inspection of the building. Seek help from professionals as well as friends or acquaintances who have experience with building construction, renovation, or maintenance.
Take steps to ensure that the building can protect collections from external threats. For example, if you are in a hurricane-prone area, fit shutters and update windows to code. If your area is frequently affected by dust storms, you may need to use heavy curtains or seal cracks in walls and windows.
For the safety of collections and staff, fire detection and suppression systems should be installed if they are not already.3 There are a variety of systems to choose from, including fire extinguishers, wet and dry sprinklers, gas suppression systems, and smoke and heat detectors. Equipment should be regularly inspected and maintained. In particular, extinguishers require replacement and gas suppression systems require recharging at specific intervals. All staff members should know where detection and suppression systems are located in the building and should be trained in their operation.
These important points will help reduce the effects of any disaster on audiovisual materials and will increase the chances of a complete recovery of content in the event of damage.
- Keep tapes rewound. If a tape is damaged, the exposed area may need to be removed. It would be much better to lose the leader at the beginning rather than important content in the middle of the tape.
- Store collections off of the floor. Do not store master materials in a basement or directly under a roof.
- Store cassette tapes with spine up. This will help maintain proper tape pack distribution and will shed falling water from above in case of sprinkler activation or roof leaks. Ideally tapes should be stored with the spine label facing up.
- Be sure all items are in some sort of enclosure. Plastic cases and containers are preferred. The enclosure will be the final point of defense before the carrier itself is damaged.
- Strive for proper climate control. Storing media in a climate-controlled environment will greatly increase the life expectancy of your media by reducing the risk of long-term damage, such as binder degradation, vinegar syndrome in acetate open reel tapes and film, and mold growth. This is not always possible, but at minimum don’t store valuable materials in areas where climate fluctuates, such as attics. Try to keep them in an insulated environment, and avoid low lying storage areas such as basements, which are more flood prone.
- Keep a complete inventory of all materials off-site.In a disaster, it is likely that databases and other electronic records will be unavailable. Having a paper inventory with identifiers will help enormously with identification, prioritization, and recovery.
- Reformat physical collections as soon as possible.Obsolescence and physical disasters pose enormous threats to the longevity of audiovisual content. Reformatting is a step toward protecting recordings from these threats. Reformatted copies are easier to geographically distribute and are also more widely accessible.
- Back up and geographically separate digital collections. Ensure there is at least one geographically separate copy of all digital content. Geographic separation means that the backup is far enough away that immediate risks to the primary copy are not threats to the second copy. Further is always better, but as far away as possible, at minimum in another building, is better than keeping backups in close proximity to primary copies.
Collection managers who have been through a disaster say that knowing your collection is the single most important factor to successful recovery. Collections that are unfamiliar, unprocessed, or have no identification are almost impossible to prioritize for recovery. Having a broad overview of the collection will help identify how many items need to be stored in specific environmental conditions, will enable classification by vulnerability to water or fire, and will identify the number of items that may need to be treated by an external service provider in an emergency.
Start by completing a collection profile that documents the number and format of items in the collection. Begin with broad categories, and, when feasible, further categorize into specific audiovisual formats (analog video cassettes, digital video cassettes, film, open reel audio, etc).
Inventory & Labeling
Subsequently, work on creating or updating collection records and labels.4 Adequate identification will be critical in a disaster. Recovering audiovisual materials is an expensive and time-consuming process. If you are unable to identify badly damaged items, you may spend time cleaning or sending something to a lab that is not of high priority or that has an undamaged duplicate stored elsewhere, potentially neglecting the items that are of high value or are irreplaceable. Furthermore, labs will need information about the items they are recovering both in order to give accurate pricing and to perform the correct procedures for the carrier.
At minimum, item labels should include a title or brief description and an identifier. Identifiers should correspond to those in your inventory. Ideally, item labels would also include a total running time and record date.
The inventory can have more detail than the label and, in this way, acts as a cross reference. Include the format, date, associated collection, and description. For formats such as ¼” open reel, it is helpful to note on the label whether the tape is full, half, or quarter track and the recording speed. Inventories should include the role/generation of the item as well: Is it unique? Is it a duplicate? Is there a master recording stored elsewhere? Is this just an access copy?
In a disaster scenario, materials tend to get knocked over, mixed together, and removed from their original storage locations. Sometimes, media are separated from their containers due to the force of water or impact, and labels can become smudged or detached altogether. As a result, it can be difficult to identify which items are which, and furthermore, which are the most important. In these situations it becomes painfully clear that precious time may be spent recovering low- or no-value items at the expense of the highest priority materials. Deaccessioning can go a long way toward ensuring that only the important items receive the critical care they need in a recovery operation.
Care and Handling
Small disasters are often the result of mishandling. These disasters can be prevented by ensuring that staff and caretakers are well trained in handling collections with care, are observant of problems, and are able to record accurate information about an item’s condition.
To guarantee these types of problems are mitigated, staff working with collections should have the following minimal training:
- Format identification: All staff should be familiar with formats found in the collection. At a minimum, this means being able to distinguish different types of media (e.g., Betacam SP versus Digital Betacam, LP versus shellac, Mini DV versus DAT).
- Handling : This includes proper transport, inspection techniques, machine threading, rewinding, etc.
- Condition reporting: Up-to-date, accurate records about collection items are a critical resource in a disaster and will help with prioritizing recovery decisions.
- Storage preparation: Ensure that staff members rewind tapes and secure film and open reel tape ends before an item is returned to storage.