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Fundamentals of AV Preservation - Chapter 5

3.1  Recovery Tips |  3.2 Media Specific Salvage 

Section 3: First Response Steps

Preventative actions and preparedness steps will likely eliminate or reduce any damage to collections. However, sometimes even the most well prepared collections can be affected. The goal of this section is to provide a basic overview of first steps to take to salvage valuable recordings. It does not go into detail about recovery or restoration. Recovery is a highly specialized task best left in the hands of experts. Even if you are not able to send tapes to a lab right away, taking proper steps to recover collections will buy time while funds are raised. Nonetheless, the earlier experts can be contacted, the better. 

This section briefly walks through basic recovery steps, focusing on both human safety and the reduction of further risk to collections during the recovery process. Recovery itself is full of risk; the likelihood of mishandling, losing/dissociating materials from labels or cases, lack of documentation, and slow response leading to mold growth or other damage, is dramatically increased. Seeing your valuable collection lying under a pile of debris or submerged under water induces a sense of panic. Being well prepared will help alleviate permanent loss of content.

3.1 Recovery Tips

Don’t give up hope

In “Magnetic Tapes Can Survive Flood Exposure,” Peter Brothers notes that it is often assumed that water damaged tapes are ruined and unsalvageable. In fact, this is often not the case. Even tapes that have been submerged for extended periods of time have been recovered by experts. Brothers writes that no matter how bad they may look, “most wet tapes can now be saved and restored, if they are treated properly.”5

Call the experts and authorities as early as possible

The disaster plan should contain contact information for authorities and experts, including insurance companies, disaster recovery services (for clearing water out of the building), labs and conservation professionals, local and federal disaster recovery agencies, etc. As soon as a damaged item is identified, contact these groups. They can help you determine what next steps to take, including whether or not you should attempt to begin recovery or instead wait for help.

Safety first

Human safety should always trump the desire to get in and rescue valuable recordings. The first step in recovery must always be ensuring that the area is safe to enter. Live wires, contaminated standing water, and damaged structures can pose enormous risk to humans. Have the building inspected by an authority or expert and cleared for entry before proceeding and handling media.

Stop and/or minimize damage

Do what you can to reduce risks to people and collections if the threat is ongoing. Shut off valves as well as electrical and climate systems. Cover collections with plastic sheeting if water or debris is falling. Move collections out of the hazardous space as quickly and safely as possible.

Act quickly but responsibly

Disaster recovery literature for collecting institutions often names 72 hours as the time window during which materials must be rescued in order to be fully recovered. While salvaging media within this timeframe is ideal, it is not always possible. Entire areas of a building may be cordoned off for days or even weeks due to hazardous conditions. Even after you gain entry to the space, it might be several hours or days before a recovery plan can be put in place. It is important that salvage be conducted quickly but carefully at this stage. In some cases, more damage may be done the longer the media sits under a pile of rubble or under water, but in other situations this may not be the case. Mishandling and dissociation of media and containers are some of the biggest risks at this stage. Create a plan of action to avoid these threats.

Don’t attempt to play wet media

Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to play wet or contaminated media. This can lead to damage of both the media item itself as well as the playback equipment, which are both valuable resources. Wet or contaminated media will need to be cleaned in distilled water and dried before any content recovery can be attempted.

Identify damage agents

It is important to identify the types of contaminants that may be affecting media items. If collections are submerged in water, attempt to identify what types of contaminants may be in the water: salt, chlorine, sewage, etc. This will help determine what recovery actions need to be taken. Items submerged in saltwater, for instance, must be cleaned in distilled water as soon as possible, as the salt is highly corrosive and will quickly damage any metal parts (rollers, layers in optical discs, etc.).

Carefully design a recovery operation - don't just act

Before diving into salvage and recovery, develop a comprehensive plan. At this point, an awareness of the potential risks is key. The plan should factor in:

 umatic tape
 A U-Matic tape and its case with matching and clearly identifiable labels
  • Space: Identify a clean and well-ventilated space for cleaning and drying. Remember that drying space will have to accommodate media items as well as their cases, covers, labels, and inserts. Ensure that surface area is sufficient.

  • Supplies: Make a list of your supply needs (such as gloves, cleaning supplies, flat surfaces for transport, paper towels, etc.), assemble what is available around you, and send someone out to find the rest. In an area-wide disaster, this can be particularly challenging due to regional demand for recovery supplies. Be creative, and start working on this as quickly as possible.

  • Roles and responsibilities: Many institutions have reported that having “too many cooks in the kitchen” doesn’t work in an emergency situation. Identify at least one person who has the authority to spend funds. Quickly identify a coordinator who can establish needed roles and begin to fill these. These roles will change as the operation progresses: people who start by moving media to the recovery space may become responsible for cleaning or documentation later on. Necessary roles will likely include: coordination, documentation, cleaning, transport, security, and external communication. Some roles will require multiple people.

  • Documentation: Documentation is perhaps the most important aspect of the recovery. It starts with documentation of the disaster area. Photographic as well as written documentation of the damage will be critical for insurance claims.6 Ensure that damage to the building and collections is thoroughly documented. Next, procedures should be well-documented and accessible to everyone participating in the operation. Finally, documentation must become ingrained in all aspects of the recovery: which cassette goes with which insert, what day and time drying started, and the names and contact information of the day’s volunteers. A lack of documentation, particularly the associations between media items and their cases/labels, is one of the biggest risks to successful recovery of audiovisual items.

  •  Training & knowledge transfer: Everyone who participates in the recovery should be trained in the specifics of the workflow and procedures. In a situation in which staff and volunteers will be coming and going according to their availability, ensure that procedural knowledge is passed between people and documented as they cycle through.

Triage and Prioritize

Separate wet from dry items, and separate items by degree of damage. Attempt to identify the most valuable items and make these the first priority for salvage. The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) website provides a comprehensive list of triage steps.7

3.2 Media Specific Salvage

This section offers strategies for salvaging damaged audiovisual items. It does not cover all imaginable types of damage, but instead focuses on the most common such as water, contaminants, and debris. The strategies are limited to formats commonly found in audiovisual collections.

These instructions are limited to salvage and stabilization only. They are not equivalent to recovery or restoration. These steps are intended to stop or slow down ongoing damage and buy you time before transferring contents off of the media item. Following cleaning and drying, media items may still need to be sent to a lab for full restoration and transfer.

All Items

  • Remove media from containers, cases, or sleeves.
  • Remove wet inserts from cases.
  • Ensure that ALL pieces of the media item are labeled with a common identifier so that they can be brought back together after drying. Discard any containers that can easily be replaced (e.g. CD jewel cases). If containers have to be cleaned, be very careful not to smear or remove label information.
  • Cleaning should be done using distilled water. Tap water and even filtered water should not be used for cleaning as the mineral contents can be very harmful to the media.
  • All items that are cleaned in water should be left to dry for at least 48 hours before being placed back inside containers--longer if the relative humidity is high in the drying area or if the item is severely waterlogged.

Optical Discs (CD, DVD) 

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not freeze optical media.
  • Contaminated or water damaged discs should be rinsed in clean distilled water. Do not submerge discs that are not already wet or have not been compromised through debris or contamination.
  • Using a lint free (e.g. microfiber) towel, dry the data side of the disc by wiping from the center out in a sun-ray motion.
  • If there is any residue remaining, clean using a Q-tip with a solution of 1/3 isopropyl and 2/3 distilled water.
  • Blot the label side; wiping may remove or smudge labels.
  • Ideally, dry discs in new, clean jewel cases with the data side down and the jewel case open like a book, standing upright. If jewel cases are not available, lay media flat on a clean, dry surface with the label side down.
  • If needed, label with a felt tip marker on the (usually clear) inner plastic ring of the disc.

Analog Tape (VHS, U-Matic, Betacam, audio cassettes, open reel audio)

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not freeze magnetic tape.
  • Do not attempt to rewind wet or damaged tapes.
  • Even when a tape is fully submerged, it is likely that only the exposed parts have been compromised. Taking tapes apart, unwinding, or unspooling will in most cases do more damage. Do not take these actions unless advised by an expert.
  • Contaminated or water damaged tapes should be rinsed in clean, distilled water. Carefully ensuring that the tape does not unspool in the water, submerge it briefly, giving the tape a slight shake. Dispel dirty water into a separate bin or bucket so as to not further contaminate the water.
  • Remove any residue on the outside of the cassette using a Q-tip with a solution of 1/3 isopropyl and 2/3 distilled water, taking care not to smudge or smear the label.
  • Lay upright to dry with the exposed portion of the tape facing up. For cassettes, prop open the lid and hold in place with a Q-tip.

Digital Tape (Mini DV, DVC Pro, DVCAM, Digital Betacam, DAT)

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not freeze magnetic tape.
  • Do not attempt to rewind wet or damaged tapes.
  • Do not submerge in water under any circumstances.
  • Taking tapes apart, unwinding, or unspooling will in most cases do more damage. Do not take these actions unless advised by an expert. Even when a tape is fully submerged, it is likely that only the exposed parts have been compromised.
  • Clean the outside of the cassette using a Q-tip with a solution of 1/3 isopropyl and 2/3 distilled water.
  • Lay upright to dry with the exposed portion of the tape facing up.

Film (8mm, 16mm, 35mm)8

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not unwind the film. The film may have stuck together, and unwinding could cause further damage.
  • Do not try to dry the film until you have been instructed by an expert on the best way to do so.
  • If the film is not wet, do not submerge it.
  • Rinse the film in clean water to remove debris.
  • If you have access to a freezer, place the film in a plastic bag, remove as much air as possible, and seal the bag. A supermarket bag will suffice for this.
  • If you don’t have access to a freezer, place in a bucket of cool water. Change the water daily for up to two weeks until you can get the film to an expert
  • If packing, place disc in a sleeve and pack with clean, flat cardboard spacers in between each disc. Pack vertically and snug, making sure there is no lateral movement but not so tight that it is stressing the disc.

Lacquer Discs

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not submerge in water under any circumstances.
  • If wet, dry off immediately, laying the disc on a clean, dry, flat surface and using a soft, non-shedding, non-abrasive cloth.
  • Avoid flexing the disc. Lacquer discs may have a glass base that can break. Flexing may also promote delamination if there are already issues with the disc.

Shellac Discs

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not submerge in water.
  • Shellac can be cleaned in a solution of distilled water and a few drops of mild dishwashing detergent.
  • Using a microfiber or other lint free cloth, wipe discs using a circular motion following the direction of the grooves.
  • Rinse in clean, distilled water.
  • Wipe again in a circular motion with a dry lint-free cloth.
  • Lay flat to dry.
  • Place in a clean sleeve.

Vinyl Discs

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Vinyl can be cleaned in a solution of distilled water and a few drops of mild dishwashing detergent.
  • Using a microfiber or other lint free cloth, wipe discs using a circular motion following the direction of the grooves.
  • Rinse in clean, distilled water.
  • Wipe again in a circular motion with a dry lint-free cloth.
  • Lay flat to dry.
  • Place in a clean sleeve.

Wax Cylinders

  • Read notes for all items above.
  • Do not submerge in water.
  • Gently dry with a non-linting, non-abrasive cloth. Too much pressure may crack the cylinder or alter the grooves of a soft wax cylinder.

 
Section 4: Conclusion ›