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Session 8: Emergency Preparedness


preventing/mitigating disaster

Once you have identified institutional risks, take action to protect your collections. While you may need to guard collections against specific types of disasters (e.g., bracing shelves for earthquake protection, building window coverings in case of a hurricane), it is generally most effective to begin with general prevention efforts and a focus on those risks you identified as most serious in your risk assessment.

Facility improvements, increased vigilance, and changes in procedure can all prevent or lessen damage to collections in a disaster. Be aware that you may need to devise both short- and long-term solutions to the problems you have identified. For example, you may need to relocate collections or cover materials with plastic sheeting until money is available for roof repair.

To help you consider what might be done to protect your own collections, sample scenarios and prevention checklists for some of the most common types of damage are provided here.

1 Water Damage

Water damage can be the result of many different disaster scenarios, ranging from hurricane or flooding to roof leaks or clogged pipes. Paper-based collections are highly susceptible to damage from water, which causes swelling and distortion of bound volumes and cockling of paper. It also dissolves water-soluble inks and pigments and causes coated papers to adhere to each other. Photographs may separate from their mounts, emulsions may dissolve or stick together, and items may be stained. Mold growth can be an additional danger, developing within 24 to 48 hours if the relative humidity is high and the materials remain wet or damp. Mold can be highly dangerous to people and causes staining and other damage to collections.

2 Fire Damage

Fire damage can also be caused by a variety of scenarios, including fire in an adjacent building, sparks from renovation work, faulty electrical wiring, or even arson. Collections may not survive fire damage at all, and if they do, they may be charred, covered with soot, brittle from exposure to high heat, and smell of smoke. Often they are also wet from water used by firefighters, or contaminated by mold.

3 Theft and Vandalism

While no staff member likes to think it could happen in their institution, theft and vandalism unfortunately occur more frequently than might be imagined. Trusted patrons, students, and even valued staff have stolen or vandalized collections. Valuable collections might be stolen to be sold or added to a private collection, while magazines or books might have pages torn out because someone wanted the information. For more advice on preventing theft and vandalism, refer to the NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 3.11 Collections Security: Planning and Prevention for Cultural Heritage Institutions.

4 Data Protection

It is likely that much data is stored on computers, hard drives, servers, and even discs in your institution. This may include collection descriptions, financial information, digitized materials, or "born-digital" collections. The provision of backups to replace or reconstruct data is crucial to preventing a serious loss of data. Issues to consider include storage of backups (onsite and/or offsite), frequency of backups, the number of backups to be created for each type of data, and maintenance of backups (e.g., periodically checking backups for deterioration).


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