We have seen some of the steps that should be taken prior to a disaster. In this section we will consider the details of response. The actions outlined here, in combination with the preparations covered in the previous section, will allow you to respond quickly and effectively to a disaster.
Explore these additional links that discuss the damage suffered by cultural institutions during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita l and the ongoing recovery efforts:
During a disaster, what steps need to be taken to deal with the affected materials? The primary directives are to stabilize the condition of collections so no further damage occurs, and to salvage the maximum number of valuable materials. Time is a crucial factor. If conditions are wet and warm, mold can develop in less than 48 hours. A mold outbreak will compromise your ability to recover collections materials successfully and can also pose serious health risks.
It is helpful to assign responsibility for response and recovery efforts in advance of an emergency. A designated emergency recovery director (and an alternate) should be in charge of implementing the plan and coordinating recovery efforts. This person could be the institution's director, or it might be someone else who reacts calmly in an emergency.
Initial response lasts from the time an emergency is first noted to the time that packing and removal begins. The basic steps in initial response are described below. Depending on the scope of the disaster, some of these actions may be carried out concurrently, while some may not be needed at all.
Once you have determined what needs to be salvaged, what are your options for stabilizing damaged materials? In most cases, you will be dealing with water-damaged collections that need to be dried. It is very important to realize that collections will not be restored by the drying process. If response was slow and collections became significantly distorted, they will remain distorted when dry. If collections are dried quickly, however, visible damage may be minimal.
Several methods are available for drying wet books and records:
- Air Drying—most appropriate for small numbers of damp or slightly wet collections
- Dehumidification Drying—most effective for buildings that have suffered extensive water damage and for collections that have suffered only slight to moderate water damage
- Freezer Drying—suitable for a modest number of books that are damp or moderately wet
- Thermaline or Cryogenic Drying—a new drying technique designed for rare book and manuscript collections, particularly leather and vellum
- Vacuum Freeze Drying—the best option for large numbers of wet books and records and for those with water-soluble inks and/or coated paper (Note that materials usually must be frozen locally first and later transported to a vacuum freeze drying facility.)
Different types of collections have specific recovery needs. Drying methods that work well for some books and documents may not be appropriate for other types of collections. It is essential to familiarize yourself with salvage recommendations for all types of materials held by your institution.
Explore the Minnesota Historical Society's Emergency Salvage Procedures for Wet Items web page. This page provides salvage instructions for the various types of collections found in libraries, archives, historical societies, and other cultural heritage institutions.
Heritage Preservation, in partnership with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, created ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage, a smartphone app version of its helpful Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.
The scale or complexity of a collections disaster may require you to seek additional help from a disaster recovery vendor. These commercial service providers typically offer the following services:
- Pack out (boxing materials from your facility)
- Transportation (to their facility and back to yours)
- Freezing (for paper-based collections, buys time to make decisions and inhibits mold growth)
- Vacuum freeze-drying (dries books and paper-based records)
- Surface cleaning (to remove dirt and contaminants from the paper)
- Inventorying (to itemize the items taken into custody)
- Re-housing (for example, to transfer archival records to new archival boxes)
- Digitization (in the event of a decision to destroy or discard the original records)
- Destruction (of those materials beyond salvage)
- Retrieval of records (if you need access to damaged items immediately)
Additionally, some disaster recovery vendors may charge for storage of collections, labor beyond services (packing, unpacking, cleaning of disaster sites, etc.), equipment use, and special handling of complex formats such as audiovisual collections.
Disaster recovery vendors have a different role from regional preservation organizations who can advise on the creation of disaster plans and guide a response; additionally, they are not professional conservators who can remediate extensive damage to high-value items. Consider disaster recovery vendors for responses to large-scale disasters that are beyond the scope of internal staff time or expertise. Their primary role should be to stabilize the affected materials (usually by freezing), to dry water-damaged materials (freeze-drying, vacuum drying, or air drying) and to remediate mold outbreaks.
Ideally, the time to build a relationship with a disaster recovery vendor is before a disaster. The Library of Congress Preservation Directorate created a model Collections Emergency Response Contract to aid cultural heritage institutions in the process of developing a contract for collections emergency response. The model contract describes the services and associated requirements for stabilization and recovery of affected collections when an institution is confronted with a disaster over a certain magnitude
When working with a disaster recovery vendor, keep the following tips in mind:
- be clear about the services you require
- ask questions about their methods and equipment
- ask for references
- be sure the vendor can handle the recovery of special formats in your collections, particularly media collections
- request that a sample batch be processed before allowing further work
- consult local or regional allied organizations for assistance and recommendations
Copyright© 2015 Northeast Document Conservation Center