Disaster recovery of archives and records in the Canterbury region
This guide contains general advice on the salvage of archives and records following the Christchurch earthquake, geared towards public agencies and other collecting institutions and organisations.
Although the advice below can be followed in most salvage efforts, information more tailored to the recovery of family collections can be found at: http://www.conservators.org.nz/, the website of the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials (NZCCM). This site contains a more comprehensive list of links to specialised recovery guidelines for a wide range of collection media and materials.
Note: do not attempt to enter buildings unless it has been deemed safe to do so by a qualified official. Please refer to http://www.canterburyearthquake.govt.nz/ for information on building assessments.
If you have a disaster plan, your recovery steps should be well laid out and can be put into action. If you do not have a plan, here are a few basic steps to follow, along with links to further resources with more information:
- Assign someone to coordinate the recovery effort. The coordinator would:
- Allocate tasks to a team of workers, such as setting up work areas, retrieving archives and records, collecting supplies etc.
- Ensure basic health and safety measures are met, for example wearing appropriate personal protective equipment
- Ensure there is a record of actions. It’s very important to document movements of your archives and records during the process, especially if you have to relocate collections, as well as identifying collection materials and what has been damaged
- Find and order any necessary supplies
- Coordinate communications and contact lists between team members, and others where necessary.
- Liaise with the first responders to the emergency or disaster (such as fire services, structural engineers, city officials, etc) to advise them of the archives and records and other significant items that may be present in the building.
- The initial assessment of the building should include checking each storage area for signs of damage, and particular types of damage (for example, physical, fire, water). Note: this assessment will happen once the building is safe to enter and may be several days or weeks after the disaster.
- Shelving and storage units should also be inspected before recovery efforts begin to ensure they are safe to work around.
- Take photographs of and/or film areas before any work begins – photograph locations, and also damaged items in particular, if applicable.
- Identify an area to use as the base for recovery operations – you may be able to deal with some collections materials and records in the area they are stored, however some may also need to be moved. Depending on the nature of your archives and records, you may need a secure area for work and temporary storage.
- Be sure to document where you move any records, and ensure they are all identified.
- Ensure all team members have personal protective equipment –such as, gloves, dust masks or respirators, protective eyewear, hard hats, work boots, disposable hygiene suits – and ensure they use this equipment.
- Identify other hazards in the recovery area. If there is water present, assume it may be ‘dirty’ and must be treated as hazardous. Are there any other hazardous substances in the area to be aware of that may have spilled, for example?
The NZCCM website (http://www.conservators.org.nz/) has links to more comprehensive lists of salvage supplies, however some basic items will include:
- Personal protective equipment for team members
- Tables and work surfaces
- Absorbent clean paper, such as clean unprinted newsprint, blotting paper, or even clean towels
- Fans, dehumidifiers
- Racking to help dry larger volumes of archives or records – this can be as simple as crates, such as plastic bread crates, layered with paper or towels and stacked to create a drying rack
- Plastic tubs or trays to isolate and contain individual broken or damaged items, or to use for wet materials that may need to stay wet until they can be treated (for example microfilms)
- Tarps or plastic sheeting
- Wedges for holding doors open
- Label tags, paper and pencils and pens
- Clean containers to put dry materials in that are being temporarily relocated
- Camera, video camera.
Most salvage supplies are available in hardware stores, art supply stores and even the local supermarket. The NZCCM website also has a list of vendors who supply conservation materials as well as packing supplies.
- Identify and deal with priority archives or records areas first (most valuable, most fragile or vulnerable, most significant etc).
- If there are areas where incoming water is still an issue, such as active leaks or flooding take action to cover affected areas with tarps and remove archives as soon as possible, and close off the source of the incoming water.
- In the case of archives or records that have been damaged by water, please refer to more detailed recovery steps for a wide range of media and formats, found at the NZCCM website (http://www.conservators.org.nz/).
- Remove water damaged materials to your recovery work space for assessment. If storage containers are damaged, utilise secondary supports such as trays, clean boxes or plastic crates to move the wet containers.
- Have good air flow and ventilation in your recovery area, with fans circulating the air but not pointed directly at the archives or records. Portable dehumidifiers can also be used to help reduce the humidity and aid drying.
- If you have a very large quantity of water damaged material that you are not able to air dry, freezing the records prior to freeze drying may be an option to consider in order to prevent damage by mould growth. Contact Preservation Services at Archives New Zealand for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org). Archives or records being prepared for freezing and future freeze drying should be removed from containers, labelled, then wrapped in plastic or sealed in clear plastic bags, in segments approximately 60mm thick.
- Where you are able to air dry your records, paper files should be fanned out to ensure inner areas that may be wet will be able to dry. Do not try to separate sections of paper that have become blocked, i.e. firmly stuck together.
- For archives or records with physical damage – carefully collect all pieces of the object and place in a labelled container. Ensure pieces are wrapped so they are not further damaged. Likewise, for paper files or books that may have tears or very damaged areas, wrap in clean newsprint or tissue, or isolate within a storage container, to ensure loose pieces are not lost until further assessment and repair can occur.
- If it is safe to replace archives or records directly on shelves or in storage units that have not been damaged, ensure the area is clean and dry prior to replacing the records. As well, inspect the archives or records first for any signs of damage to them or their storage containers.
- Label all archives or records that are moved and document the location changes (even if temporary). Record damaged archives and records and the types of damage seen, and take photographs where necessary.
- Contact a professional conservator (http://www.conservators.org.nz/) for advice on specialised temporary storage and treatment of damaged archives and records.
- Ensure shelving and storage units have been secured in the most appropriate way.
- Simple solutions such as webbing or straps across shelving units can be a easy fix that prevents items from falling off shelves.
- Invest in protective storage enclosures for very fragile items.
- Now is the time to write a disaster plan or update your current plan and ensure all staff are aware of and trained in the plan and what to do. It’s important to update the plan and carrying out training regularly.
- Invest in disaster recovery supplies for your collections storage areas and keep these up to date and in clearly visible and identified areas.
More detailed information on salvage of collections materials of all types, links to further websites, and directory of conservators:
New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials (NZCCM)
If you are faced with any type of damage to your records as a result of the recent earthquake, please call Preservation Services at Archives New Zealand for additional advice. We are also able to provide information on freeze drying services, and preparing material for freeze drying. Email Preservation Services, Archives New Zealand at email@example.com or telephone Diana Coop at (04) 495 6221.
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