About: History & Archives
Scientific Association Records Programs: A Beginner's Guide
Disaster Recovery Planning
Scientific associations will find this topic intrinsically interesting because the sources of serious threats are studied by scientists: wind, fire, flooding, earthquakes, and destructive behavior by humans (vandalism and arson). Your organization is also likely to widen the project of writing a disaster plan to cover all aspects of its operations, not just the archives--the library, computer operations, member fulfillment, current research operations, and others.
Planning for disaster has two goals: reducing the chance that the problem might occur, and coping with it if it does. In the last twenty-five years, several incidents that harmed records have led professionals to write very helpful manuals on the topic, which can guide you through the planning process and lead you to vendors of services and supplies. Several of these books are cited in the further readings section of this report.
The survey done for disaster planning is different from that for records management, but they overlap in one important area--the identification of vital records (the ones your association would need immediately to keep operations going after a disaster). Some offices regard all their records as "vital," but if they are asked to bear the cost of backups or duplicate copies stored offsite, suddenly become more realistic about risk management, and will help you target records worthy of those expensive precautions. Other records issues that need to be addressed in the survey are varieties of media (salvaging tapes, books, and manuscripts require different techniques), and priorities for treatment (finding aids may be saved early on because they are needed for insurance claims).
The main emphases of a disaster plan survey are facilities and people. Experts recommend that a single person lead the effort to design and carry out the survey and plan, possibly with the advice and assistance of a small committee. Other "people" issues are seeking the cooperation of nearby repositories (so that expertise and supplies can be shared when disaster hits) and staff education (about the plan and in skills relevant for coping with problems--a hand-on session on handling soaked records or on using fire extinguishers, for example). The plan should include a telephone tree to notify staff if disaster strikes outside of business hours, and a list of experts (specialists in conservaton and suppliers) that you will need to reach nearly immediately. You will have very little time to act: mold can start growing on wet paper in as little as forty-eight hours.
The facilities survey considers many facets of the setting of records: the structure and design of the building (pipes and roofs, ventilation, light fixtures, for example), storage configurations and practices (collections at least four inches off the floor, no carpets in stack areas, clear aisles, sufficient clearance for sprinklers), staff and other activities in the area (smoking lounges, coffee pots and hot plates), detection and alarm systems (ionization of other alarms for fire, water alarms to detect leaks and floods), and fire suppression systems. Precautions against seismic damage are advisable: anchoring equipment, cross-braced shelving with welded joints, and bolting shelves to structural elements in the building. The plan should note the existence and outline the use of sump pumps and auxiliary power systems.
Writing the plan is a relatively orderly procedure. Before you start, get the commitment of the association to implement recommendations and follow procedures. Obtain plans from similar and nearby businesses and institutions such as libraries; this will give you a head start on finding suppliers and conservators. Read books and articles that are germane to what you house. Conduct the survey. Check your insurance policies in the light of the survey. Set out authorities and tasks in case disaster does strike. The very first task should be to secure the safety of people: devising evacuation plans, posting simple instructions at many accessible spots, training staff in first aid and having supplies for that, and providing for roll calls to account for everyone. Outline disaster responses and recovery procedures. In appendices, include telephone notification plan, contacts, supply lists and vendors, and floor plans showing plumbing, wiring, fire suppression systems, collection shelving, and exits. Circulate the plan widely, and keep it up to date.
Central to the plan is the lists of steps to recovery. These vary with your association and resources nearby, but these are basic:
- Mobilize staff and appoint a coordinator.
- Assess and prepare for recovery
- do a walkthrough to get a sense of the problems
- assess if the site is safe for workers
- photograph damage for insurance claims
- take immediate steps to reduce humidity and (often) heat
- decide if restoration will occur on or offsite
- gather supplies
- contact vendors
- Relocate damaged materials if necessary
- conduct triage
- follow priorities of record importance
- evaluate which are the worst damaged (unrecoverable items should be photographed and documented before discard)
- mark location of removed items for later reshelving.