Rescuing Your Vital Records
By having a game plan for recovery, knowing who to call for help, and taking some key steps before help arrives, recovery personnel stand a good chance of saving the records vital to the organization after a disaster.
Prior to a disaster, there should be at least a rudimentary game plan for the order of recovery. When multiple department records are damaged, conflicts will often arise at the disaster scene over whose records are most time-critical. With the mitigation clock ticking, the time of impact is not the time to determine recovery priorities.
A Timely Emergency Response
Especially in cases where the quantity of records is so great that pack-out may take days, the ambient conditions of the environment in which they're housed need to be brought under control quickly. When humidity and temperature levels are elevated, degradation of paper is rapidly accelerated. To stabilize the environment, humidity levels must be brought to 40 percent or less and temperatures to 70° F or less. If a significant portion of the building is wet and it's 90° F outside, this is no small feat. The restoration contractor will have temporary temperature and humidity control equipment available to achieve these conditions. If operational, the mechanical systems in the building may also be used.
That being said, the following mitigation steps are offered to help recovery personnel through the immediate moments following an event when they may need to fend for themselves.
Since 90 percent of all disasters involve moisture from floods or fire suppression, following are water damage mitigation steps for various media.
Paper Documents and Books
Since water-damaged materials can be frozen safely for an indefinite period of time, planners can freeze all materials immediately and later consider what to restore versus discard, as well as the best restoration options for the situation. There are various methods of restoring paper documents. Several factors will determine the best course of action (see Sidebar).
Books are more of a challenge than paper documents because of the binding and the potential for warping. Books must be handled and packed very carefully; they should not be opened or closed; their covers should not be removed; and they should be packed loosely, spine side down, in plastic milk crates or plastic bags placed in boxes. Freeze-drying is the preferred method for restoring books.
CDs and Optical Media
Magnetic Tapes, Microfilm, X-Rays,
If they cannot be dealt with in less than five days, tapes, microfilm, X-rays, and photographs should be frozen. Long-term wet storage will cause additional damage. Tapes can be cleaned on special equipment that removes contaminants and re-tensions the tape.
Fire- and Mold-Damaged Media
Other types of damage to vital records such as fire damage, toxic chemicals, biological contaminants, and mold can be restored. For fire damage, processes such as ionized air-washing and deodorization can be employed. Soot particulate must be removed, and trimming or re-processing may be required if permanent damage has occurred.
For bacteria and mold, Gamma and Electron Beam Radiation may be used to sterilize the documents if they can be transported to a laboratory. Other treatments may include manual cleaning in containment areas using down-draft tables to capture mold spores.
Restoration contractors should have proven inventory control systems that prevent document loss and enable any document to be located and retrieved in a timely manner. This is especially important for working documents (medical or court records) and in specialized recovery projects such as large quantities of X-Rays, where the X-ray jacket and accompanying notes are critical to identification. All must be effectively tracked together or important information will be lost.
About the Author
Historically, paper was dried by exposure to air and sun. This method can still be used but should only be considered when no other options are available because exposure to ultraviolet light and air pollutants can permanently damage paper.
Due to advances in research and technology, there are now several effective drying methods, all of which produce better results. Each method has its own merits. The choice of method is based on the type of paper and bindings, the quantity of documents, prioritization, and available time. It's not unusual to use more than one method on a project depending on the type of paper, ink, and bindings (if any). To offer any one method based solely on the availability of equipment or facility can limit the success of the project and/or increase restoration costs. Some of the best methods to consider are: