It Won’t Happen To Me: Disasters

Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month?


Mold and water damage to a book.

You think that disasters are probably going to happen to other institutions, and not your own. You hear about the flooding a storage area from an overhead pipe or water breaking through a wall. There is news about a catastrophic fire in an older county courthouse. Someone mentioned rumors of squirrels eating some of the older records in an attic storage area. The question is not IF a disaster will strike your collections, but WHEN. So your job as an archivist it to pre-empt the possible disasters and create a disaster plan. Remember that your very first concern when disaster strikes is that everyone is okay and the scene is safe. After determining that to be the case, then concentrate your efforts on your collections.

There are precautions you can use as an archivist to mitigate some of these scenarios listed above. Some simple precautions would include, but not be limited to:

  • Raise your collections at least six inches off the floor. If you are short on shelf space you can use a spare pallet from Facilities as a temporary measure to get them off the floor.
  • Monitor your storage areas on a regular basis to look for dripping leaks from ceilings, signs of insects/pests, etc.
  • Make sure that all your boxes have lids and other items are covered on the shelf.
  • Keep your electronic records backed up regularly, and if possible, keep a copy in another location.

Disaster Plan

This is an essential element to your archives. What will you do in the event of a flood or a fire? Who will you call first? Where are the water pipes located in relation to your collection? A good disaster plan will address these issues and more. A wonderful free online tool from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, called dPlan, will help institutions write comprehensive disaster plans. It is written so that all you have to do is fill in the blanks: names, phone numbers, collection information, etc., and it will generate the disaster plan for you. It is easy to log in and update information as it changes. You can try out demo on the website before diving in.

Risk Management Committee

Ask if your school currently has a Risk Management Committee or something similar–a group looking at ways to minimize disasters and creating protocols for various scenarios which could happen on campus. You will be joining as the archivist, concerned about the records on campus, no matter the format. Part of your planning will be to identify those records your school (and your state) considers vital records–records that are essential to the functioning of your school.

From the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology: Risk Management: n. ~ The systematic control of losses or damages, including the analysis of threats, implementation of measures to minimize such risks, and implementing recovery programs.

Heritage Preservation: Alliance for Response

Launched in 2003, Alliance for Response is a series of one-day forums designed to link key cultural heritage and emergency response representatives, leading to new partnerships and local projects. Alliance for Response fosters cooperation among cultural organizations, influences local planning efforts, and enhances the protection of cultural and historic resources. There are local networks in major metropolitan areas, as well as print and video resources on the site for use by the public.

Resources (a place to begin and not a comprehensive list)

Please feel free, in the comments section below, to tell us of resources you have found helpful.


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