Succeed At Managing A Document Disaster Before It Happens

Most organizations have a disaster plan. Plans can include processes for evacuating and re-locating personnel, rebuilding structures, and continuing operations. Unfortunately, not all disaster plans extend to the level of recovering contents like files and records. Treating paper records damaged by smoke, fire, and water is part of returning to business as usual in most organizations, but it’s rarely thoroughly addressed in disaster planning. An adequate level of detail in the planning process can help ensure recovery and restoration of valuable paper documents happen smoothly.


Start with The Master List

When creating a disaster plan for records and documents, begin by creating a master list of all holdings, including records in digital form only. (Restoration of digital records is possible too!) The list tells you “what”, “where”, and “how much”.

The list can also include records retention schedules, so a customer can keep recovery costs down by choosing to restore only records that are necessary or mandated to be kept in paper format.

Shelf lists provide a level of detail necessary to recover from disasters that displace an organization’s holdings. Disasters like major storms can leave records far from their original location, so a shelf list can help recovery teams “put humpty dumpty back together again.”

Labeling file rooms, shelves, cabinets, and even offices or cubicles is an important planning technique. When labels on affected areas can be matched with headings on shelf lists, records can be properly sorted and inventoried prior to recovery, and also re-shelved when restoration processes are complete.

A corresponding building map showing records groups and locations can help orient recovery teams when they arrive on-site, especially when certain records groups are considered critical to continuing operations and must have priority in the restoration process.


Potential Causes of Disasters

Disasters that cause damage to paper records can come from a variety of circumstances, and it’s best to be ready for all types. While storms, fires, and major natural disasters may come to mind initially, something as seemingly benign as a leaky refrigerator or something as seemingly un-related as sidewalk construction outside of a building have caused of tens of thousands of dollars of damage to critical business, school, medical, and government documents.

Likewise, one disaster type can lead directly into another. If a collection of records is damaged by smoke from a nearby fire, it may also be doused with water or chemicals when the building’s fire suppression system is activated. Planning for all cases is advised.


Preparing for the First 48 Hours: Mold

The first 48 hours after a disaster are critical. Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.”

Given the right circumstances—50% or more relative humidity, a temperature between 40°and 100°Farenheit, and a nutrient base like paper fibers—mold can grow nearly anywhere. Mold growth can be harmful to records and even toxic to personnel who handle them. After a disaster, be ready to act quickly to avoid bigger and more costly problems.


Preparing for the Recovery Process: Water

In document restoration, water is divided into three categories:

Class 1: Clean water. This can be water from a burst pipe.

Class 2: Grey Water (Non-Industrial Waste Water). This can be rain water from a roof, seepage of storm water into a basement, water from a burst water main, or ground water.

Class 3: Black Water. This can be flood water or sewage. It can contain waste, oil, chemicals, food, and any kind of other debris.

Class 2 and Class 3 water damaged records require decontamination in addition to drying. And of course, any mold on paper records must be neutralized and removed.


Preparing for the Recovery Process: Fire

Documents that survive a fire disaster can sustain several types of damage:

Burnt Edges. Often records filed on open shelves only sustain damage to the edges of each document. When edges have been singed, sections of paper can crumble away leaving a mess. Even worse, leftover particulates and ash can be harmful to health.

Soot Stains. Soot stains can obscure the information recorded in files and records. This damage is best cleaned by trained professionals.

Odor. Professional restorers can use hydroxyl treatments and deodorizing processes to remove unpleasant smoke odors.


Pro Tip for Pre-Planning

Choose a Vendor Before the Disaster. Spending hours searching for a vendor in a niche field like document restoration can eat away those valuable first 48 hours, potentially leading to a more costly restoration process. By investigating vendors during the planning process, [RECORDS/FACILITIES] managers can be assured they’ll be able to swiftly and confidently start the recovery and restoration processes as soon as the structure is cleared for safe entry.

Identifying a vendor in the planning stages is best accomplished by finding a vendor capable of performing multiple restoration types. The following is a list of restoration capabilities that are desirable in a document restoration vendor:

  • Vacuum Freeze Drying
  • Gamma Ray Irradiation Mold Removal
  • Microbial Disinfecting
  • Ultrasonic Separation
  • Cleaning & Deodorizing (Including Ozone Treatment)
  • Copying, Scanning, and Re-printing Services


Extra Security Measures for Highly Sensitive Information

In the case of records containing sensitive information, it’s advised to find a restoration vendor who can perform the work on-site or nearby, so that the security of records is never compromised. A vendor with a mobile facility and/or mobile freeze drying unit can perform restoration work under the direct supervision of the customer for ultimate safety of information.


Check for Proper Insurance Coverage

“Valuable Papers Insurance” is often purchased by entities that have a great deal to lose if records are damaged or destroyed. Reviewing coverage limits prior to a disaster will help to ensure proper coverage is in place.


Proper Planning Leads to Successful Recovery

A disaster is never easy for anyone, but with proper planning, you can be in a state of readiness, and you can control how things are handled in the aftermath of the event.


6 Tips to Prepare for Document Loss (Disaster)

Download the infographic or read the tips below:
6 Tips for Surviving a Document Disaster

Within 24 hours, DFD technicians will be on site to stop water damage and smoke damage and to make a general assessment after the loss. Being prepared with a listing of all records and floor plans showing their locations will help the document recovery process begin smoothly.



Vital records are records that are critical for your organization’s continuing operation and should be identified for priority recovery and restoration. Records with legal, fiscal, administrative, historical, and archival value fit into this category.



Determine the priority of your organization’s other record groups. DFD technicians can help provide an inventory of damaged files, but determining the order of recovery is best done by the customer.



“Valuable Papers Insurance” is often purchased by entities that have a great deal to lose if records are damaged or destroyed. Reviewing coverage limits prior to a disaster will help to ensure proper coverage is in place.



Mold growth can begin in as little as 48 hours after documents have been in contact with water. Document recovery is best performed and most cost-effective when begun immediately after disaster strikes.



Documents and other contents often must be moved to allow restoration contractors to access the structure of the damaged building. DFD teams can provide document moving services when off-site storage has been arranged as well as re-shelving services when work is complete.


Insurance Tip: Valuable Papers Coverage

Insurance Implications of Water-Damaged Paper Records

and How Document Restoration Services Can Help

Luke Brown, Guest Blogger

Luke Brown Guest Blogger

Luke Brown,

In an increasingly electronic document age, it is sometimes easy to forget about the stalwart: documents recorded on paper. Personal libraries, artwork, family pictures, wills, documents establishing trusts, corporate or government documents and other information stored on paper.

But what if there were a flood, a hurricane, a broken pipe or a fire? You guessed it. Even a fire can result in water damage to documents because of the very way that it is extinguished. After the disaster, insurance often plays a role in the clean-up and recovery of lost contents – including restoration of damaged documents.

Insurance is a contract between two parties, the insurer and the insured. In return for the payment of money by the insured – the “premium” – the insurer agrees to assume a financial risk of loss on behalf of the insured. The details of the risk insured against are outlined in the insurance policy. A loss of documents or other vital records can be measured either in terms of the total or partial destruction of the item, such as a partial obliteration due to water damage.


Valuable Papers Coverage

The amount payable by the insurer when a covered document loss occurs, called the “coverage limits” is stated in the insurance policy. The insurance coverage limits for documents can be high, especially when a special kind of insurance is involved, called “Valuable Papers Insurance”. This kind of insurance is often purchased by entities that have a great deal to lose if records are damaged or destroyed. Damaged government records, military records, business records, and even healthcare records may be covered by these types of policies.

Valuable papers insurance policies often state coverage limits in terms of “market value” or “replacement value”. The insured may dispute the amount that the insurer wants to pay, in which case a lawsuit may be filed to recover additional amounts. If that happens, the insurance company hires a lawyer to defend itself, pays his or her fees, and, if it loses the lawsuit, pays the amount that the court awards and, in some cases, the attorney’s fees and court costs of the insured.

What does all of this have to do with Document Restoration Services? A lot. Document Restoration Services’ innovative technology can often restore documents to their pre-damaged condition. The information can be retained and the files, recreated. The benefit of restoration of vital records is more than purely financial. The minimization of down-time to a business or local government is priceless. By using the innovative technology of Document Restoration Services, the customer, the insurer, and all involved save time, money, and ensure minimum disruption after a disaster.


Luke Brown, Retired Attorney, Author, Editor and Blogger. Insurance topic supervisor at

After practicing civil and regulatory law, mostly insurance, teaching and mediating business and personal disputes, Luke discovered that the common denominator was that the positions he held all involved furnishing explanations, insights and information in a way that was both usable and understandable by others. He has written about civil law for lay people as a freelance writer, contributed to the State Bar Association, and served as a freelance member of the editorial team and as the insurance subject-matter expert for an international publisher in the design, publication and launch of an insurance compliance product.

How to Remediate Mold on Paper

mold and mildew on documents

Mold growth on vital records.

While it is actively growing and reproducing, mold secretes digestive enzymes that alter, weaken, and stain items like paper. This puts collections of documents and vital records at serious risk. Knowing how to control conditions to discourage outbreaks of mold, and knowing who to contact in case of an outbreak can help preserve valuable documents and records managers’ health.

The Basics of Mold

Mold spores are everywhere — outdoors, indoors, on cloth, paper, and even on humans. The spores are dormant until activated by temperature and humidity. If the conditions are right, and there is a nutrient base for the mold to feed on, voila — mold growth.

It only takes four Ingredients to grow mold:
       • Mold spores
       • Proper temperature (40-100°F)
       • Proper RH (50% or higher)
       • A nutrient base

Nutrient bases for mold can be dust, soil, leaves or grass, wood or paper, and nearly anything organic. This means that after a disaster like a flood (or a fire that was put out by water), water-damaged documents and vital records could begin to grow mold. Over time, this could mean they would become hazardous and unsafe for regular use.

Severe Reactions May Occur Among Workers Exposed to Large Amounts of Mold in Occupational Settings

Some people are more sensitive to molds than others. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people may have even more severe reactions. After a disaster, the safest thing to do is to contact a professional document restoration company like DFD for proper mold remediation.

Dealing with an Outbreak of Mold on Files and Documents

Quick cures such as spraying Lysol on objects or cleaning them with bleach may cause additional or unforeseen damage and are often ineffective. The Northeast Document Conservation Center explains:

“In the past, mold-infested collections were often treated with fumigants. Ethylene oxide (ETO) and thymol will kill active mold and mold spores but are known carcinogens; other chemicals that have been used are less effective. Any of these chemicals can have adverse effects on both collections and people, and none will prevent regrowth. For some collections, it will even make them more susceptible.”


Use Gamma Irradiation to Kill Mold on Documents and Records

DFD uses industry leading gamma irradiation to clean moldy documents and bacteria from contaminated records. The process is similar to an X-ray, as the gamma rays pass completely through the contaminated paper, cleaning it along the way.

In living organisms, gamma irradiation produces electron disruptions, or ionization, which damages the organism at its molecular and cellular level. Damage is significant enough to kill a living organism or disable it from reproducing.

Moving a Library After a Fire

Damage after a fire can be devastating, and beginning the recovery process can be daunting, especially in the case of community hub like a library. What many people overlook in these first stages, is how to protect contents like books or documents that weren’t actually damaged during the disaster. Believe it or not, if done incorrectly, the restoration period can be as dangerous to these valuable contents as the disaster!

flood damaged document moving and transportation in totes

DFD’s proprietary toting system moves documents and books quickly and securely.

Fires don’t always damage 100% of the contents of a building, and in libraries, undamaged books will need to be removed from the disaster site so that restoration crews have access to the damaged structure while cleaning and making repairs. Moving books and documents also prevents additional damage like mold and contamination from affecting otherwise undamaged items.

Burning, smoke, and soot are not the only damage done to contents like books after a fire. Generally, fires are put out by chemical fire suppression materials or by water. In the case of chemical fire suppression, books may have a film or residue that will need to be removed with a document restoration process. When water is used to douse the fire, the structure and contents can be left wet and and the area can experience elevated humidity. If a library building has a high humidity level, mold can grow, even on books that weren’t otherwise damaged.

During the restoration period, it’s critical to ensure protection of library contents like books — both damaged and undamaged:

  • To restore damaged books, we recommend hiring an experienced document restoration company with capabilities like vacuum freeze drying, cleaning, and deodorizing.
  • To protect books that are undamaged and will be returned to the restored library, we recommend hiring a vendor with experience in working with archived materials like libraries or documents. This way, contents can be inventoried, stored appropriately, and reshelved correctly when restoration of the structure is complete.

On a recent job, DFD moved 800 cubic feet of undamaged books from a library that had been burned in a fire.The building’s beams had been melted and areas of the structure were caving in. DFD technicians had to use safety protocols while accessing the books, and remediating the fire damage to documents in the library.

At this job, 400 specialty totes were used to move books and documents, both damaged and undamaged. The books had to be rescued from the second story of the building, and supplementary lighting had to be supplied, as the building’s power had been shut off for safety reasons.

These specific processes meant that moving large quantities of books, records, and other valuable documents was fast, safe and efficient. Damaged books were removed, inventoried, and shipped for restoration, while undamaged items were carefully inventoried, packed and moved out of the facility to preserve them.

PRO TIP: When the contents matter, the contractor matters. Choose a company with experience in handling documents, books, and other archival materials. A company that offers inventory and reshelving services will help ensure that no item in a library is lost, whether directly or indirectly affected by a disaster.