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.